Now she tells of the second son and daughter she gave up for
- and why she kept them secret for 50 years
By JASON O'TOOLE, DailyMail.co.uk
Last updated at 8:46 AM on 25th July 2010
The whole world knows how hard Philomena Lynott fought to keep and raise her son Philip – and what a job she made of it.
After all, her struggle against poverty and racial bigotry in 1950s Ireland was the centrepiece of her bestselling memoir – and her son, who she always calls Philip, went on to become one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
That book, My Boy, made much of her courageous resistance to attempts by over-zealous nuns to browbeat her into giving up her only child for adoption.
That’s why her confession today is as courageous as it is shocking. For the first time, she admits not only to giving birth to two other children – a boy and a girl – but to surrendering both of them for adoption.
With the 25th anniversary of her rock star son’s tragic death just months away, it cannot have been easy for Philomena to tarnish the myth she herself gilded in her book.
But, she says, she can no longer keep her secret bottled up. She ‘held back a lot’ in her book, she says, because she had successfully concealed her other babies from her own mother – and her ‘stomach was churning’ about her ever finding out.
‘The shame was unmerciful. I couldn’t let my mother know I had two more children. When I had those children, to have children out of wedlock was a terrible thing. In my day, to have a child out of wedlock you were a slut. You were classed as soiled goods.
'It was awful,’ she says as she finally opens up and tells her remarkable story in this exclusive in-depth interview.
‘My sisters all knew – but not mammy. At the time of doing the book, I was still heavily grieving. My mother went to her grave not knowing I had two more children. I loved my mother and she thought I was lovely. I took care of my mammy until the last. And that was that. After she died, I didn’t care who knew.
‘Then my children got in touch with me and we decided to perpetuate the secret because they also didn’t want their adopted parents to know that they had gone and found their mother. They visit me. They’re my best friends. I respect them. I love them. They love me.’
The decision to give up the two children she christened Jeannette and James was ‘horrendous’, Philomena says – but she did it so they would have better prospects than she could give them, struggling to make ends meet in the ‘slums’.
‘Today, young women can have babies and they can go to their mammy and say, “Mammy, I’m pregnant”, and their mothers help them. The State helps them – they’re given homes and this, that and the other,’ she says.
‘And thank God, the world has changed for the young women who fall by the wayside. Now, to have a baby within wedlock is unusual!
‘I got loads of letters when I wrote my book from women who had had to part with children. The women of today don’t know how lucky they are. They are not pressurised; their mothers are not throwing them into convents, workhouses or anything like that.
'They can walk around with their babies, no wedding rings on and nobody cares. And that is lovely.’
Ostensibly, this interview was arranged because Philomena wanted to voice her aversion to her son’s old band Thin Lizzy’s plans to ‘cash in’ by performing in Dublin on the night of his 25th anniversary next January 4th.
The contentious concert will clash with the annual Vibe For Philo concert, which has commemorated her son’s musical legacy on every anniversary over the past the 24 years.
‘It’s terribly unfair to the Vibe For Philo,’ she says. But as we settled down to chat in her sitting room – where she has temporarily put her own bed so she can be close to her dying dog – she unexpectedly opens up about her secret family.
‘You don’t know what I went through,’ she begins – and then the floodgates open, for eight hours, over a two-day period.
Born in the Liberties on October 22, 1930, Philomena is still in robust health and – despite battling skin cancer last year and also suffering a massive heart attack when she was 70 – she looks remarkably younger than her 80 years.
She was four years old when her family moved to 85 Leighlin Road in Crumlin, where her ‘only son’ would also be raised and would first learn to play the guitar within the walls of the small terraced Corporation house as he began his path to international fame and fortune.
She recalls: ‘I had a
lovely childhood. When I was 17, my two elder sisters and elder brother joined
the RAF in
‘So off I went to go
‘My mother gave birth to a son named Peter. Peter, my brother, is just two years older than my son Philip.
They grew up together. And Peter played guitar, too, and he was fantastic.’
Shortly after the birth, the family ‘let me go back to England’ and destiny soon intervened when she met Cecil Parris, from Georgetown, in British Guiana on the northern coast of South America – not Brazil, as has been widely documented in the countless articles since Philip’s tragic drug-related death.
In 1947, Cecil decided to
He met Philomena in 1948
in a dancehall attached to a Displaced Persons Hostel in
‘I never fell in love with him. It was a “happening”. You’ve got to remember that I was 17 or 18 and I didn’t smoke or drink but we used to go to these dances.
‘Philip’s father came all across the dance floor and he asked for a dance and I couldn’t refuse him. I’ll tell you why: it wasn’t in my heart. He had walked the whole length of the floor and everybody looked at him. Remember, they didn’t want black to be mixing with white.
‘It was fate – something said to me to get up and dance. And when I danced, the floor got full of people. He was a good dancer. When the dance was over, I walked back to where all the women stood and they all backed off – I was a “nigger lover”.
‘Then, when I left that dancehall that night, as I walked outside, two Polish guys that me and another girl had been to a dance with started to grab me and he (Cecil) grabbed them and protected me. And that’s when he said, “Would you like to go out with me?” And I must have said yes.
‘That was the beginning. And I had a few dates and the rest is history.
‘But there was no falling in love with him at the time. I’m being very honest. There was no falling in love but I must have felt a bit of compassion, that he’d been kind to me. He was a good man.’
Philomena lost her
virginity to Cecil when they made love on a ‘local golf course’. Shortly
afterwards, Philomena was ‘horrified’ to discover she was pregnant, but by this
stage Cecil had already departed to work in
In fairness, Cecil had written letters to Philomena at the hostel where she had been staying – not knowing that she had been ‘ruthlessly expelled’ after they discovered she was pregnant.
After a ‘naïve, failed attempt’ to abort the pregnancy by drinking boiled gin ‘with some pennies in it’ and then taking quinine tablets, Philomena began to accept her situation and went to work in the foundry at the Austin Motor Company right through her pregnancy.
‘I used to wear an old-fashioned corset to keep my stomach in because I couldn’t let people know – because I wasn’t married. And to have a baby out of wedlock in those days you were classed as a tramp. You were classed as the baddest of the bad.
‘I was taken from the foundry in an ambulance to the hospital and I was 36 hours in labour. And all the women were screaming, “Oh, George or Henry – never again!” I just lay there and I suffered in silence.
‘Because nobody knew. None of my family knew that I was having a baby. I couldn’t tell them, the shame was unmerciful.’
Weighing nine-and-a-half pounds, Philip Parris Lynott was born on August 20, 1949. Soon afterwards, Philomena was forced to move with Philip into the Selly Oak Home for unmarried mothers.
However, Philomena was
bluntly told that she could only leave the home if she gave her child up for
adoption. She was told that a married couple were
‘willing’ to adopt Philip and that the nuns were making arrangements for her to
‘But I wasn’t going to let them take my child away from me.’
But Philomena was terrified that her parents would discover she had Philip and the nuns played on this fear, warning her that if she didn’t surrender the baby, her ‘conventionally respectable’ Catholic Irish family would be informed that she had given birth to an ‘illegitimate black child’.
‘It was awful what they did to me in that place. They put me out to work in the shed because I was the lowest of the lowest – because I had a black baby. Even today, I live with a bad back because it was freezing working in the shed – it was a stone floor.’
Eventually she was rescued from this horrific experience when Cecil finally discovered he had a son and miraculously tracked Philomena down. ‘He said, “I’ll find you somewhere to live”.’
It was easier said than done because racial prejudice meant that nobody wanted to take in a single white mother with a black baby.
But eventually, after many ‘point-blank refusals’, Cecil found a Mrs Cavendish in the working-class suburb of Blackheath who was willing to take them in – but there was one condition: Philomena would have to share a bed with the landlady’s teenage daughter, Dorothy, while Philip would sleep in the cot nearby.
‘And she p****ed all over me in the bed. She had a slight mental problem,’ Philomena sighs at the recollection. But at least Mrs Cavendish agreed to babysit Philip while Philomena went off to work.
Unfortunately, she would return home in the evenings only to discover that his nappy hadn’t been changed once during the day.
‘I’d only have a few hours with him, to cuddle him and nurse him and change him and clean his bum. I said to Philip’s father, “Get me out of here”.’
She adds: ‘I met this
woman who was pregnant and she couldn’t tell her mother. The two of us ran away
and we ended up in
An African man gave us a room but didn’t he try to come in and sleep with the two of us? So, we had to run to the police. You don’t know what I went through.’
Cecil ‘found’ Philomena
‘But I wasn’t interested because by then he’d become a bit of a flirt with the ladies,’ is all she would say on the subject of their break-up.
But during this period in
‘He thought it was his, but he wasn’t the father. None of them has the same father,’ she reveals with brutal candour. In fact, Philomena never told the real father about the unwanted pregnancy.
And when Cecil ‘went back
‘I never saw him again for a couple of years. I always told Philip that his father was a good man who wanted to marry me, which he did in the early days. And I didn’t want to marry him.’
Understandably, Philomena says she couldn’t continue struggling to raise her children on her own because she was close to ‘total physical exhaustion’ from the ‘obvious problems of ‘racism, loneliness and poverty’.
In her memoir, she tells how she collapsed on the street when a bus conductor cruelly rang the bell – signaling the driver to pull off – as she was attempting to clamber on with her buggy. It was the last straw.
She decided to ask her parents to take in Philip. But what she didn’t reveal until today is that she also made the heartrending decision to give her daughter up for adoption.
‘That was heavy. Because
when I had the little girl, I was in digs, in slums, which was horrible. There
was a welfare nun who used to visit and she said to me, “You’re going home to
‘When I came back, she brought Jeannette back to me and she was dressed up and she was full of toys.
‘She said, “Guess where I took her? I took her to a schoolteacher and his wife”. They were trying to adopt a little girl.
The nun said, “Philomena, why don’t you let your little girl have a break? Because you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life living in the slums. This child will have a wonderful life”. That was how I let Jeannette go.
Consequently, she’s a schoolteacher. She is a lady. She works with the church. She makes her own honey. She makes her own wine. She is a beautiful person. She sends me the lovely things that she makes and everything. We talk on the phone.’
Within 15 months of giving birth to Jeanette, Philomena had a third child from a relationship with a black GI called Jimmy Angel, an alias she gave when writing about their affair in her memoir – which omitted, however, any mention of falling pregnant with her second son, James, who was born in Manchester in June 1952.
‘When he went back to
‘The difference over here, in this side of the world, was that no white man wanted his daughter marrying a black man. Today, nobody cares; there’s so many mixed children now, it doesn’t matter.
‘It seems to me that before he joined the army, he was courting another girl, so the grandmother rang me and told me to “get knotted” and “don’t bother writing any more”.
He must have ended up marrying this girl and he became a doctor. When you have an affair, you don’t keep in touch. You have happy memories. But your life goes on.
So why did she give up
James? She says: ‘The boy got tuberculosis and they took him to a sanatorium in
Did Philip know he had a half-brother and half-sister?
‘He didn’t know he had a brother. I told him he had a sister because she had got in touch with me. And the boy hadn’t at the time.’
After she wrote her memoir, Philomena’s third child, James, finally made contact with her when he approached the book’s publisher’s to ask them for her contact details.
‘When he found out who he was, he got in touch with me. I arranged to meet him in the hotel up the road. I sat there and he came through the door and I looked at him and he looked at me and we broke down (crying).
‘He’d read that Philip used to buy me 48 roses. When I got in his car, he had a bucket in the back with roses and he had a book about Gregory Peck because he knew I loved Gregory Peck.’
In 2003, it emerged that Philip had a lovechild, Dara Lambe, who had been given up for adoption by his mother. It’s another subject that Philomena has not spoken publicly about.
‘I can answer you straightforward: yes, he is Philip’s son. Oh, yeah, without a doubt.’ He has the same thumbs – like Philip used to slam the bass guitar – and eyes, she says.
As she finishes telling
me about her secret family, Philomena looks like someone who has been relieved
of a 16-tonne weight. Then she adds firmly that this will be the only time she
speaks in a newspaper about the two children she gave up for adoption.
‘I’ve said it now. I have no more to say.’
Even though Philomena
managed to find work and save up her money to eventually fulfil
her dream of running a successful hotel in
‘When I’d meet boyfriends and maybe I’d have a second date I’d say to myself, “I like him. I might tell him I have a baby and I’m not married”. I’d say to them, “I think I’d better tell you, since you’ve asked me out a second time, I have a baby; I’m not married”. They’d say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”. “Well, but I’d better tell you that my baby is black”.
‘After that, it was trying to get me to bed because I was “a tramp”. And that went on for a long time. Every time I met a man.
‘So, all I did was keep working and working. I didn’t bother with men. Then one night, I went to a do at a nightclub and Denis was there.’
Phil was 14 years old when Philomena met Denis Keeley, the man she shared her life with for 50 years before his death in January this year. She says Phil and Denis ‘were great buddies’.
In an eerie coincidence, Denis was cremated on January 4 – the same date Phil died. Sadly, it meant that as Philomena was deep in mourning she was unable to attend the Vibe For Philo event for the first time in over 20 years.
‘It was heavy going. It was horrendous. He died on the Thursday night and the Vibe was on the Monday. And I love going to the Vibe because I love the music, I love seeing everybody, and I stand up there singing – I’m an old rocker. I was heartbroken.’
She says the past 12 months have been mentally and physically exhausting for both herself and Graham Cohen – a friend she describes as being like family – who helped her nurse Denis through his battle with cancer.
‘I knew I was losing Denis from last summer. He had deteriorated. We nursed him here; we wouldn’t let him go to the hospital.’
‘He was 78 but he got the lung cancer. He reckoned it was the cigarettes. He used to preach to me, “Phyllis, stop that smoking, you’ll end up like me”.
‘It was awful. We had him here for the last year of his life, taking care of him, me and Graham, waiting on him. I was with him for 50 years. And we never married.’
Do you regret not getting married?
‘Not at all. What for? To say, “I do”?! No, I would never say “I obey”.
Giving up her third child, James, for adoption and, at practically the same time, sending four-year-old Phil back to Crumlin to live with her parents were the hardest decisions of Philomena’s life.
Her mother, after all, was so mortified that she told the neighbours – and even her own husband – that Philip, her grandson, ‘belonged to a black lady’ who tragically died.
But she says, not only did her heart-breaking choice give both boys a better life, it also freed Philomena to get her own life together.
‘I lived in slums and Philip was going home to Crumlin, which was beautiful in its day,’ she says. ‘Going home to Mammy and my brothers to be raised like I was in that little house – warm, getting a dinner, pots of stew down him and everything, and going to school, it was…’
Her voice trails off.
‘Yeah,’ she says, adding:
‘And that allowed me to go and take the three jobs and send money to Mammy for
keeping him and then I’d send him his pocket money. I kept him very trendy; he
was the first kid in
‘And from that, I came out of the gutter. I got myself three jobs – I was working a full week, I was a barmaid at night, and I was doing markets at the weekend.
‘And I saved enough money to put a deposit on the hotel. And I moved up in the world, instead of God knows what would have happened to the three of them. They probably would have been brought up in a slum area; God knows what they’d be. There they are and they love me.’
In 1976, Phil disclosed in an interview that he would love to meet his father, Cecil.
‘His father got in touch with the office and the office got in touch with me. I said to Philip, “Do you want me to come with you when you’re going to meet your father?” “Ah, no,” he said. I think he took Big Charlie, his roadie.’
But, according to Philomena, father and son only met on one occasion – and not ‘five or six’ times, as Cecil’s wife Irene suggested in an interview with the MoS last year. She says Philip told her he didn’t warm to his father. ‘Philip was never interested afterwards. I don’t think he ever wanted to meet him again.’
Cecil Parris is, it is understood, living out his final days in a home for the elderly. Does Philomena have any desire to see him before he passes away?
‘No. I have not.’