Finding Tipperary Mary is Phyllis Whitsell’s extraordinary tale of finding the mother, Bridget Mary Larkin originally of Templemore, who gave her up for adoption and using her job as a district nurse to secretly care for her, never revealing that she was her lost daughter.
Phyllis was adopted aged 4. Despite being told that her parents had died of TB, she always believed that her mother was alive and, once old enough, was determined to track her down.
While Phyllis was growing up in Birmingham, training as a nurse, getting married and starting her own family, her mother Bridget, known locally as Tipperary Mary, a trouble maker with alcohol problems and a tendency to cause mayhem, was living in Balsall Heath, which was then a red light district of Birmingham.
So when Phyllis, after a long struggle, finally caught up with Bridget, she had to shield her own family from the problems this would cause. Hiding behind her district nurse’s uniform, Phyllis, with no authority to do so, simply added Bridget to her daily district rounds; bathing her, taking her clean clothes, tending the wounds from her dysfunctional life and offering her what love she could. Phyllis cared for her mother in this way from 1981 to 1990 – without once telling Bridget that she was the little girl she had given away all those years ago.
‘I came up with a plan of action. I was a district nurse and part of that role was visiting patients in their home. I could meet my mother in disguise as her nurse. As a professional I would have a reason to enter her house and she would not question my visit. I would be her nurse instead of her daughter.
Finding Tipperary Mary is a daughter’s personal account of the remarkable relationship that grew from abandonment into love,understanding and selfless care.