I'm not sure why they (the former orphans) didn't Google (or Alta Vista or whatever is was back then)each other ten years ago. Maybe it was one of those subconscious things, they didn't want to find the other still married to someone else; better to just hold a nice memory.
IT was all in the smile. And a bond that had begun in a bleak orphanage 50 years ago would blossom again in a busy shopping centre.
Alan Brogan had heard someone call his name, spun on his heels - to come face to face with Irene Kinnair, the woman he had loved for ever.
Alan says: “I know it sounds strange, but I just knew it was her, I could never forget that smile. And she was exactly the same… she said she knew it was me the minute she saw me standing in the street.”
Irene says: “I think the whole of Sunderland heard me shout! He just held me in his arms and I thought he was never going to let go. He told the friend I was with, ‘I’ve loved this lady all my life.’”
Not all - but most of it…
Their amazing story, which will end in marriage in May, began in 1959 when they were thrown together in the same children’s home following the death of their mothers.
Kindred spirits, aged just seven and nine, they quickly formed a bond and became the best of friends.
Alan was just four when his mother Eileen died of cervical cancer. Split up from his three brothers, he had already lived in two care homes before arriving at the Rennie Road orphanage in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear at the age of seven.
When Irene’s mum Greta died of TB, relatives took her three older sisters in, but as the youngest she was sent to the children’s home.
“It was a very old fashioned system and they just assumed that the father couldn’t look after the children once the mother had gone,” explains Alan.
“I know my dad tried to get us back, but it didn’t work.
WHEN Irene and me saw each other for the first time we felt like we knew each other, there was an instant connection. From that day we were inseparable.”
Irene, now 56 and a fitness instructor, adds: “I had nobody. So when Alan came along, we clung on to each other. We weren’t alone anymore. He looked out for me and made me feel safe.
“We’d sit by the stream or run through the woods. Whatever we were doing we wanted to be together.”
“She was indescribable, still is,” says Alan, now 54. “We think like each other, we finish each other’s sentences, there’s an unbreakable bond. Something inside me glows whenever I look at her. And it’s always been like that with us.”
But their friendship infuriated staff at the ultra-strict Rennie Road home which forbade the boys from mixing with the girls. Alan was soon packed away to another home and never even got to say goodbye.
Knowing that fraternising with the opposite sex, no matter how innocent, was not allowed, they had tried to keep their friendship under wraps. However, at the home’s annual holiday to Whitby, their cover was blown.
Alan says: “We were playing and having fun, chasing each other round the camp. We ended up rolling around on the ground. One of the staff came out of her hut and blew her top. She screamed at us to get inside.
“We were just a couple of kids playing, but it wasn’t the done thing. Irene got a belt round the lug and told to be more ladylike and I was told I’d be dealt with later, but to expect big trouble.” Alan weekly chores increased. He could never have predicted what actually happened.
On returning to Sunderland, he was stopped from leaving the home to go to school. He was kept in the playroom until a big black car pulled up and he was bundled inside.
Heartbroken and terrified, he was taken to another children’s home on the other side of Sunderland.
“Irene was my only friend in the world and they’d taken me away from her,” he remembers. “The one person I felt close to.
“I had watched her walk off down the road to school. That was the last time I would see her for more than 40 years. I never had a chance to say goodbye. I’ll never forgive them for that. The anger stayed with me for many years.”
His unsuccessful attempts at running away to be reunited with Irene eventually led to Alan being sent to a school for disruptive children in Stanhope, Co Durham where he stayed until he was 15. More here