Missing, Presumed

 The Where

Late that evening and her bus missed
and no lift, she hitch-hiked straight
into oblivion, left no rumour,
clue, no fingerprint, not smallest
faintest trace of her departure.

Unremarkable that day
that dawned like any other but
a mainstay in its superstructure
didn't hold -- a bolt came loose,
a strut, a fret inched out of place

or if it be that happenings
are mapped out for the best beforehand,
something evil intervened
to turn her step out of the path
ordained to guide her safely to us.

Hard the waiting year on year
the doorbell, phone bell, feel the sorrow
welling in the throat until
we come to hope to hear the words
we never thought we'd hope to hear.

And darker still than deed itself
the heart that hides it, will not tell
the how, the where, the when. The where
is all that matters now. What bog?
What brambled mountain side? What fen?

                                                 Eamonn Lynskey

This poem, published by North West Words online in 2017, was written shortly after I read Alan Bailey’s book, ‘Missing, Presumed’ (Liberties Press 2014). Bailey is the now- retired Garda Detective-Sergeant who for thirteen years as national co-ordinator of Operation TRACE (set up in 1998) doggedly pursued enquiries into the disappearance of young women in Ireland in the Leinster area during the 1990s. Cogently written, his book makes for grim reading. It includes a diagram of that fateful area, which has become known as ‘The Vanishing Triangle’, bounded by imaginary lines linking Carrickmacross-Dublin-Wexford-Tullamore. New investigations are now underway (October 2020) by the Garda Serious Crimes Review Team.

Bailey’s book is cogently written and centres the cases of six young women who ‘vanished without a trace’ in the course of their daily lives. However, numerous other cases of young women, who suffered a similar fate at other times, are recounted. That he can list so many cases is a shock. And almost as shocking as the disappearances themselves is the thought that someone (and more than one someone) could live day-to-day having information about any of these disappearances and still not come forward to Garda authorities with that information.

My poem was published in 2017 when there was some talk of a breakthrough in one of these cases. But there was no breakthrough. Since then, now and then, hopes have been raised about the fate of one or other of these women but again and again these hopes have been dashed. And the hope that any of them might still be alive has by now almost completely vanished. In fact, it is the recent determination by An Garda that the case of Jojo Dollard be upgraded from that of ‘missing person’ to that of murder enquiry that has led to renewed investigations.

So it is that there is again hope that there might be some developments about Jojo, who disappeared in 1995 on her way home. There is a detailed treatment of her disappearance, and the disappearances of the other women, in an article by Catherine Fegan in this week’s Review section of the Irish Independent (Saturday 24/10/2020). Sad reading it is, with just a tincture of hope that some new information might at last emerge.

Every time there appears the possibility of new information about these cases, this poem floods my mind again. The absolute horror (and I mean absolute) of this kind of happening defies accurate description, even in poetry. The effect on the families must have been truly awful — and endless. And it must take a lot of courage to face up to the realisation that it is now very improbable that their beloved daughter could still be alive, perhaps one day to return. Worse again is the knowledge that this terrible treatment of women is so well-established in Ireland and worldwide.

It is only right to leave the last word to the late Bernadette Breen, who is quoted in the Independent’s article, and whose daughter Ciara disappeared in 1997: Somebody could be getting up every morning, knowing the truth, knowing that they could end the nightmare of being stuck in limbo, but instead choosing to protect the perpetrator by keeping their silence.’

Who can read these words and not be affected?

Mary Phelan, who died in 2018,
holds a poster of her sister Jo Jo Dollard

at a demonstration in 1997.

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