James Ward, PA
Dame Judi Dench has paid tribute to mother and baby homes survivor and campaigner Philomena Lee, describing her as a “remarkable person”.
The Oscar-winner portrayed Ms Lee in the 2013 film Philomena, which documented her 50-year search for her forcibly adopted son, Anthony.
Ms Dench was commenting after the release of a report into the lives of women and children who lived at the homes for unmarried mothers between 1922 and 1998.
She told the BBC: “I was lucky enough before filming to meet Philomena.
“I got to know her, a very, very remarkable person.”
The homes, operated by the Catholic Church and funded by the State, were subject to a five-year investigation, the results of which were published this week.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin apologised to the survivors of the homes.
Ms Dench said on today: “I feel as if I know the very tip of the iceberg of all this.
“I can’t imagine, to get an apology all this time later from the Taoiseach.
“I suppose it goes a little way to the heart-rending pain of all those mothers who never knew what happened to their children, and have spent their whole lives, not knowing.
“In Philomena’s case, she searched for Anthony and eventually found him after terrible years of pain and not knowing.
“I just can’t imagine.
“I suppose, an apology goes some way to somehow putting things slightly at rest after such a long time.”
The film Philomena, in which Dame Judi starred alongside Steve Coogan, shone a light on the long search for answers many survivors have had to endure.
She said: “I hope it drew attention to what happened… and the plight of so many women.”
She said survivors had been calling for “some kind of recognition of the pain that they suffered for years and years and years.
“And still not knowing where their children went.”
Ms Lee, originally from Co Limerick, lived with her son Anthony in a mother and baby home until he was three years old, when he was adopted by a wealthy American couple and renamed Michael Hess.
Speaking to RTÉ on Tuesday, Ms Lee said: “I used to teach him little songs and things.
“Three and a half years and then just to be snatched away.
“They told me, ‘Your son is going to be adopted’, just like that.
“When he was adopted, I cried the whole weekend.
Ms Lee recalled being told to be “grateful” that her son was going to a “good Catholic home”.
Reflecting on the release of the report, she said: “In a way, I’m glad that it’s come to the fore once again.”
She said it had given other survivors “a chance to come forward and be able to find out so much about themselves.
“They were never given any information at all.
“I never had any information after I left it.”
Ms Lee added: “Sometimes I think, too, there should have been an apology from the church.
“There should be an apology from the church.
“That would help a little bit, I think – it would ease some of the sadness.”