Long-Lost Siblings’ Expose a Terrible Taboo from the 1960s

David McBride and Helen Ward’s story is a tale that speaks of a tragic experience between two siblings. They were both abandoned as babies under extraordinary and remarkably similar circumstances at different locations along the Irish border. For 51 years, they lived their lives separate from each other but always wanted to know the truth about their birth parents and siblings.

John, David, Helen / David, Helen / Helen / David.
Source: ITV

Finally, the siblings reunite with the help of the famous British TV show called “Long Lost Family,” a show that helps bring long-lost family members together. David and Helen’s reunion is a very emotional one that also reveals the shocking story about their birth parents’ forbidden love.

The Beginning of a Sad Tale

Our story begins in 1962 when a baby boy was abandoned in the back of a vehicle on a terribly cold night. In 1968, a similar story emerged when a baby girl was deserted in a phone booth under the same circumstances. Strange as it may seem, the same parents were responsible for the two cases. No one would have ever thought that it would take a couple of decades for the two children to connect and finally start searching for answers.

A photo of the baby boy.
David. Source: ITV

The baby boy who was abandoned in 1962 is David McBride. The little girl abandoned within the same locality is Helen Ward. David was left on the outskirts of Belfast as a baby, and six years later, Helen was deserted in Dundalk.

David McBride’s Story

Starting with David’s, let’s delve deeper into this disturbing case. As initially stated, David’s story began in 1962 when he was abandoned in the front seat of a vehicle on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The child was found covered with a slightly thick fabric to keep him warm and was placed in a duffle bag with a red tartan pattern.

David speaks during an interview.
David. Source: ITV

This event happened on a cold January evening. The weather was freezing, making it exceptionally unsafe for the child. The only good news is that little David wasn’t left out in the cold for too long because the car owner came across the bag. She was astonished to see a baby and immediately called the authorities. They took the child to the city hospital to confirm he was OK before making any further decisions.

David’s Story makes it to the Front Page of the Newspaper

The events that happened that cold evening and many other similar events gathered a lot of attention. David’s story made it to the front page of the Belfast Telegraph. Eventually, a loving family living in the same city adopted David. As young David grew older, everything seemed to go smoothly until he became a teenager. At age 15, David decided to join the army, and his life took a drastic turn.

A photo from David and Helen’s encounter.
David, Helen. Source: ITV

One of the major requirements for the application process was that David needed to provide his birth certificate. When David took a closer look at his birth certificate for the first time, he discovered that no specific date of birth was listed. Instead, the paper read, “On or about January 6.” Without a doubt, the discovery left the teen in a state of confusion, and many questions ran through his mind.

A New Discovery Unfolds for Young David

David wasted no time in sharing his discovery with his adoptive father. It was at this point David heard the news for the first time about how he was found. His adoptive dad told him the whole story of how he was a “foundling,” a term used to describe children adopted by different families after their real parents abandoned them.

A picture from the sibling’s reunion.
David, Helen. Source: ITV

David’s father explained that there was no way to confirm his actual date of birth without knowing his mother when he was found. Based on that context, the hospital staff had to calculate and provide a rough estimate of his birth date. According to their calculations, David was about 2 weeks old when he was found on the evening of January 16, 1962. All the news David had just heard shocked him to his bones, and it was a tough pill for him to swallow.

A New Perspective on Life

In his interview with the Daily Mail’s website sometime in September 2021, David explained that it dawned on him that someone loved and genuinely cared for him for the first few weeks of his life. “It meant that for the first couple of weeks of my life, someone fed me, clothed me, kept me warm, loved me, someone genuinely cared. Suddenly your view of the world changes slightly. You feel a wee bit lost, to be truthful.”

David comes back to the driveway where he was found.
David. Source: Pinterest

While sharing his emotional story on an episode of “Long Lost Family,” David shared his thoughts about how sad he felt. David noted that though he was sorry that the event occurred and didn’t like how everything unfolded, he was equally sad for his mother. David said that he imagined that the whole experience must have been challenging for her. It must have been challenging to let go of her child after creating a bond.

The Pain and Confusion were the Major Motivators

David felt so much pain and confusion because he found it difficult to understand why his birth mother suddenly couldn’t cope with him any longer. David questioned why he had to experience abandonment. Still, he also accepted the fact that he couldn’t help himself from feeling the way he did. Nevertheless, the pain and confusion motivated David to press on and keep searching for answers as he grew older.

A photo of David as a young boy.
David. Source: YouTube

David spent most of his adult life searching for answers. In 2003, David shared his story in a major TV campaign that made his story even more public. One may think that this significant move would lead to much progress, but unfortunately, there was no news regarding his search. Despite David’s efforts, he could not solve the mystery regarding who his birth parents were, or his birth story. David was forced to live with this issue hanging over his head, and he almost felt hopeless.

The Plot Twist

David currently lives in Birmingham with his wife, Anastra, and their three children. He also has four adult daughters from a previous marriage. While David was still trying to find answers about his past, someone was also on the same journey. That individual was also abandoned as a baby under similar circumstances. Shockingly, it turns out that this person is David’s sister, Helen Ward, and her story is equally fascinating.

A picture of Helen as a young girl.
Helen. Source: Pinterest

In March 1968, just six years after David was abandoned, a stranger found Baby Helen in the same tartan pattern duffle bag inside a telephone booth. It rained that evening, and the child was adequately dressed with a warm bottle of milk beside her. The event took place in the Irish town Dundalk, the same region of Ireland where David was found.

Helen’s Story Continues

The stranger who found baby Helen was a truck driver, and he also reported the case to the authorities. Thankfully, after her tough start in life, the baby was also adopted by a loving family. Helen’s story is slightly different from David’s because her parents were quite honest with her about her adoption. The fact that Helen was adopted was not kept secret, and the parents deemed it essential to let her in on that information, at least because she was getting older.

A photo of Helen’s birth certificate.
Source: ITV

Though Helen’s parents were honest about her adoption, one crucial piece of information they left out was the fact that she was a foundling. Helen also shared her story in an interview with the Daily Mail. She explained how that news gave room for more curiosity about her birth parents.

The Questioning Phase

Helen was 17 years old when she asked her father for more information about her birth and adoption. Her father suggested she “let sleeping dogs lie,” but that was not enough to stop Helen from carrying on with her search.

A member of the production team takes a picture with Helen.
Source: ITV

According to Helen, she had so many questions in her head regarding who her parents were. Helen imagined the hardship her birth mother must have faced in deciding to give her up. Her constant thoughts further aroused her curiosity to find out the identity of her birth mother.

Paying a Visit to the Adoption Agency

Helen eventually had children, and this development encouraged her to try and find her mother again. The quest to find her mother’s identity led to a significant moment in 2003. An adoption agency in the Irish town of Drogheda reached out to Helen, giving her a bit of hope. She was confident that her birth mother’s name was part of their records, but unfortunately, that was not the case.

Helen and David speak during an interview.
Helen, David. Source: YouTube

Yes, Helen could not find her birth mother’s name. All she saw was a single phrase written on her birth certificate: “Child found exposed.” The expression confirmed that Helen was indeed a foundling, and the news did not sit well with her. In an episode of the TV show “Long Lost Family,” she talked about how the discovery made her feel, and she couldn’t help but shed a few tears as she spoke.

Heartbreaking News

While speaking on the TV show, Helen recalled how she had gone into the adoption agency filled with hope and optimism. She explained that finding her birth mother meant so much. Still, she felt heartbroken after leaving the adoption agency that day. “…It broke my heart that day I left.”

A still of David and Helen during a televised interview.            
David, Helen. Source: YouTube

Despite Helen’s setback with the adoption agency, she didn’t give up on her search. As a matter of fact, she reached out to an Irish radio station on her 44th birthday. The same way David shared his story in a major TV campaign, Helen also talked about her story on the radio. She hoped that the story would provide her with some news about her past, and thankfully, she had a breakthrough.

The Man who Found Helen Calls the Radio Station

Helen’s story spread far and wide throughout her locality in Ireland. Soon enough, the lorry driver that found her in the phone booth back in 1968 contacted the radio station, which led to an unexpected reunion. The truck driver’s name was Donal Vaughan, and he talked about the events that happened that fateful day Helen was found. Helen listened intently while the old lorry driver shared the story, and learning about the events that took place that evening was quite intriguing.

An image of a truck driver riding on a highway.
Photo by JupiterImages/Getty Images

Helen shared the story Donal told her in her interview with the Daily Newspaper. Donal said that when he approached the phone booth that night, a woman quickly pushed through the door and got into a vehicle. The lady who entered the car might have been Helen’s mother. The truck driver noted that he believed the woman was keeping watch until someone found the baby.

Does the Story Reach a Dead End?

In addition to the story Donal shared, he included that he found the baby with a warm milk bottle beside her. Learning this news was great, but unfortunately, nothing else came to light after the radio appeal. At this point, Helen felt like she had reached a dead end with Donal’s story. Years later though, she decided to take a step further.

A photo of a truck on a highway.
Photo by Stockbyte/Getty Images

The major innovation in DNA-testing technology encouraged Helen to undergo a DNA test in 2019. She submitted the results to an online database that same year, and things started to turn in Helen’s favor. A few months later, David’s DNA results also found their way to the same database. Surprisingly, it wasn’t David who entered his results.

Long Lost Family Prevails!

Long Lost Family’s production team was responsible for putting David’s information online after he had reached out for assistance. Once the TV show’s team noticed a match on the database, it was good news all the way. The foundlings could finally be reunited!

A screengrab from the sibling’s reunion.                
Source: YouTube

When David heard the news, he could barely contain his emotion. Though he was happy, something also bothered him about the discovery. David told the Daily Mail that finding out that he had a sister was one of his most significant discoveries. Nevertheless, he was also sad because he knew she went through the same challenging journey he had.

The Two Siblings Finally Meet for the First Time

After waiting so many years, it was finally time for the separated siblings to reunite. David and Helen finally met each other for the first time towards the end of 2019, close to the Irish border. It goes without saying that the first meeting was highly emotional. There were a lot of smiles and tears of joy! Helen described her reaction to the meeting as highly unusual because they had been apart for so long.

A photo of David and Helen spending time together.
David, Helen. Source: Pinterest

Helen was beaming as she spoke of their similarities after meeting her brother for the first time. “It’s just unbelievable. When you sit there and look at your brother, it’s a very strange and exciting feeling. After 51 years, it’s a miracle.” David also struggled to take in the news and stated that the news meant he finally has someone he can easily relate to and someone who understands exactly how he felt all those years. Though the reunion was a wonderful and memorable moment, two questions remained unanswered. Who were their actual parents? And why did they abandon their children?

Solving the Mystery, Step by Step

The production team for the popular TV show worked tirelessly on David and Helen’s case. Soon, the truth started to unfold. All the answers they had desperately sought were finally within their reach. But the siblings did not take in the unconventional story of their parents so easily, because it was pretty gloomy and very controversial.

A member of the production team takes a picture with David.                                                           
Source: ITV

David and Helen’s father came from Dublin, Ireland, where he owned a store. He worked hard to take care of a large family alongside his wife. They had not less than 14 children, but here is another plot twist: His spouse was not the mother of either of the foundlings.

A Forbidden Affair Finally Exposed!

If you thought the foundlings’ father was having an affair, you guessed right. Helen and David’s dad cheated on his wife with another woman, and their relationship lasted for almost 40 years! Their mother was from Kerry, and she had given birth to the children between the ages of 34 and 41. The love the unique pair shared resulted in the births of David and Helen. However, this isn’t the most controversial aspect of their story.

Helen and David speak during an interview.
Helen, David. Source: YouTube

What could have possibly been strong enough to hide a long-lasting love affair? Well, the answer is religion. David and Helen’s parents did not share the same religious beliefs, which was a major issue back then. Their father was a Protestant, while their mum was Roman Catholic, a massive taboo in 1960s Ireland.

What was the Reason for the Taboo?

The Protestant and Roman Catholic Church had a lot of hostility toward each other. The conflict started when the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association organized a campaign to protect the Catholic minority. Apparently, the Protestant government and local authorities oppressed the Catholic minority, so the government tried to put an end to the protests.

A photo of Ireland in the 1960’s.
Photo by Mondadori/Getty Images

The conflict was referred to as “The Troubles,” and it lasted for about 30 years, from the latter part of the 1960s to 1998. The Northern Ireland Conflict, as it was called internationally, was also called “irregular war” or “low-level war.” Though the troubles mostly happened in Northern Ireland, at some points, the violence also stretched to other parts of Ireland’s Republic, mainland Europe, and England. The “Good Friday Agreement” led to the end of that conflict in 1998.

The Terribly Lonesome Situation

In her interview with the Daily Mail, Helen talked about how the taboo must have left her birth mother in a lonely situation. Surely it was not easy to make such a decision, giving up the two children for the man she loved, but maybe it was the only way to keep them safe. David affirmed Helen’s statement by saying that they both felt the same sadness for their mother in that aspect.

An image of an iron gate in front of a building.
Photo by Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

David also added that if he put himself in his parents’ shoes, it must have been a tough position to be in in the 60s. “It’s very hard to put yourself in the place of our parents in ’60s Ireland and the choices they had to make,” he said. Sadly, the foundling’s parents were no longer alive for them to ask any further questions. Helen and David’s dad passed on in 1993 at the age of 83, and their mother lived to age 90. Sadly, she remained unmarried and died a couple of years before the children reunited.

Yet Another Major Twist?

If you thought the story was over, you haven’t heard the best part! The foundlings visited their birth mother’s grave, and on their way back, Helen recalled something important. She remembered a chat she had with a reporter shortly after sharing her story on the radio. As she spoke with the reporter, he talked about another foundling.

A photo of the three siblings reunited.
Helen, John, David. Source: ITV

The foundling was discovered in Drogheda in 1965, between David and Helen’s births. When Helen heard the information about the third foundling, she didn’t pay much attention. But after reuniting with her brother, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that the child may be the third sibling.

Helen Might Have Lost Her Marbles

When Helen told him about a possible third sibling, David said that he thought she was crazy. However, David decided to do some digging of his own. He discovered that Ireland had only three reported cases of abandoned children from the ’60s. So if Helen and David were two of them, their parents probably had a third child.

A photo from the three siblings spending an afternoon together.
John, Helen, David. Source: YouTube

You guessed right again! David and Helen’s parents had another child, and the baby from Drogheda was he. The baby’s name is John Dowling, and he was abandoned in a phone booth just like his sister Helen had been. The event happened in May 1965, and John was discovered by a journalist named Paul Murphy.

The Tale of John’s Discovery Continues

Paul Murphy was walking home after visiting a friend when he heard a baby’s cry. The sound was coming from a phone booth, and what he found shocked him. Lying in a bag wrapped in a slightly thick cover cloth was John, and he also had a warm bottle of milk beside him. The journalist immediately contacted the police, and when they arrived, they took the child to a local hospital.

A photo of David and Helen embracing each other at their reunion.
David, Helen. Source: ITV

The baby was later named John, and he was also adopted. John grew up alongside a sister, and just like Helen, his parents told him he was adopted. However, his parents did not know that he was a foundling. After getting married to his wife, Paula, the birth of their three daughters made him more curious about his past. He discovered he was the abandoned baby after a friend encouraged him to make further inquiries about his past.

A Beautiful Turn of Events

Now, here’s another exciting part: John’s daughter was the one who revealed this news after watching the “Long Lost Family” episode in Australia. Donna Dowling is the name of John’s daughter, and while she watched the TV show, the story in that episode resonated with her. She remembered that her father was also a foundling who was abandoned in an Irish phone booth. He also had a warm bottle of milk beside him, and she noticed that Helen and John’s resemblance and mannerisms were similar to David’s.

A panoramic view of Ireland’s countryside.
Source: YouTube

Donna wasted no time and placed a call to her father. John is a heavy goods driver who lives in Kilkenny, and Donna suggested he carry out a DNA test. She also reached out to the show after receiving the results, and when they confirmed the match, a new reunion began.

Another Happy Moment for the Three Foundlings

The three siblings met in the summer of 2021, and the meeting led to another round of emotional outbursts. In addition, Long Lost Family took advantage of the new reunion and dedicated an episode to the recent turn of events. The show aired in September, with many viewers witnessing a beautiful story of three foundlings reuniting after many years.

A photo of the presenters who brought the siblings together.
Source: ITV

Helen was full of joy because her suspicions were confirmed true. She described the reunion with their brother John as “natural and easy.” The most beautiful feeling Helen got from the reunion was that there was no longer a barrier. The three siblings talked about their past, their feelings, and any other topic they deemed necessary. Indeed, it felt like a miracle for Helen to finally find people who understood exactly how she felt all those years.

David and Helen Express Their Feelings

The extra-special lengthy episode on Long Lost Family was dedicated to the three foundlings. It retraced all the events that made a mother and father give away their three babies over the course of six years. While commenting on the show, the 59-year-old lawyer David said he felt he was alone in the past, but discovering that he had a sister and a brother was quite mind-blowing. Finally, David felt complete after reuniting with his long-lost siblings.

A picture from David and Helen’s first encounter.
David, Helen. Source: ITV

Helen, the 53-year-old former teacher, added that it was an incredible feeling to know she had two brothers. “To go from one day being a woman who was adopted to having a full brother and then another, it’s an incredible feeling.”

John Had No Idea He Was Watching His Siblings on Screen

While the program originally aired, John recalled watching Helen and David’s episode, but he never thought they might be his siblings. For John, this discovery led to a mixture of emotions. “I was dumbfounded when I got the news,” he said. “There’s sadness in this story, but there is also so much happiness.”

John, David, and Helen go for lunch together.
John, David, Helen. Source: YouTube

When you look at the three adults, there’s no doubt that they are related. They all have the same huge smile and similarly shaped noses. Though they had just met earlier that summer, the siblings shared a strong connection. They teased and joked around just like any set of siblings enjoy doing. David said that it felt like they had known each other their whole lives.

Some Difficult Moments Before the Reunion

David, John, and Helen were raised in relatively happy homes with their adoptive parents. They weren’t abused or maltreated at all and received a lot of love from their foster homes, but like any adopted child, there was always a void. Thankfully the trio is now united, and nothing can separate them. However, prior to their meeting, there were some challenging times.

John and David take a picture together.
John, David. Source: Pinterest

Helen talked about her struggle with her first child. She felt her daughter was missing out on knowing her grandmother. “You think about the day that she dressed you, put you in a bag, put you in a phone box, and sent you off. And you look at your own little baby and you say, ‘How could she have done that?’”

The Coming Together of a Bigger Family

The beauty of the three siblings’ reunion is that it also extends to their children. According to David, all the kids want to know more about where they came from, and the whole process is about having a sense of identity.

A picture of Helen and John at a restaurant.
Helen, John. Source: Pinterest

Suddenly, the children found out they had new cousins and could connect with each other as family. Many of the cousins look very much alike, and David said it has been a fantastic experience watching them bond. Apart from the children, other family bonds have emerged as well. The foundlings are also starting to connect with some of their birth father’s remaining children because, sadly, four have passed away.

For our next story, we are looking into the incredible life-story of Sally Whitney.