‘One complete mystery’: Frank O’Neill’s big brother, Jimmy, disappeared on Waterford’s quays 70 years ago

Relatives remember their missing loved ones at annual event in Farmleigh

As part of National Missing Persons Day a special event has been held at Farmleigh House, Dublin which commemorated those who have gone missing and acknowledged the lasting trauma for their families and friends. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Every morning at about half past six Frank O’Neill gets up, goes to Mass and prays for answers.

He was only four years old when his big brother, Jimmy, disappeared while working on the Waterford quays in 1947. O’Neill still holds out for news.

Like so many families resigned to the probability their missing loved ones are dead, the 74-year-old says not knowing what happened is the worst part of it.

“You can’t explain to anyone. You never have a good day,” he said.

“I get up early to go to Mass every morning, maybe half six. I pass a statue and you say your prayer: Lord give us word from Jimmy. The first [thing] in the morning, the last at night. It’s a nightmare.”

Like the other families gathered at the fifth annual National Missing Persons Day event at Farmleigh in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Wednesday, O’Neill maintained hope, even after seven decades. His brother was 16 when he disappeared. A local newspaper report from Christmas Eve, 1947 noted he had left for work at a local shipping company one morning after which “nothing has been heard of him”.

“Nothing ever transpired – where he went, how he went, what happened to him. It was just one complete mystery,” his brother said.

“You always have hope. I pray to God every day that there might be some little window open, that I might get some closure.”

Jimmy was the last person their mother called out for before she died. A fellow patient in the hospital ward heard her.

“That was the end of my parents, in relation to the hardship, the sadness, the loneliness,” Frank said.

The annual commemoration is attended by family members often affected as much by the endless lack of information as by the grief of loss.


Statistics on missing people are fluid, people often turn up soon after they have been reported. According to latest Department of Justice figures for 2017, there are 71 open cases from 8,600 reports.

Ellen Coss-Brown was 49 when she vanished in 1999. She had been to visit her sister in Manchester and was dropped to the train on her way to get the ferry home.

“Disappeared into thin air,” explained her brother James. On that day there was no working CCTV on the boat and they don’t know what happened.

Ellen left a son behind. Her brother carries a photograph of her smiling with long blonde hair.

The family’s story is complicated by false alarms. About four years after her disappearance, gardaí were alerted to someone fitting Ellen’s description coming in and out of a Dublin shopping centre every morning.

James remembers standing on the balcony and watching in amazement. “I saw her walk up the aisle,” he recalled, and he went to sit beside her.

“And she looked up and it wasn’t her. [It was] horrendously emotional, just floods of tears. I was convinced it was her. I was trying to think what to say because she was four years gone.

“It was someone who looked an awful lot like her; the same coloured hair, the same way of holding her head. It’s just horrible not knowing.”