Philip Cairns forever remembered as boy who disappeared on way back to school

Nearly 30 years later name of south Dublin boy is immediately recognisable

Philip Cairns would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this year, but he will forever be the 13-year old boy in the photographs published after his disappearance on his way back to school after lunch on Thursday, October 23rd, 1986.

Philip Cairns would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this year, but he will forever be the 13-year old boy in the photographs published after his disappearance on his way back to school after lunch on Thursday, October 23rd, 1986.

 

Philip Cairns would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this year, but he will forever be the 13-year old boy in the photographs published after his disappearance on his way back to school after lunch on Thursday, October 23rd, 1986.

Nearly 30 years later, his name is immediately recognisable to people who remember the massive search for him in south Dublin. Along with Jo Jo Dollard, Fiona Sinnott, Mary Boyle, Annie McCarrick and a small number of others, his disappearance remains one of the highest profile missing persons cases investigated by gardaí.

He went missing as he walked backed to school from his family’s home in Ballyroan Road in Rathfarnham. Fears for his life grew as the huge search failed to locate him, although his schoolbag was found several days later.

Until now the investigation has run into a series of dead ends, despite countless sightings, tip-offs and appeals.

He left the Coláiste Éanna secondary school near his home at 12.45pm on the day he disappeared. He arrived home, remaining until about 1.30pm before leaving to return to school. It was the last time he was seen.

After his disappearance a massive search operation was organised with hundreds of gardaí, local people and sub-aqua divers searching the Dublin mountains, forests and lakes and rivers.

His classmates at Coláiste Eanna voluntarily came back to the school during their mid-term break to be interviewed by gardaí.

There were more than 400 reported sightings and all were followed up, but they yielded no sign of him.

His schoolbag was discovered in a laneway linking Anne Devlin Road and Anne Devlin Drive, near Coláiste Éanna, the following week. The area had already been thoroughly searched and gardaí believed the bag was put there by a person, possibly a child, who found it elsewhere.

“Or the bag may have been found by an adult at some location and brought to the laneway,” Det Sgt Tom Doyle said in 2006 as gardaí renewed their appeal for information around the time of the 20th anniversary of the boy’s disappearance. “We need to find out where they found the schoolbag.”

It had been hoped developments in DNA technology might have made it possible to establish who touched the bag before it was left in the laneway. However, no links were established.

In 2009, acting on information supplied by a Dublin woman who believed the boy was killed and buried at a site near Grange Golf Club on Whitechurch Road in Rathfarnham, gardaí began a digging operation.

The woman reportedly told gardaí she recalled seeing a grave-shaped mound of earth at the site at about the time the boy disappeared. Digs at a number of sites in the vicinity failed to yield any results.

In 2007, the Irish Crimestoppers Trust offered a €10,000 reward for any information which could resolve the case. There were further contacts but there was no breakthrough.

Twelve years ago, the boy’s mother, Alice Cairns, spoke to The Irish Times after the launch of a missing person’s website.

“In the beginning, you think it’s been 20 minutes, or an hour,” she said.

“Then, as the day goes on, you get more worried but you don’t give up hope he’ll come back. But Philip didn’t return, and you have to keep going.”