STEFAN Doyle began life in the most difficult of circumstances in Romania. He was put up for adoption and shortly afterwards found a loving home with Irish parents.
Today, the gifted musician and singer from Wexford is preparing to perform in the knockout stages of Romania’s The X Factor, having impressed the judges with a rendition of Elton John’s hit Tiny Dancer.
Mr Doyle (31), who lives in Tullow, Co Carlow, with his fiancée Samanta, was one of more than 1,000 Romanian children adopted by Irish families in the aftermath of the Romanian revolution.
He was adopted by Catherine, a primary school teacher, and Stephen Doyle, who owned a grocery shop on the main street in Gorey. “Romania was not in a good place then and I, like many babies at the time, was placed in an orphanage,” he said.
“The conditions were horrendous in those places. You wouldn’t put a dog in there.
Luckily, my mam courageously came over on her own in the winter of 1990.
“Mam went through absolute hardship to get me. She was really put through the mill. She was so incredible and determined and eventually got me. I was only a baby, about seven or eight months.”
Mr Doyle grew up as an only child and spent many happy summers on his grandparents’ farm in Roscommon. He always knew he was adopted, but never had any desire to know his background. Then last year, his life took a surprising turn.
Ileana Cunniffe, a mother of five from Athenry in Galway, was interviewed on The Ryan Tubridy Show. Ms Cunniffe (42) had just recently told her story for the first time in the Irish Independent.
Inspired by finding her long-lost brother after almost three decades apart, she has helped to reunite more than 1,200 Romanian children worldwide with their birth families.
With the encouragement of his fiancée, Mr Doyle contacted Ms Cunniffe, who runs the Facebook page The Never Forgotten Children of Romania, and they tracked down his family.
“If it weren’t for Samanta, I probably wouldn’t have taken the leap,” he said.
“Ileana is incredible, she found my birth parents and it changed my life.”
After watching a video of Mr Doyle singing, Ms Cunniffe encouraged him to set up a Facebook page. Within a matter of days, he gained thousands of fans.
“Ileana got me a following in Romania, and that’s how The X Factor found me. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.
In a video that has been viewed thousands of times, Mr Doyle performed live in front of the judges. It was a resounding success.
“That moment on stage when my mum said how proud of me she was, it was one of the greatest moments for me.
“The journey to X Factor was incredible already. I never thought I would make it that far, not in my wildest dreams.”