Having made his name in broadcasting and become one of RTÉ’s marquee names, Gareth O’Callaghan has been commended for his bravery in recent years when speaking out about his depression.
Of late, however, he has taken on something of a new public persona, agitating for justice for a boy who has been missing, presumed murdered, for 30 years: Philip Cairns.
The 13-year-old was a distant relative of O’Callaghan, not that the veteran broadcaster knew of the link.
“I found out our family was related to the Cairns family around 10 years ago,” O’Callaghan says. “We shared the same great grandad; that was obviously a long time ago. But that was never my main reason for getting involved in the case.
“My interest in this started 30 years ago when I heard that a young boy had gone missing. This was a phenomenally big case in 1986.”
As a broadcaster and author, O’Callaghan speaking out about Philip’s disappearance is, on the face of it, a little unusual, even if the boy was a relation.
But O’Callaghan, who is a psychotherapist and has a strong sense of social justice, has spoken out before on issues that were of concern to him and that he felt required airing.
His comments about what he said was the late Gerry Ryan’s long-term cocaine use won him few plaudits, but he felt the issue needed to be faced.
Having become concerned that paedophile Eamon Cooke, the former owner of pirate station Radio Dublin, was being identified as Philip's abuser and killer, O'Callaghan decided to put his head above the parapet.
Using his profile and Facebook following of 21,000, he has written a number of posts outlining his concern that a paedophile ring – with well connected men among it – was linked to Philip's disappearance.
O’Callaghan says he has been contacted by a large number of people, from Philip’s old school mates to people who say they were sexually abused by men operating in a paedophile ring in south Dublin in the 1970s, 1980s and beyond.
While he was moved by Philip’s disappearance in 1986 and became even more interested when he learned they were part of the same family network, O’Callaghan says his interest became a compulsion to speak out in recent months.
“When I realised they were pointing the finger at Eamon Cooke; he was a dead paedophile,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘hang on now, it’s too easy to pin the blame on him and just leave it to die’.” He says he appreciates the Garda believes the information alleging Cooke was behind Philip’s disappearance was worth close examination.
“But if they are going to pin their hopes on this guy, I think they’re letting a lot of guys go free. This has nothing to do with Eamon Cooke. I was beginning to get information from people who knew I had worked for Radio Dublin with Eamon Cooke who were saying, ‘it’s not him’, including one of his family. His daughter had come to me and said, ‘it’s not my father, you do know that?’.
“I worked in 1979 for Radio Dublin for almost nine months. I moved on to another pirate radio station after that. I wasn’t aware that he was abusing children; I was about 18 or 19 at the time and all I wanted to do was be on the radio.”
Asked what he recalled of Cooke, he says: “A strange, shifty, dirty guy; creepy, always had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He never washed. He looked despicable; you almost felt sad for the guy. He had a bit of a violent temper, but he just kept to himself and I kept to myself.”
He does not believe the narrative that has taken hold in the media of late: that Cooke lured Philip back to the Radio Dublin studio in Inchicore, Dublin to show him around and once there fatally injured him and disposed of the body, probably in the Dublin Mountains.
Philip was last seen leaving his home in Rathfarnham at about 1.30pm, on Thursday, October 23rd, 1986, as he began his journey on foot back to Coláiste Éanna after lunch.
The mystery of what became of the 13-year-old shot back into the headlines in June when it emerged gardaí were being aided by a witness who said she was present when Philip was in the Radio Dublin studio.
She said she saw him lying injured on the floor. She then passed out. When she woke up, she was in a car with Cooke. Philip was not there.
The witness, herself an abuse victim and who was just a child when Philip vanished, came forward and gave a statement to gardaí earlier this year.
However, by that time Cooke was out of prison – he was serving a sentence for historical child sex abuse – and was in a hospice in Raheny, north Dublin, dying of cancer.
When some of the allegations were put to him, he is said to have made a confession of sorts, though the import of any words he may have uttered has not been revealed.
The witness also gave information about Philip’s schoolbag, which was found in a laneway near his home six days after he disappeared. She detailed how Cooke directed others to leave the bag there to confuse the Garda inquiry. The bag was tested for Cooke’s DNA and no link found.
That, of course, does not mean that he wasn’t involved. But O’Callaghan doesn’t believe it was him anyway.
“Quite a few indications seem to me that it’s got nothing to do with Eamon Cooke; let’s rule that out of the equation. There’s no body as far as I am concerned buried in a field up the Dublin Mountains.”
He has no confidence in the reported partial deathbed admissions by Cooke of being involved in the disappearance.
His information, from people who knew Cooke, was that he had Alzheimer’s and was medicated and close to death when gardaí spoke to him.
O’Callaghan dismisses as “nonsense” the suggestion a person in that condition could contribute credibly to a historic Garda investigation.
While the allegation Cooke had killed Philip was now in the public domain, O’Callaghan says it is impossible to see where that line of inquiry would, or indeed could, lead.
O’Callaghan has said one member of the public who contacted him believes a man he worked for for many years was linked to Philip’s murder and has nominated the garden at that man’s home in south Dublin as Philip’s burial place.
The former 2FM broadcaster, who now plies his trade with 4FM, told The Irish Times another man contacted him nominating the same suspect – who is now deceased – as the possible killer of another long-term missing person.
People have also contacted O’Callaghan with the names of men who abused them as part of a paedophile ring.
The deceased man, whose garden O’Callaghan believes may contain Philip’s remains, has been named as a member of a Dublin paedophile ring by several people who have contacted the broadcaster and writer.
“This is a ring of individuals who have protected this case,” says O’Callaghan, saying that, while the surviving members of the alleged ring are now into their 70s and 80s, they were still influential.
O’Callaghan has passed that information to the Garda, as well as the information about the garden in south Dublin he believes “should be searched” if only to rule it out.
Garda sources said they were aware of the information, saying it was being examined along with other lines of inquiry and the excavation of any land would take place if there were grounds for such a dig.
O’Callaghan says some of the people who contacted him went to the Garda, some about Philip, others about the abuse they had suffered and had a bad experience.
“The individuals who have come forward to me confidentially have said they were treated like third-rate citizens,” he says.
“Some of them were sexually abused, some of them were raped. They were told the information they were coming forward with was not accurate, that it was not a good idea to be saying what they were saying.”
He says the Garda has told him they will examine all the information he has passed on.
“Why don’t they just go and dig the garden?” asks O’Callaghan. “This is information that is not being given the respect it deserves.”