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Maine man discovers harrowing past, family through a DNA test

"I just felt so comfortable. It felt like I belonged."

SOUTH PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER Maine) - He was forcibly taken from his mother's arms in Ireland and sold to an American couple.

A Maine state legislator never knew the truth about his birth until a trip to Wales in early May.

His terrifying story is written in history, and if you saw the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, you already know part of the story. It’s based on a true story about a woman trying to reconnect with her son, who was taken from her after she gave birth out of wedlock at an Irish convent.

That same convent took nearly 500 kids from their unwed mothers and sold them to American couples in the mid-1900s. One of those 500 babies is now a grown man in South Portland, Maine.

Kevin Battle is a retired police officer, current Portland Harbor Master, and a state legislator. He dreamed of meeting his birth mother his whole life. “I wanted to meet her and say 'hey I don't know the circumstances. Thanks for having me, but I turned out to be an okay guy,’” he said.

PRESS HERALD (Adoption Rights Alliance webpage/courtesy of Brian Lockier)

Battle had searched his whole life for a Kathleen Sheedy, who gave birth to him at Ireland's Sean Ross Abbey in 1959.

He was told she gave him up -- but he was determined to find her, even taking a trip to the Abbey after he graduated high school. He says he showed up at the door and introduced himself. Then, in his words, “the lady at the door said ‘you don't belong here. You’re not welcome. Don't come back,’” and slammed the door in his face.

He wouldn't find his answer until 40 years later, when his wife gave him an Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas.

Battle discovered he had been searching for the wrong woman his entire life. He says nuns at the Abbey had given him a fake name. With the switch of a few letters, he had his mother’s real name: not Catherine Sheedy, but Kathleen Sheehy.

The Ancestry kit showed one match: a first cousin who connected Battle with five siblings in Wales. He immediately booked a trip for early May.

He was too late to meet his mother. She died in 2009. But what he discovered he says gave him chills. “We’ve been looking for you,” one of his brothers told him. Battle’s mother had been looking for him, too.

Battle says he discovered that nuns took him from his mom months after she gave birth out of wedlock.

He was one of almost 500 children born at the Sean Ross Abbey over a 40-year period -- forcibly taken from their mothers and sold to American couples.

“[My siblings] said they had forced their way into the home and took me from her,” he explained. “What a heck of a thing to do to a mother. Any mother.”

They may never have met, but Kevin and his mother always had each other in mind.

Her tombstone has six of her favorite flowers -- one for each of her five children in Ireland, and one for Kevin -- the son she never met.

“I just felt so comfortable,” Battle said of his family reunion. “It felt like I belonged.”

Battle talks to his siblings daily, and says he and his wife are planning a trip together to visit them. She is currently battling cancer, but Battle says her prognosis is “treatable and beatable,” and that the couple will head to Wales to celebrate her health.

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