Clockwise from top left: Tony Brosnan, Des Walsh, Matthew Carroll, Gussie Shanahan and Dennis Walsh (centre)
THEY are the “faces frozen in time”. Someone’s son, brother, husband, friend.
For nearly two decades eight Limerick families have suffered the torture of not knowing what ever became of their loved ones, who disappeared without trace around the turn of the new millennium.
But they have not given up their fight to seek answers, find closure or their hope to lay their loves ones to rest, if their remains are found.
Saturday last marked the 17th anniversary of the disappearance of Aengus 'Gussie’ Shanahan, who was one of three Dell workers in Limerick, who mysteriously vanished between 1998 and 2000, along with Des Walsh, and Martin Carroll.
His first cousin, Fr Aquinas Duffy, who serves in Cabinteely in Dublin, has pleaded for anyone to help the Shanahan family and bring their “nightmare” to an end.
Fr Duffy, the founder of Ireland's first missing persons website, missing.ie, which counts nearly 100 missing Irish people currently, said that the photos of the missing on the site are of “faces frozen in time.”
“Gussie is still 20 years of age in that picture, and there is something very unreal about the whole thing. You have all these people frozen in time, because in a sense time stops for the families,” he told the Limerick Leader.
“I am absolutely convinced there are people, particularly in Limerick, who have information in relation to Gussie's disappearance. I cannot understand why people continue to remain silent, because for every second of silence it prolongs the nightmare.
“I would again appeal to people, not just who have direct information, but their friends as well who may know something about what happened. I would ask them at this very late stage to come forward. I just beg them please to come forward,” he said.
He said the anniversary of Gussie's disappearance and his birthday on January 23 are the two critical and difficult dates for the family.
“There's a terrible frustration after all these years not to be any the wiser,” he said.
Fr Duffy officiated at all three weddings of Gussie's older siblings - Roibeard, Reiltin and Grainne - and said his absence was always keenly felt, with a photo of him on the altar on their happy days, albeit days marred with a sense of loss.
“He is never far from our minds,” he added.
Formerly based in Tallaght and Templeogue, he explained that he started the website with just one page for Aengus 17 years ago and other families then approached him and asked if he'd put up a page for their missing love one as well.
“Out of some 9,000 who go missing in Ireland every year, the majority are found but there are about 20 people every year who become long-term missing. There are really about 1,800 unsolved cases in Ireland. There are a lot of long-term missing people out there whose names aren't known,” he said.
“Sometimes, we do not hear answers to our prayers, only apparent silence. But within that silence, there is always more to be discovered,” he added.
He and other relatives of missing people have used poetry to help them deal with their anguish in the event of a loved one disappearing.
Following Gussie's disappearance, Fr Duffy wrote The Great Eternal Silence, which includes, in part: “Missing in the darkness, vanished without a trace, with only the memories and photographs, to fill an empty place.”
Gussie’s mother Nancy died “heartbroken” in May last, without ever knowing what happened to her youngest child, who was last seen on February 11, 2000.
Before she passed away in the University Hospital in Limerick, she promised her husband Bob that she would look for Gussie in the afterlife.
“It was her wish to know. It was the one thing she always wanted – just a word on where he was. She died utterly heartbroken,” said widow Bob, from the Ennis Road in the city.
The father of four and retired bank manager is again urging anyone with information to come forward, to help end their “agony”.
They have long feared that Gussie was murdered, and he said it is their only wish to give him a Christian burial if his remains are ever found.
“He was a lovely child, but he got in with the wrong people. Someone can’t just disappear into thin air like that. And somebody out there knows something. Whether he is found dead or alive, we just want to know,” he pleaded.
On the evening of his disappearance, Gussie went to Coopers’ bar on St Joseph Street with friends, whom he was due to stay with that night.
However, he left the bar on his own at 10.30pm and walked from there onto Old School House lane, which connects with Barrington Street. That is the last sighting of Gussie.
When he didn’t return to work on Monday, February 14, 2000, his family reported him as a missing person to An Garda Siochana.
He is described as being 5ft 10ins in height, with a thin build, weighed 10 stone, pale in complexion, with fair hair, cut short.
Desmond Walsh, who worked as a security guard at Dell in the Raheen plant, has been missing since September 18, 1999 – in the early hours of his mother’s birthday, which serves to reinforce her grief.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said his mother Julia. “Somebody, somewhere must know what happened to Des and we are appealing to them to come forward and pass on information confidentially.
“What is done is done. All I want is closure. I just want to know, that will do me,” said Julia, from Dromkeen, county Limerick.
Her husband, Thomas, passed away two years after Des disappeared.
“My husband is buried in Pallasgreen and if Des’s body was found we could give him a proper burial and I could visit the two of then together. I am appealing to anybody who may know something to make contact out of the goodness of their hearts. A lot of time has passed,” she said.
Des was last seen by two nurses in the Works nightclub in Bedford Row at 2am.
“He never came back. When the guards rang me at home to see if he was at home I couldn’t believe it. I said Desmond would never disappear,” she said.
One of the reasons she believes that her son’s life was taken is that he was badly beaten up before he went missing, and came home “black and blue.”
This, she said, would have been completely out of character for Des, who was a very mild-mannered and personable, young man.
“He was very outgoing and loved socialising. He loved music, he used to sing in Scor. He loved his guitar. Every place he worked they were mad about him.”
The family of Matthew Carroll, from Southill, who was last seen leaving the Steering Wheel pub in Limerick's Roxboro Shopping Centre on June 8, 1998, also fear that he was murdered.
Dennis Walsh, who would now be 44, has been missing from the family home in Limerick since March 9, 1996.
He left the house one afternoon and never returned. There were some suspected sightings of Dennis, who is 6ft in height, in Limerick, Ennis and Dublin.
There was also a report of someone similar to him boarding the Isle of Man ferry at Belfast.
Tony Brosnan, an electrician from Bruff, has been missing since February 6, 2003.
At around 12 noon that day he was seen by a local man travelling from Lissycasey to Kilrush, and on the following morning a man fitting Tony's description was seen in Kilkee Church enquiring about the times of Masses.
The next sighting of him was on the following Sunday walking along Lahinch beach and then near Miltown Malbay.
Shane Moran, from Sexton Street, Thomondgate, has been missing since January 10, 2009. He was last seen near the Dock Road. Extensive searches of the river and the surrounding areas at the time yielded nothing to comfort his family. He would now be aged 29.
Twenty-two-year-old Patrick O'Donoghue, from Knocknacrohy, Abbeyfeale, was a fourth year student at the Limerick Institute of Technology, when he was last seen on January 9, 2000 at Whitethorn Drive, Caherdavin Heights, where he was renting accommodation.
Another Abbeyfeale man, Denis Cusack, of Cratloe West, was last seen on March 11, 2004, after leaving home in his white Peugeot van. The vehicle was later found by gardai, but Denis too was never seen nor heard from again.
Anyone with information in relation to any of the missing Limerick men is asked to contact Roxboro Road Garda Station on 061 214340, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.