herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Long-lost brothers celebrate their first Christmas together after 80 years apart

Jimmy and Frederick O’Donnell enjoy their first Christmas together
Jimmy and Frederick O’Donnell enjoy their first Christmas together

Two brothers who spent 80 years unaware of each other's existence are celebrating their first Christmas together.

Frederick O'Donnell (78) and his brother Jimmy (80) were born in separate mother and baby homes in Dublin in the 1930s.

They met each other for the first time this year. They were united thanks to a Herald story about how Frederick had discovered he had a brother and was now seeking help to track him down.

The Finders International company responded, and located Jimmy, who was living in Cheltenham in England.

Now the two brothers have just enjoyed their first ever Christmas celebration together. They could not wait until Christmas Day and decided to have their first festive meal together in a pub in England.

"It's a crying shame that almost 80 Christmases were taken away from us," said Frederick.

"Now that we've had our first Christmas celebration together, I wish we could look forward to 80 more," he told the Herald.

Their mother, Julia O'Donnell from Eugene Street in Dublin, worked as a teenage maid in Dublin in the 1930s.

She gave birth to Jimmy in the Church of Ireland Bethany Home in Rathgar in 1935. Jimmy grew up in an orphanage in Co Wicklow and then emigrated to England, completely unaware he had any family.

Julia gave birth to Frederick two years later in Saint Patrick's Mother and Baby Home in Dublin. By the time Frederick was 18-months-old, Julia was living and working in a convent-run Magdalene laundry in Cork and the toddler was fostered by different families.

But he was found begging in Dublin at the age of eight and was detained for eight hard years in Artane Industrial School. He left the school at 16, and eventually also emigrated to England, unaware he had a brother.

Julia O'Donnell never left the laundry, and she died on the property aged 81 in 1996.

Frederick married and raised a family in Bradford. Years later, his daughter, Theresa, began to research his family tree.

In 2013, they discovered that Julia was buried in a cemetery plot for Magdalene inmates in Co Cork. And documents revealed that she had given birth to another son, Jimmy, in 1935.

Theresa and Frederick contacted the Herald this year and asked for help to trace Jimmy's whereabouts.

The two brothers were overjoyed to meet each other. Both were born in June, and they are looking forward to having a joint birthday celebration next summer.

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