How Annie McCarrick’s vinyl collection was stashed in the attic of our family home is somewhat a matter of speculation. Not because we didn’t know this beautiful young American woman who has been missing since Friday, March 26th, 1993. She failed to return to her Sandymount flat after taking a bus to the Wicklow Mountains on that afternoon and, as a result, her disappearance remains one of the unsolved mysteries about a number of missing women during the 1990s.
Annie was our baby brother Dermot’s girlfriend during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Tragically, however, Dermot is dead now, too, and so we have to conclude that Annie’s vinyl records may have been hauled up a ladder to the attic in our family home in Lucan for safekeeping by Dermot.
Perhaps it was on one of the occasions they were heading back to her native Long Island, New York, to work for the summers of 1990 and 1991 and she had to clear out her student lodgings and store her belongings.
Who knows now.
In the intervening years, after her disappearance, and before Dermot’s short illness and death, we often talked about Annie and how we must sit down one day and I’d interview him for a newspaper story, in a bid to bring a fresh focus on her disappearance.
But that would be by bringing her out of the crime pages and painting a picture of this beautiful and vibrant young woman who loved the poetry of Yeats and Heaney.
Tragically, however, our handsome, strong brother was a victim of pancreatic cancer, and in May 2017 he died aged just 48.
By the time Annie had gone missing, he was living in Mozzate, near Lake Como in northern Italy, with his wonderful wife-to-be, Barbara. Like Annie, they also met while studying at Maynooth University and would marry in Barbara’s native Italy in October 1993.
During the late 1980s, Maynooth became a popular destination for American students who often had Irish heritage and a Catholic background. Dermot’s drumming skills meant he was often in the spotlight at gigs and song contests, held in the Aula Maxima. Called Archie by his friends – because the Archbishop of Dublin at the time was also a Dermot Ryan – he was in pole position to charm the girls.
It is clear from a treasured photo album that he and his friends, known as “The Smells” to this day, enjoyed student life. However, the pictures of himself and Annie exude that special openness and innocence of young love.
While both Annie and Dermot had moved on after their “young love” relationship ended, he still cared deeply about her and they remained friends.
For many years afterwards he also kept in contact with Nancy, Annie’s heartbroken mother, always exchanging Christmas cards.
When Dermot returned home during the early summer of 1993, he presented himself to the gardaí in Irishtown station to see if he could help in any way and confirm he was living outside the country when she disappeared.
I clearly remember him deciding to do that but suspect the gardaí already knew where he was living. That is because they had even contacted me on the Co Mayo island, where I lived at the time, in the days after her disappearance, in a desperate bid by her parents to find her, and rule out anyone or anywhere there was even the vaguest possibility she may have been.
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Her dad, John, had visited me on Clare Island with an Irish priest friend during the summer of 1989. He was full of pride about his only child’s decision to move to Ireland to study and embrace her cultural roots and legacy.
It is hard to reconcile the big boyish man with a booming New York twang, who I met that day, with the broken man who died in 2009 after the years of fruitless searching and heartbreak he endured after his daughter disappeared off the face of the earth.
I think Annie and Dermot were living and working in Hamburg that summer of 1989.
I remember chatting to my brother after her disappearance and he recalled how one day during their time in Hamburg they were out walking when a guy had stopped looking for directions and Annie was so characteristically helpful she almost went with him to show the way.
Our sister Eithne adds to that observation by Dermot: “He used to say, ‘Put Annie in Long Island or New York and she was so street smart, but bring her to Ireland and it was as if it became the land of the leprechauns and she was so very trusting’.”
Eithne has many memories of meeting Annie in the family home in Lucan.
“Annie was beautiful, very smart and very articulate. She was really open-minded and a free spirit. She had a great presence and was so warm. You would be immediately drawn to her. She had a beautiful voice, a lovely timbre to it.
“Herself and Dermot were obviously mad about each other and it was so lovely to overhear the intensity of their chats rising and falling through the music they were playing from his bedroom at the top of the stairs,” says Eithne.
Dermot was still living at home in Lucan with our mother at the time. Our parents had separated in 1983 and daddy was living in an apartment in Inchicore.
“Annie often came to the house in Lucan and Mammy loved nothing better than hosting dinner parties. I remember her mother, Nancy, being at some of them. They had such a great relationship, they were really like sisters. In fact, she adored both her parents,” Eithne says.
The young couple were also regular visits to daddy’s apartment in Inchicore where, when Dermot wasn’t giving out about the levels of George’s cigarette smoke, they honed their crossword and chess skills. I can easily imagine the laughs they had during these visits as George regaled them with his politically incorrect yarns.
Daddy and mammy are gone now too but at least they had the luxury of living long lives.
That was not a gift afforded to either my brother or Annie McCarrick. My wonderful brother went on to teach in University College Dublin and do a PhD on the subject of refugees and later a doctorate in clinical psychology, which led him to work with the elderly in the midlands. Ironically, his two sons, Patrick and Liam, are now students in Trinity and UCD. They are regular commuters back home to Italy where their dad’s ashes sit in their lovely mum Barbara’s family vault.
Poignantly, Annie McCarrick’s parents have not been afforded the comfort of a grave.
However, 30 long years on from her disappearance, isn’t it more comforting to cling on to the happy memories of Annie’s vibrancy, her joie de vivre?
Exhuming such memories, our sister Breda clearly recalls Annie’s thoughtfulness and generosity to her small children, Eleanor and Ailbhe.
“Mammy was minding them during that period as I was still working with The Irish Times. Every time herself and Dermot went away, she brought back books for them,” Breda says.
Breda was always struck by Annie’s “artistic nature” and “the flourishes of her signature” on the books.
Poignantly, these books have now been passed on to Eleanor’s children.
The simplicity of Annie’s dedications on the flyleaves of these books ensure she remains alive in our hearts.
A gift of the The Velveteen Rabbit: How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams for Christmas 1990, states: “Dear Eleanor, Happy Christmas Sweetie, Love Annie. 1990.”
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Another book, gifted in September 1991, about a New York lighthouse, is called The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde H Swift and Lynd Ward. The inscription on this one says: “To Eleanor and Ailbhe, Love Annie and Dermot.”
Thirty years later, we also treasure Annie’s vinyl collection, rediscovered in our attic when our family home was sold in 2021.
Among the records are Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, Paul Simon’s Graceland, the visceral beat of Dé Danann’s The Mist Covered Mountain and The Moody Blues’s The Other Side of Life.
These days, when the air is still, the beat of these sounds can be heard wafting across the skies of Co Kildare, towards the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, as they stand etched on the horizon.