An ITV programme to be broadcast next week is expected to shed new light on the story of a baby boy who was found abandoned in a phone box in Laurence Steet in 1965.
Late one night in May 1965 Paul Murphy, then a junior reporter with the Evening Press newspaper and also into amateur dramatics, was returning from a rehearsal of John B. Keane’s “Year of the Hiker” with his friend Pat Bailey (now deceased) when they stumbled into a real life drama that would have done the Listowel playwright proud.
Having walked along the Chord Road and passed Laurence’s Gate, Paul heard a baby crying. Initially he thought the crying was coming from a basement flat in the building that now houses Paddy Goodwin’s Solicitor’s office.
The two friends were about to walk on by when Pat noticed something odd in the phone box that used to stand on the pavement close to the junction with Palace Street. There was a holdall type bag on the floor and, as the two friends very quickly found out, there was a baby boy inside it.
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Paul dialled 999 straight away and soon Inspector Donal Cahill and Garda John Hannigan were on the scene and the baby, he was given the name John, was quickly taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital where he was taken in by Nurse Nancy McDonagh formerly of the Marsh Road but now living in Highfield.
First thing the next morning Paul called the news desk of the Irish Press and rang in the story of a lifetime.
“The news editor was so excited I thought he was going to have a heart attack” Paul told Drogheda Life.
The Evening Press splashed the story over the front page and many other news organisations, in Ireland and around the world, picked up on it and followed suit.
Over the years, throughout a busy and varied career as a journalist covering the turbulent events of in Ireland in the seventies’ eighty’s and nineties, Paul was of course very curious as to what had become of the baby he had found in Laurence Street.
Decades passed and Paul went on to become Editor of the Drogheda Independent where he wrote a weekly column for many years. In one of these columns, written shortly before he retired, he mentioned the baby in the phone box.
Several more years passed and the editorship of the DI had passed to Hubert Murphy who one day got a call from a man looking to make contact with the man who had found him in a phone box in Drogheda all those years ago.
And so, eventually, in 2013, it came about that, Paul and the boy he found in a phone box, who by this time was a 48 year old man, had a very emotional meeting in the Westcourt Hotel. They have been firm friends ever since.
But that’s by no means the end of the story.
On Tuesday week, September 14, an ITV series called “Long Lost Family Born Without Trace”, presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell will mention baby John in the context of two other babies, and possibly more who were found abandoned in similar circumstances.
On a winter’s night in 1962, David McBride was found wrapped in a shawl, placed in a tartan bag, and left in the front seat of a car on the outskirts of Belfast.
Then, in 1968, retired truck driver Donal Boyle who had stopped to make a call came across a baby girl, subsequently called Helen, wrapped up warmly in another tartan bag with a bottle of milk next to her in the telephone box.
Despite David and Helen being found six years apart in remarkably similar circumstances, nobody connected the two foundlings until the Long Lost Family Search team used DNA to establish that they were in fact full brother and sister.
Back in 2019, Davina met with David to share the news and Nicky Campbell met Helen, who explained how astonishing it is to find a brother after a lifelong search. Later the same month, they met for the first time close to the border, which had separated them as they grew up. Helen said: “After 51 years, it’s a miracle, it really is.”
Three months later the search team made further progress and were able to identify David and Helen’s birth parents, both sadly deceased. It’s revealed that the siblings were born out of a forbidden relationship which spanned decades, and that David and Helen have multiple half-siblings on their birth father’s side.
Helen says of her mother: “It must have taken a huge amount of thought to have to give us up for the man she loved, but that was perhaps her only way.”
In the programme Helen mentions that she heard about another Irish foundling, John who was found in the phone box in Drogheda, and speculates as to whether he has any connection to her and David.
Knowing there was a third Irish foundling left in the 1960s, could David and Helen’s parents have been forced to leave another baby?
Find out more in the programme Long Lost Family Special which is scheduled to be broadcast on Tuesday September 14 on ITV at 9.00pm.
This article was written by Andy Spearman
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