A 30-year-old mystery in Carna holds on to its secrets

The family of a woman who has been missing since 1985 are still looking for answers

 

There can be few burial grounds more beautiful than Maínis in south Connemara. With Saint Macdara’s and Mason islands to the west, it looks out on a rock-studded Atlantic that can be both tranquil and treacherous by times.

A headstone close to its northwestern corner marks the resting place of twin babies Irene and Rita Walsh who died on Christmas Eve 1973, and their father Macdara, who passed away on April 1st, 2007, at the age of 67.

A rose bush is among several plants on the well-tended grave, with candles and several plaques inscribed to a “Special Dad” and granddad, and “in loving memory of a dear Dado”.

Macdara, better known as Dara Aindriú Walsh, had lived a tough life on the coastal margins where seaweed harvesting, along with mixed farming, fishing, the dole and the relatively new industry of fish farming formed the staple economy.

Vanished

Not only had he lost twin babies just a week after their birth, but his wife Barbara, known as Babe Dara Aindriú, vanished from the family home at Roisín na Maithníoch (Rusheenamanagh) outside Carna in the early hours of June 22nd, 1985.

Mrs Walsh, who would have been 34 the following month, was last seen at 4am that day, according to gardaí.

She left seven young children – five daughters and two sons, the youngest a nine-month-old baby girl.

Babe Dara Aindriú’s disappearance was not reported until June 29th, a week after she was last seen.

There was no mention of it on national news, apart from one report of a missing woman on Raidió na Gaeltachta.

It had been a busy time in the village, with local publican and councillor Micheál Ó Moráin being returned in local election voting that same week.

It was also a busy time for news at national level.

On June 23rd, the day after her last sighting, an Air India Boeing 747 jet exploded 80 miles off the south coast, killing all 329 passengers and crew on board, while on June 27th, Garda sergeant Patrick Morrissey was shot dead by two armed men after a robbery in Ardee, Co Louth.

Another man

Initially, the word was put out that Babe Dara Aindriú might have left with another man. On the night of June 21st/22nd, her brother had got engaged.

Her brother-in-law Patrick was home from Australia and was due to set off again soon.

Pubs such as Tigh Mhóráin had been packed, and there had been a party back at the house. Two off-duty gardaí had been among those invited to Roisín na Maithníoch .

The couple had no car, and Mrs Walsh had no passport. There was no sign of her having packed, and she left reading glasses behind her.

Her young children woke up to learn that their mother was not at home.

As one family member recalls, it was “absolutely devastating”.

Nothing like this had happened before, although Roisín na Maithníoch had hit the news the previous month.

In an entirely separate incident, a 34-year-old man, Michael Folan, had been killed when a shotgun held by a 70-year old pensioner living in the area was discharged.

The pensioner, John Lavery, told the court that Folan was one of two men who had disturbed him at 3.15am on May 12th, 1985, and he had not expected the shotgun to go off after Folan grabbed it.

Curiously, there was no attempt to organise a community search after Mrs Walsh didn’t return home.

Four days after her last sighting, several of her immediate family went to Clifden Garda station.

(When questioned, the Garda Press Office said that “as this is an ongoing investigation it would be inappropriate to comment”.)

Barbara had been the youngest of a family of eight Lydons reared in the Carna area. Brown-haired, 1.73cm (5ft 8ins) tall and of medium build, she was remembered as being “joyful” and “full of fun” and devoted to her family.

‘Domestic dispute’

She was not suffering from depression, and did not have a history of wandering off. One of her siblings was told that he had no business pursuing his sister’s case, as it was a “domestic dispute”.

Several statements were taken from family members.

Dara Aindriú raised the seven children with family help, and is said to have been a fine father. Relatives say his wife was never referred to by him again.

Last Monday morning, Mrs Walsh’s former home was cordoned off with corrugated security barriers by gardaí.

An excavator was hired, as was a sniffer dog from England trained for searches such as those of “disappeared” IRA victims. The focus was not just on the small house, nestled between a lake and the sea.

A stone-built outhouse and surrounding land – where a spade hits nothing but rock – were also focused on.

In a statement confirming that investigating gardaí were conducting “planned and structured searches” with the assistance of the Garda Technical Bureau, the Garda Press Office said that a full review of the case was initiated in January 2015.

It said that this was “part of an ongoing review of all missing persons in the Galway Garda division”.

The press office said that a senior investigating officer had been appointed, and an incident room had been established. It said that 112 lines of inquiry had been generated and “close to 60 people” had been interviewed in the course of this review.

Led by Supt Sean Glynn, the search was prompted by family concerns raised with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Socialist Party TD for Dublin North Clare Daly and Sinn Féin Connemara-based Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue in the Dáil and Seanad.

“Some local people had contacted me after they were interviewed during the summer,” Ms Daly told this newspaper.

“There were concerns about the way it had been handled in the past – this is a family tragedy, but there is more to it than meets the eye.”

Senator Ó Clochartaigh welcomed the review and said he hoped it would “shine a light on the disappearance of Barbara Walsh” and “bring closure” for a family which had been left distraught.

‘Sensitive situation’

Not all of Mrs Walsh’s relatives are keen to have the case-reopened – if it was ever started in the first place – after a gap of 30 years.

Fr Pádraig Standún, parish priest in Carna, described it as a “very sensitive situation” and explained to this newspaper that he didn’t want to “say anything that might prejudice the situation”.

Fr Standún, a well-known writer and activist, previously served in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, on the Aran islands and in Carraroe.

“In my 40 years in Connemara, I never heard of this case,” he says. “It was never talked about. The first I knew of it was about three months ago.”

Gardaí are appealing for anyone who may have any information on the disappearance of Mrs Walsh to contact them at Clifden Garda station on tel: 095-22500.

The search operation was called off last night.