'I'm your mammy's little boy'

When Shannon Leet from Ontario was planning a holiday to Northern Ireland, she had hoped to visit the graves of some of her ancestors.

Her mother Moya had moved to Canada from Omagh in County Tyrone during the early 1960s, aged 17.

Shannon posted an appeal on a local Facebook group, seeking information about her family’s history.

She was stunned when she received a message from an unknown man in Londonderry, saying: “Shannon, I am your mammy’s little boy.”

‘Forced to give baby away’

Moya Beckett
Moya was forced to give her baby boy up for adoption when she was 17 [Family handout]

The unknown man was Billy Scampton.

He was born at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry in 1962.

Shortly after his birth he was brought to Marianvale mother and baby home with his mum – Moya Beckett from Omagh.

She was 17 when she gave birth out of wedlock and was forced by her family to give her baby boy up for adoption.

Billy was soon transferred from Marianvale to Nazareth House in Fahan, County Donegal.

He was adopted by Ben and Vera Scampton from Derry, and was raised in a loving and nurturing home.

It was only after the deaths of his adoptive parents that Billy began searching for his birth mother.

He quickly drew a blank when he discovered she had moved abroad shortly after he was born.

Then last year, an old friend spotted Shannon’s post on Facebook and began to connect the dots.

“I sent a message to her asking what she knew about her mother’s time in Ireland, and she told me that her mother had given birth to a baby boy and was forced to give him up for adoption in 1962 before she was sent to Canada," he told BBC News NI.

Billy’s siblings David and Shannon with their mother Moya
There is a clear resemblance between Billy and his family in Canada [Family handout ]

After phone calls and video chats, the strong physical resemblance between the pair was quickly apparent.

Billy learned that he has another sibling in Canada – Shannon’s brother, David.

But the revelation was bittersweet.

Billy also discovered that his mother had died in 2019, having developed dementia.

Shannon said: “She told me one day that she had a baby boy and she was forced by family to give him away.

“I didn’t know whether to believe her or not because dementia does very strange things to people’s brains and their lives.

"She never said anything else. Never mentioned it one more time. Everything just went back to normal.”

When Shannon posted her appeal on Facebook to trace family connections in Northern Ireland, it hadn’t occurred to her that she might find a sibling.

“I just wanted to find family when we were coming over here. Alive or dead,” she said.

As Billy put it: “She came looking for the dead and found the living.”

‘Years of sadness swept away’

Billy and Shannon visit mother’s family home in Omagh
Billy and Shannon visited their mother’s family home in Omagh [Family handout]

At the start of May, Shannon, along with her husband and some close friends, arrived at Dublin Airport, where Billy and his wife waited to greet them.

“All the years of sadness were swept away. It was such a joyous moment. We just embraced,” said Billy of the moment they finally met.

“I can’t believe I have my sister here in Ireland, sitting in my house in Derry. It is just beyond the stuff of dreams.”

The siblings have been getting to know each other, and Billy has been learning about his mother Moya.

According to Shannon, she was “a special lady”.

“But during the journey of her life, I think with having what she had to do – giving up Billy so abruptly - I think that took a toll on her, her living with that and not letting anybody know,” she said.

Moya Beckett
Moya passed away in 2019 after developing dementia [Family handout]

Shannon said her mother had some mental health issues during her lifetime.

“For us, we look back – my husband and I and our friends - and say, now we understand what Moya was going through, and she just couldn’t tell us," she said.

“And that’s really unfortunate because I think she would have had a happier life. But she was exceptional, she was my mum.”

Asked what Moya would think of the long-lost siblings finding each other, Shannon said: “She’d be over the moon, she’d be very proud.

“I think that she’s looking down on us, I know that. She’d be dancing.”

Billy never got to meet his birth mother, but thanks to Shannon, he got to say goodbye to her.

The siblings scattered some of her ashes in Omagh’s River Strule, close to where she lived and went to school as a girl.

Billy said: “We brought her home.”