Adoption case study: ‘It’s a tragedy I wasn’t given my birth cert’

David Kinsella, like many adoptees, was refused access to his birth mother’s identity

Adoption rights campaigner David Kinsella: ‘We all should have a right to our identity.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Adoption rights campaigner David Kinsella: ‘We all should have a right to our identity.’ Photograph: Eric Luke


David Kinsella was illegitimate child number 1629 at St Patrick’s mother-and-baby home in the late 1950s.

For years, it was the only information he had about his identity. His request for information about his birth mother ran into brick walls of State-sanctioned secrecy.

Authorities said he was too young to be given the information when he began looking for it at the age of 17.

When he turned 18, he tried again but was told they were not authorised to release the details.

A helpful social worker told him he had spent four years with his mother at a mother- and-baby home but she couldn’t provide any further information.

“They couldn’t give it to me because it would breach her privacy,” he says.

“It was very touching to know my mother stayed with me for four years. It was the shame and stigma which forced her [to give him up for adoption]. But I still knew nothing about her.”

The denial of his right to an identity, he says, was devastating. “It’s hard for people who grow up in a family to understand, but it was eating away at me,” he says.

“I remember as early as six years of age, riding a trike and thinking that everything wasn’t as it seemed. Professionals call it ‘genetic bewilderment’. I know there was a ghost there, a kind of primal wound.”

Emotional hurt

Kinsella went through years of drink and drug abuse. He was hospitalised twice. It was a way of self-medicating against the emotional hurt.

He got clean in his early 20s and worked in London for a time, before returning home and starting a family of his own.

Years later he made fresh inquiries about his birth mother. This time, he was told that she had died two years previously.

The fact that she was dead meant they were finally able to release his birth certificate.

It turned out his birth mother had emigrated to London after he was placed for adoption, had married and had a family of four.

His adoptive parents, he found, had kept the original name his birth mother had given him, David John.

“It turned out that when I was in London I had been working just 15 minutes away from where she lived. It’s a tragedy that I wasn’t able to get my birth cert while she was alive. I might have been able to meet her. It’s shocking and totally unacceptable that I wasn’t allowed to know her. We all should have a right to our identity,” he says.

Every year, on the anniversary of her death, he travels to Basingstoke to place flowers on her grave.

Yesterday, he was one of a group of campaigners who met Minister for Children James Reilly and other officials to hear details of new adoption legislation.

It holds the promise, Kinsella says, of adopted people having a right to access their birth certificates and other information.

“My birth cert is like a gold nugget. I would love to have anything else she touched or held which is in the possession of authorities.

“If we can get information which belongs to us, without having to fight for it, then it will be a very big breakthrough,” he says.