MORE than 25 years after he embarked on a relentless search across continents for his family, a retired Australian man is finally on the verge of a meeting with a sister in Swindon he never knew existed growing up.

Derek Maguire, 56, emigrated to Melbourne from England in 1966 at the age of eight with his mother Philomena and sister Alison following his father Dermot’s death. As he reached adulthood, he became increasingly curious about his heritage and keen to uncover his Irish roots.

After some digging and prodding, his mother revealed what little information she held: her late husband had had children from a previous marriage before they met, half-siblings Derek never knew existed.

This was the unlikely start of an often disheartening journey to trace his brother and sister, which over nearly three decades took him to Ireland, his parents’ homeland, England and Wales.

Despite the innumerable dead ends and red-tape, he tracked down his half-nephew Gavin in Somerset in March last year. That same week he made contact with his sister Marie Withers, of Chiseldon.

Now the pair are preparing to meet for the first time in Swindon in April.

“In January 1988 I was lying on the couch when it came into my head that I had never met any grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins on my dad’s side of the family,” he said.

“I then had a talk to my mum and she told me what she could.

“This became a mission to see if I could find any Maguire family member with Marie and Terry as the pinnacle.”

In 1992, Derek moved to Ireland, but later returned home none the wiser.

“I tried getting any records in Ireland, but I found this almost impossible as most records were destroyed that were kept in churches,” he said.

“I knew when Marie and Terry were born and where, but the frustrating thing is access to records and privacy laws. I said to my wife Annette ‘I think I have to let this go’. I believed over the years I had done everything I possibly could and my health was suffering.”

But in March 2013, his sister-in-law, who lives in Wales, spotted a link on a genealogy website listing a Terence Maguire as dead since 2006, and set up by his son Gavin.

This was the clue which led the mystery of his heritage to finally unravel.

He contacted Gavin, who informed him Terry had passed away. But Marie was alive and well.

Marie, 73, originally from London, was overcome with tears when Derek first telephoned her.

“He was so gobsmacked that he started crying and I burst into tears,” she said.

“For the first two weeks I couldn’t sleep. I kept saying ‘It’s like a dream’. I can’t explain it, but it seems like we’ve know each other all our lives. I feel so blessed that I’m still here and that he had time to find us.”

She added: “Seeing on Skype, I noticed certain mannerisms. He is so much like my brother and my nephew Gavin. When I see him in April, I just want to grab hold of him.”

Derek added: “This journey has been long and hard. It has taken a lot out of me, but it has led me to meet some of my dad’s family. When we spoke, it was as if Marie and I knew each other all our lives. Marie and her husband John are just such nice, genuine and loveable people and they have accepted me and my family.

“We are all looking forward to meeting face to face very soon.”