Mary Phelan funeral told search for sister Jo Jo Dullard will continue

Mrs Phelan campaigned for more than 20 years to find sister who was last seen in 1995

 The remains of Mary Phelan (Jo Jo Dullard’s sister) arrive at the Church of the Holy Cross before her funeral. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney/Collins

The remains of Mary Phelan (Jo Jo Dullard’s sister) arrive at the Church of the Holy Cross before her funeral. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The search for Jo Jo Dullard will go on despite the death of her sister Mary Phelan, who was a tireless campaigner for justice for the missing woman, mourners at Mrs Phelan’s funeral were told on Monday.

Mrs Phelan (67), who was suffering from cancer, died last Friday at her Co Kilkenny, more than 22 years after her beloved sister disappeared.

Among the symbols of Mrs Phelan’s life brought to the altar of the Church of the Holy Cross in Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny were a tea-pot, a cookbook and the piece of crystal she was presented with as a Person of the Year recipient for her work on behalf of her sister and all missing persons.

A file image from 1998 of Mary Phelan, the sister of Jo JO Dullard, with a memorial stone at the side of the road near the phone box where Jo Jo made her last call home and was last sighted, in Moone Co Kildare. Photograph: John Cogill
A file image from 1998 of Mary Phelan, the sister of Jo JO Dullard, with a memorial stone at the side of the road near the phone box where Jo Jo made her last call home and was last sighted, in Moone Co Kildare. Photograph: John Cogill

Friend of the family, Fr Willie Purcell, said in his homilythe two most important things to Mrs Phelan, family and friendship, were well-represented at the Mass, with the many mourners including her husband Martin, daughter Imelda, son Melvin, and sisters Kathleen and Nora.

She was pre-deceased by her brother Tom and grandson Darragh.

“When I was trawling through the many tributes to Mary, there was one very powerful tribute that hit me. It said: ‘Mary Phelan - an inspiration’,” he told the congregation.

Among those who visited the family home on Sunday night was former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

“Mary met many important people,” Fr Purcell said. “She met presidents and government leaders. About 20 years ago Mary and Martin went up to meet the taoiseach at the time.

A file image of a Garda poster seeking information on Jo Jo Dullard. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
A file image of a Garda poster seeking information on Jo Jo Dullard. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

“Just before they left, she opened her bag and took out a cake, because it was his birthday.” He said the same taoiseach was at the family home on Sunday night.

Mary Phelan was a humble woman, small in stature, but with a heart as big as any that could be found, he added. “Even in the darkest days, Mary radiated hope and joy.”

She was a woman of great faith, who never gave up on God and had many medals and relics of the saints, whom she would ask to “watch over and protect Jo Jo” and everybody else.

Mrs Phelan’s campaign to find and get justice for her missing sister, who was 21 when she was last seen in Moone, Co Kildare in November of 1995, often brought her into the media.

But after all of the attention, and when the interviews were over, she would say “all I want to do is go home and wait for Jo Jo,” Fr Purcell said.

The hearse arrives at the Church of the Holy Cross before her funeral. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
The hearse arrives at the Church of the Holy Cross before her funeral. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

“One day I met Mary on High Street and we were talking about Jo Jo... She said ‘there’s not one day that goes by when I don’t think of her. She’s in my heart all of the time’.”

She never lost hope that they would bring her sister home, he said, even when their questions weren’t being answered, or things were happening too slowly, or the information they wanted wasn’t forthcoming.

“She never gave up the search. It was that hope that kept you, and her friends and her relatives and all of us strong in the search for Jo Jo.

“The greatest way we can remember her, and I know Mary would want to us to do this, is to keep the search going for Jo Jo.”

Even in her last days, she said, “we must keep praying,” and was talking about prayers for Jo Jo and not herself.

“Mary, we will bring Jo Jo home,” Fr Purcell concluded.

Before Mrs Phelan was buried in the nearby graveyard, short and loving tributes were paid to her by family members including her daughter Imelda. “When myself and my family think of Mam, we think of selflessness and caring for others,” she said, describing her mother as a small woman who was full of love and compassion.

“She outshone the biggest obstacles.”