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The Fear of the Unknown: When a Loved One Vanishes Without a Trace

Photo by CDD20 for Pixabay

There’s always fear when somebody we love goes missing. On some occasions, missing people turn up safe, others are not as fortunate. As Ireland’s missing cases represent, many families are left with questions but never receive any answers…

It’s probably the worst thing that anybody has to go through; a person that they love suddenly disappears without a trace. On many occasions, missing people turn up safe and well and have a logical explanation as to why they disappeared. There are also other occasions where missing people are found, but not in happier circumstances. And then there are the cases where loved ones disappear and are never heard from again. Days bleed into weeks, months, and years and family members are left wondering if their loved ones will ever turn up again.

Gardai state that more than 9,000 Irish people are reported missing every year and some remain on the vanished list for decades. While many of these cases have been solved, there are many that have remained open for years. The case of Mary Boyle, for example, is the oldest missing child case in the country. The six-year-old disappeared near her family’s home in Donegal in 1977 and has never been seen since. Her sister, Ann said to the Daily Mirror: “It’s never too late to come forward. It could put an end to it. If we could just have a grave to even visit, I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for. If it’s not possible to put her in a grave then at least to have a place where you can go and say prayers. If anyone has any information please come forward.”

A chart that shows the number of people being reported missing in Ireland between 2017 and 2021. On average, 9000 people are reported missing every year. (Created by Eidhne Gallagher for

In the 1990s, the Missing Triangle sparked rumors and fears into the fates of eight different young women who seemingly vanished without a trace. None of the women have ever been heard from again. Despite the numerous appeals made by family members and friends, we are still no closer to understanding what happened to these women.

A chart depicting the women in Ireland’s Missing Triangle. (Created by Eidhne Gallagher on Visme for

In 2020, the family of Trevor Deely marked the 20th anniversary of his disappearance with a vigil where he was last seen, on Haddington Road, to hold a new appeal for information. The Missing Persons Helpline released a video on their Facebook page about Trevor’s disappearance. The video contains an interview with Trevor’s father, talking about the loss his family has felt over the last two decades.

In speaking to the National Missing Persons Helpline, they state that receive reports of an average of 260 missing persons annually. ‘We always advise every family who is concerned for the well-being of a loved one, to get a media release from the Gardai immediately.’ one coordinator stated. ‘Our helpline also provides advice in relation to raising public awareness, along with family support groups to those affected.’

What is even more heartbreaking is that many family members of those who go missing, often pass away before finding out the truth. On the 25th anniversary of his sister Fiona’s disappearance, John Pender spoke about the heartbreak that his family had gone through: “It was hard seeing the stress that it caused in the house and how it aged my dad, I honestly feel that my dad died of a broken heart, he took his own life. We have a monument, it’s the next best thing we have to a gravesite for her but, unfortunately, we still need people’s help.”

For the families of missing people, the biggest fear that they face is the unknown. Not knowing what happened is what hurts the most. Even if it turns out to not be the news that they hope for, for the families of missing people, the main thing that they seek now is closure. An understanding as to what happened to their loved ones is what they desire.

We can only hope that one day they will receive that closure.

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