Evelyn – in her own words
by KATIE HAMPSON, Femail.co.uk
But instead of returning home with a pint of milk and a loaf of bread, the mother of six had walked out on her family to start a new life with her lover in Scotland.
She had secretly packed her bags, leaving her dishevelled painter-decorater husband Desmond Doyle alone to bring up seven-year-old Evelyn and her five younger brothers.
Determined to turn his life around and take care of his family, Desmond remained unaware his mother-in-law had reported the abandonment.
What followed was a real-life human drama about real injustice that paints a miserable picture of Catholic Ireland in the 1950s, evoking both pity and outrage.
The children were forced by the Irish State to live in separate industrial schools run by the Catholic Orders – an institution infamous for neglect and abuse.
When we spoke to the real-life Evelyn Doyle – who left Ireland in 1956 with her family to start a new life in England – she recalled her childhood with mixed emotions.
Her touching life story inspired the Hollywood film Evelyn, which stars Pierce Brosnan as Desmond Doyle and Sophie Vavasseur as the eponymous Evelyn, who plays her with just the right amount of charm and cheek.
“There were scenes in the film I couldn’t watch,” Evelyn, who is now 57, concedes, although she admits she was pleased with the film.
“I had watched my mother walk away and I knew she wasn’t coming back.”
“When the mother left her daughter on the balcony in the film, I broke down. I had to leave the cinema.”
Unlike the film, Evelyn tells her story passionately but without the schmalz.
In Ireland during that time, both parents were required by law to appear in court and consent to the release of the children.
As his wife had left him, quite literally, holding the babies, Desmond was forced to go where no man had gone before: to court to fight against the combined might of the Irish State and the Roman Catholic Church to win back custody of his children.
When Evelyn begins to tell her story, she is effervescent, warm and open.
Although she escaped physical abuse – unlike her character in the film – she suffered loneliness and uncertainty.
“I lost my mother, brothers and father in the space of a fortnight and I had no idea what happened to them.”
“But I settled in because I knew there was nothing I could do about it.”
In the film, Desmond’s desperate situation is portrayed sympathetically as he works hard with the help of his father to regain his business and repay his debts so his children can come home.
When his appeal to win custody is knocked back, he takes his case to the Supreme Court – and wins.
His inspiring victory set a precedent for Irish law that saw many children, including Evelyn, eventually reunited with their families.
“No one had ever tried to do what my father did – and if they did try, they failed,” Evelyn said.
“My father didn’t think he’d done anything extraordinary.”
“But I never lost sight of my faith that my father would bring me home.”
Even though Evelyn has recounted her story countless times, particularly for the purposes of her two autobiographical novels, she finds some aspects of her past hard to talk about.
As she recalled how the court case took its toll on her family after they were reunited, her eyes filled with tears.
“The fight closed his heart down.”
She said the court case had stipped him of his dignity and at times he became abusive.
“But even though my father was cruel and nasty by today’s standards, he never left us alone,” she said.
In true Hollywood style however, the film ends on a feel-good note.
“It’s not meant to be a documentary,” Evelyn told me.
“It’s just a film about a man’s love for his children.”
Evelyn DVD and video is available to rent and buy on 22nd September from Pathe Distribution Ltd.