Category Archives: Wexford

Cullenstown Strand

I am back home again this weekend. I woke up early on Saturday and Dad, the other early riser, and myself decided to go for a walk.

Cullenstown Strand is a short drive from our house and it’s a small beach, but just about the right size for Dad at the moment as he builds his health and fitness back up following major heart surgery recently.

He has been doing really well and walking a little bit more every day, but as he said himself, has been getting fairly fed up of laps of the house!

Well, he couldn’t have wished for a better change of scenery, as Saturday was absolutely and unexpectedly beautiful. The sun was splitting the stones in Wexford and as we arrived at Cullenstown we could have been somewhere on the Indian Ocean, not the Atlantic, in Ireland, in October…


A sunny Saturday morning in Curracloe

Celebrating a century

Jane Fortune at home in Ballygarrett

“I’m nearly a week into my second hundred years now,” Jane Fortune told me with a grin as I wished her a happy birthday at her home in north Wexford this morning.

Time doesn’t stand still for any of us – even when we reach the ripe old age of 100 it seems.

Jane, of Parkannsley, Ballygarrett, has had no less than four birthday parties already. The cards, of which there have been hundreds so far, continue to pour through the letterbox every day.

There was a letter of congratulations from President of Ireland Michael D Higgins too. This is a momentous occasion in almost everyone’s eyes, everyone that is except Jane.

“’I never liked a fuss and I never liked being in a crowd,” said Jane, though she admitted to enjoying her birthday parties, particularly the big family gathering in Sean Og’s of Kilmuckridge last weekend. where guests included her great great grandchildren.

Jane was the youngest of seven children born to Richard Quinsey and Ellen Bolger and is the last surviving member of that family. She has been predeceased by her husband Michael, who died in 1959, and four of her seven children.

I’ll have a full, feature-length interview with Jane in next week’s Wexford People, New Ross Standard, Enniscorthy Guardian and Gorey Guardian if you’d like to learn a little about her life and times.

It was very interesting – and a lot of fun – to meet her today, along with her grandchildren Michael, a well-known artist, and Bernadette.

I told Jane that when someone who is 100-years-old is interviewed everyone always wants to know what their “secret” is.

‘”Plenty of hunger, hardship and hard work,’” she quickly replied.

I’m letting you know just in case any of you thought adding porridge or broccoli to your diet was going to do it!

Jane hard at work in years gone by.

Jane possesses great wit, warmth and a remarkable memory. She still has an active social life and keeps busy in general. There’s a knitting project she keeps meaning to get back to once she gets new wool.

I’ll share one story from earlier on that will give you some idea of the this remarkable lady’s spirit.

When I arrived at her home (a traditional, two-up, two-down cottage that she shares with seven cats) accompanied by Michael she wasn’t worried about 100th birthday parties or interviews, she was mainly wondering where her rake was.

Michael had borrowed it and forgotten to return it again, but, on the back-foot,  he told her she couldn’t have been in that much of a hurry for it.

‘”I want to clean up all the leaves and bits outside,” she told him. A keen gardener, Jane also grows her own vegetables in the garden behind her home, from potatoes to onions and plenty in between, including the Wexford favourite: strawberries.

Jane, noting how things have moved on, recalled a time when she would have to cut the ‘”meadow’”, the large green area behind her home, with a clippers. It would take a number of visits – before and after a hard day’s work – before it would be completely done.

Michael, even though he knew better, then asked his grandmother – with more than a hint of mischief – if she reckoned she could still clip the hedge outside her home.

‘”I could,’” she assured him. “And I could clip that old hair too,’” she added swiftly, sizing up the black locks reaching for his shoulder with a twinkle in her eye.

Jane Fortune, who was born on January 6, 1912.

Jane Fortune

A White Christmas… of sorts!


So to escape Christmas cabin fever and get some much-needed respite from rich food I went for a walk this afternoon.

I met the normally Helsinki-based Kevin and Kati at the only place you can experience a “White Christmas” around these parts this year – Hook Head.

That’s if you don’t mind substituting sea foam for snow. I certainly don’t.

The unseasonably mild weather we’re having is great, especially after the cold snaps we had last year. I can’t say I miss the snow at all – or all the problems that came with it.

The wind was really strong down on the Hook peninsula today, which made everything that bit more spectacular and sent the snow-like foam floating around us on a short walk as the waves came flying in.

I realised this evening I really better get a crash course in camera settings soon. There was a bit of light when we arrived, but the sun was sinking fast and the conditions were tricky enough for a novice like me.

With better knowledge of my equipment (a Nikon SLR camera I have a loan of at the moment) I’m sure I could have got a lot better images. There was a definite gap between knowing what I wanted to do and being able to do it, which was frustrating.

Another item for the 2012 to-do list!

10 election facts from Wexford

Sorting the referendum votes at the Wexford count centre

  1. Seven out of ten people in Wexford gave their first preference to either our new president Michael D Higgins or runner-up Seán Gallagher. Gallagher ran Higgins closer here than most places and was just over 1,300 votes in it following the first count (21,010 to 19,685).
  2. Over 80 per cent of Model County residents believe that judges should take a pay cut in line with the rest of the public sector, with 46,783 in favour of the proposal and 10,388 against it.

    Should judges take a pay cut?

    Wexford count centre

  3. When Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell was eliminated not one of his then 4,101 votes was transferred to Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, then one of the three remaining candidates. In contrast, Labour’s Michael D Higgins received 2,720 transfers from Mitchell.
  4. Martin McGuinness had the highest amount of non transferable votes, with 2,866 people in Wexford giving the Sinn Féin candidate their number one, but stopping there.
  5. 322 people felt that Dana Rosemary Scallon was the only one of the seven candidates worth a vote.

    Fine Gael's Minister Paul Kehoe, Regional Organiser Willie Glesson and Minister Kehoe's Parliamentary Assistant Colum Cooney looking at the figures on a bad day for the party and its candidate Gay Mitchell

    Labour councillor George Lawlor enjoys the result with Wexford resident Eileen McKiernan, sister of our new "First Lady" Sabina Higgins

  6. The referendum on whether to give Oireachtas committees the power to conduct inquiries split people here right down the middle, with just 50.1% in favour of it. After several recounts the result was 28,517 in favour of the constitutional amendment – backed by Minister Brendan Howlin – and 28,397 against it.
  7. There is a total electorate of 108,490 people in Wexford and 58,629 (54%) of them voted on Thursday.
  8. There were 627 spoiled or invalid votes, just over 1%.

    Making sure every vote is accounted for

    Wexford count centre

    Wexford count centre

    Wexford count centre

  9. The narrowest margin between candidates on first preferences was the 15 votes separating the bottom two, Dana Rosemary Scallon (1,477) and Mary Davis (1,462).
  10. Once the final count was completed, 29,757 of the 1,000,000 plus votes that Michael D Higgins received came from Wexford.

I covered the count for RTE, look here for the full results. See the Wexford People on Wednesday for analysis of how the county voted and a bit of comment on the results from yours truly!

"The First Trolley"

Uachtaran na hEireann

Thang, Grrl, Innit and Facebook – the enduring popularity of Scrabble

A lot of us enjoy words. Speaking them, hearing them, reading them, writing them, learning all about them and playing with them.

But let’s face it, no matter how great you imagine your vocabulary to be there are just some words you’ll never get the chance to use. It’s highly doubtful you ever bought a Kat at a Suq, for example. Unless you’re Arabic and into gardening, those words probably aren’t relevant to you.

That is, of course, unless you’re a Scrabble enthusiast. For they are the unsung heroes of the lexicon, the unassuming ninjas of the noun, the kind of people for whom reading the dictionary is a pleasurable pastime.

Most people reading this will have grown up in a home that featured a Scrabble set. Maybe you have one in your current home that gets dusted down and taken out every once in a while, to flex your word-making muscles.

Here are some scrabble facts:

– The highest number of points that can be scored on the first go is 128 – with “muzjiks'”(Russian peasants).

– There are over 260,000 legal words allowed under British Scrabble rules.

– Somewhere in the world there are over an estimated million missing Scrabble tiles.

–  There is a town called Scrabble in Berkeley County, West Virginia, USA. They don’t have a Scrabble club.

There is a scrabble club in Wexford though and they contacted me recently about their annual open tournament, which is coming up soon, so I took the opportunity to talk to two of its biggest scrabble enthusiasts (and best players) about the game and why they love it so much.

Mary Doyle and Theresa Scallan from Wexford Scrabble Club.

Mary Doyle and Theresa Scallan don’t immediately strike you as the type of women who’d have an impressive repertoire of South African slang, but they do.

In fact these two Wexford women would also be able to give as good as they get with the locals in New Zealand too.

The reason for this seemingly odd interest in the outer reaches of the lexicon in far flung countries is due to their love of Scrabble. For Mary and Theresa, Scrabble isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life.

Mary’s love affair with the game created by US architect Alfred Mosher Butts during the Great Depression was sparked on a ship as she made the long journey from Southampton to Australia, where she was going to work as a nurse.

“The moment I saw it I was fascinated,” said Mary, who found it not only a lot of fun, but a great away to while away the hours on her trip down under. She has never stopped playing since.

When she returned to Wexford 20 years ago she saw an ad in the Wexford People newspaper looking for like-minded people liked Scrabble and were interested in playing it on a regular basis.

She replied and at the home of Con and Mary Noonan in Kyle’s Cross, Crossabeg, she attended the first meeting of what would later become Wexford Scrabble Club.

Theresa found the club several years later when she was at Castlebridge Community Centre collecting her daughter from the Brigini (Girl Guides) and saw a notice on the wall from the Scrabble club.

“I had never heard of scrabble in my life, but the notice said that anyone interested in crosswords should come along and I love crosswords so I said I would give it a go,” said Theresa.

“I got such a welcome. I didn’t know anyone there, but I felt at home,’” said Theresa. The phrase “like a duck to water” doesn’t begin to do her justice.

She was consumed by the game for some time. “I was so hooked I’d be adding up how much the number plate of the car in front of me was worth,” admitted Theresa.

She also admitted she playing the game constantly at home, keeping her children up later than she should have been on school nights! This obsession got her up to a high level in a surprisingly short space out of time though.

Theresa is now the “A” player in Wexford Scrabble Club and along with Mary regularly plays in tournaments at home and abroad.

Scrabble is a serious business at the top level. Theresa and Mary don’t just play scrabble to hone their skills, they also study the English language, including all the slang and words of foreign origin, as well as other technical, archaic, obsolete, colloquial or lesser-known terms.

Have you ever heard of an Ozey? Do you know what a Pyxidium is? Ever heard someone playing a qin? This year the words ‘Thang’, Grrl’, ‘Innit’ and ‘Facebook’ have made it into the Collins Official Scrabble Words list.

If it’s in the dictionary, or added to it, they will hunt it down. They might never get to use these words on the Main Street in Wexford, but may just prove the difference in a tournament.

“I never get tired of it,” said Theresa “I love the challenge of finding new words,” said Mary.

However, despite all that, like all the casual Christmas time board game players, Mary accepts that sometimes you just get unlucky.

Anyone who has played some Scrabble will probably have found themselves drowning in a sea of vowels with not a consonant in sight (as it happens, ‘Scrabble’ means to “grope frantically” and was trademarked in 1948).

“You can get bad runs of letters or good runs, you just have to hope for the best,’”said Mary. The element of chance adds to the enjoyment it seems and it also makes it more challenging.

In tournaments, players generally get a limit of 25 minutes each, so the longest a game can last is 50 minutes. Dictionaries are now redundant. Computers are used to check the words.

Mary said that Scrabble, despite the solitary study, is actually a very sociable game and local clubs and tournaments are a great way to meet friends and make new ones. There are thousands all over the world.

She said Wexford Scrabble Club welcomes new members and assured anyone thinking of going along that it’s not competitive at club level and they always ensure a good and enjoyable start for newbies.

Theresa said that one of the great things about scrabble is that “you can play it anywhere”. This is particularly true since the online version of the game has become increasingly popular in recent years.

However, isn’t there is always the chance that people are cheating? “Who knows what anyone is doing? But it doesn’t bother me and if someone uses a very unusual word then I’ve learned something,” said Theresa.

“You’re not playing to win, you’re playing to learn,” said Mary. It’s this passion for words and Scrabble that will keep these two women fluent in South African slang for a long time to come.

Animal cruelty continues as legislation gathers dust

One of two surviving Shih Tzu dogs that were rescued from “horrendous conditions” in Wexford last Friday.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.
~M. Frida Hartley

THE ISPCA is calling on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to sign the Dog Breeding Establishments Act into law, following the latest case of animal cruelty by a breeder uncovered in Co Wexford.

Four dogs in “horrendous condition” were seized from a small breeder from an area just outside Wexford town last weekend, with one of them having to be put down.

Gardai in Wexford were called to accompany the WSPCA to the home of the breeder last Friday and a Garda spokesman said they found four dogs living in very poor conditions.

The Garda spokesman said that they were in a very small shelter, with a small run and that there was ‘a significant amount of faeces’ in it, while the dogs themselves were in very poor health.

It’s understood the Wexford SPCA was tipped off by a woman in Dublin who bought a Shih Tzu puppy from the Wexford breeder recently only to find later – when she brought it to her vet – that it had lungworm and rickets. It was a pup from one of the dogs seized.

Barbara Bent, Honorary Secretary of the ISPCA, said the dogs, a Labrador and three Shih Tzus, were taken from the breeder, but one of the Shih Tzus had to be put down it was in such poor health.

The other two had to be completely shaved and receive veterinary treatment for a range of issues. ‘Their skin was in a very bad way,’ said Ms Bent.

‘Wexford continues to produce many of the little, high-maintenance breeds and they are kept in dreadfully unacceptable conditions to sell to unsuspecting members of the public, who sadly only realise the plight of their newly-acquired puppies once they have been paid for and taken to their vet to be checked,’ she said.

‘Ignorance is frequently used as an excuse for such neglect, but greed and indifference would be a more suitable description of the actions of these breeders,’ said Ms Bent.

Ms Bent said that the ISPCA is now ‘urgently pleading’ with the government to ‘be pro-active and enact the dog breeding regulations’.

She said that the bill has been through the Dail and the Seanad and all that’s left now is for Environment Minister Phil Hogan to sign it into law.

‘This legislation is gathering dust on a shelf somewhere while lovely little dogs continue to suffer at the hands of uncaring breeders,’ said Ms Bent.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that the ‘commencement of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act (2010) is awaiting the passage of the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill, which is currently before the Oireachtas’.

‘The Welfare of Greyhounds Bill is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is intended that the two bills will commence simultaneously,’ he said.

Wexford’s time to shine

Dancers April Dowdall (16), and Gavin Byrne (16) and their "Butler" Patrick O'Connor (17) getting in some rehearsal time at Curracloe beach ahead of their performance in the Oyster Lane Theatre Group production of Disney’s "‘Beauty and the Beast", running from October 24 to 30 during the Wexford Fringe Festival.

It’s that time of the year again in Wexford, when the town comes alive like no other.

You can already sense it now – the Opera Festival is almost here. In a matter of days the hotels will be full and the streets will be buzzing again from early in the morning until late at night.

Anticipation is building ahead of Friday night’s launch, with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny coming to town to do the honours on the quay. Mr Kenny will be one of just many visitors to Wexford during the festival, which runs from Friday, October 21, to Saturday, November 5.

Tickets are selling very well for the Opera Festival’s main events and almost 40 per cent of those tickets are going to people who live overseas, highlighting the popularity of this internationally renowned festival, now in its 60th year.

It’s estimated that the festival will attract some 20,000 visitors and give the Wexford area an economic boost of somewhere in the region of €8 million, which is hugely significant for a relatively small town. People won’t just come from abroad, they will come from all over Ireland. The locals will be out in force too.

On that note, it is worth pointing out that Wexford Opera Festival was founded by a small group of volunteers and only became the renowned international event it is today through the hard work, enthusiasm and vision of Wexford people working for no personal profit.

The spirit of volunteerism that existed in 1950 is not just alive and well in Wexford, it remains essential to pull off the smooth running of the Opera Festival,  possibly even more so these days given the scale of it, and a huge band of locals will once again be lending a hand this year.

Everyone knows the importance of the festival and, it seems, everyone enjoys it too. The town is completely transformed and – even in recessionary times – the mood is lifted. You can’t put a price on that.

The Irish Independent had a nice piece on the festival last weekend, talking to Nora Liddy, whose father was a member of the founding committee, and the festival’s current Artistic Director David Agler.

The fun begins on Friday with the launch on the quay, which is always punctuated by a spectacular fireworks display. Mr Kenny is set to officially launch the 60th Wexford Opera Festival at 7 p.m. with the fireworks display set to begin at 7.30 p.m.

The entertainment on the quayfront begins at 4.30 p.m. and there are a number of great acts set to entertain the huge crowd expected to gather for the occasion, including Cork City Ballet, Oyster Lane Theatre Group (featured in the photo at the top of this post) and Extreme Rhythm.

Of course, the operas themselves also get underway at the magnificent Wexford Opera House (which just by itself is worth visiting if you’ve never been), with “La Cour de Célimène” beginning at 8 p.m. “Maria” follows on Saturday night and “Gianni di Parigi” on Sunday, with the three operas running until the close of the festival on Saturday, November 5.

You can check out Wexford Opera Festival’s site for full details on the three operas and all the other exciting events they have lined up this year, from lunchtime recitals to evening cabarets.

However, the great thing about Wexford Opera Festival is how inclusive it is and this is due, in no small part, to the Wexford Fringe Festival, which runs in tandem with it. You don’t have to like – or care about – opera to enjoy festival time in Wexford.

This year there are over 250 Fringe Festival events over 17 days (it runs just a little bit longer than the Opera Festival!) and there’s lots to look forward to.

The wide range of events include live gigs, theatrical performances, photography and art exhibitions, literary recitals, as well as dance, craft, children’s and street events… the list goes on for a while! You can check out exactly what’s on here or for updates follow the Fringe Festival on Twitter @wexfringefest

Personally, I can’t wait to get into town early on Saturday morning and start out on an Opera Festival Odyssey, taking my time as I make my way through the many excellent art and photography exhibitions, as well as enjoying all the weird and wonderful people and events you inevitably stumble upon when you wander through the historic and atmospheric streets of Wexford as it shows itself off to the world.

Cultivating hope

BETTY Doyle had just about reached the end of her speech when she began to lose her battle against the tears that had been welling up.

The manager of the women’s refuge in Wexford was paying tribute to two women who had been great supporters of the centre before their untimely deaths through illness in 2009, Emer Lovett (38) and Marion Gowan (49).

Betty told those at their annual barbecue last Friday that they were “two wonderful women” and the refuge was going to plant to holly trees in its new garden to honour and remember them.

“My last memory of Emer was a vision in red beside the Christmas tree in White’s (Hotel), laden down with presents for the mothers in the refuge,” recalled Betty. “This was what she did best, always caring and supportive.”

Betty said that Marion was a warm and funny person who loved coming into the refuge once a week to cook with the women staying there.

“The families loved her, but then we all did. Even in sickness she still came in to say hello,” she said.

“We talk about them all the time as if they were still with us. Both women loved Christmas and the evergreen holly will remain visually beautiful all year round, just like Emer and Marion.

“This year for our children we intend to have a Christmas tree in the garden to help fill their lives with hope and joy,” said Betty, as the tears finally got the better of her.

Dermot Gowan, husband of the late Marion Gowan, plants a holly tree in her memory, as (from L to R) Alestren and Berndaette Lovett (brother and mother of the late Emer Lovett), Betty Doyle, refuge manager, and Gusy Smyth, board chairman, look on.

Hope is the lifeblood of a place like Wexford Women’s Refuge, which is always full of women and children who have come from – or more often fled – very difficult circumstances. Domestic violence is driving increasing numbers of women to seek refuge in Wexford and throughout Ireland.

When it’s packed full of women and children all struggling to come to terms with what has led them there and all trying to cope in their new environment together hope and joy must feel like very distant prospects.

That’s where the staff, led by Betty, comes in. That’s where the volunteers, whose spirit was best exemplified by Emer and Marion, come in.

Last Friday there was hope and joy in what is often a very traumatic place. This was because the spirit that moved Emer and Marion to enter the refuge and brighten up the lives of those who stay there is still strong in the community that surrounds it.

The evidence of this was in the refuge’s new garden, which, Betty noted, had always been their “wild waste area” and over the course of years had become completely overgrown and rampant with weeds.

This “wild waste area” was located on a steep slope up behind the refuge and there was very little anyone could do with it. Betty said that “futile attempts had been made to tame the jungle that prevented light from entering the rear of the building for nine years”.

However, one man looking distinctly unimpressed with vista said “I’m going to do something about that”. Liam Keating had intended going to the Wexford Races that day, but instead found himself at the barbeque in the refuge, of which he is a staunch supporter.

Betty found out that Liam was serious when she arrived in one morning and saw a mini-digger scaling the steep slope. “We closed our eyes and waited for the digger to turn over!” she recalled.

However, it didn’t and out of a slope full of weeds was cut a large space, a blank canvass on which to get to work. And get to work they did. Liam oversaw the project and also rolled up his sleeves with the same determination that has proved so successful for him in his business endeavours.

Paul Caulfield, Derek O’Hehir and a number of other local men also got stuck in and from a waste of space they created a garden. There is also a cabin, beautifully decorated, and intended as a haven for mothers who need a place for reflection or just some peace and quiet.

Local artist John Byrne, with the help of some friends, came along and lent their creative talents to ensure that the garden is appropriately decorated, with the likes of Peppa Pig and Nemo now featuring prominently, along with other bright characters and colourful creations.

I looked at the before and after photos with Liam last Friday and the difference a year on is remarkable. He was reluctant to take too much credit for the project, but he can’t really avoid it now as the refuge has named it after him!

Liam said that he sought support from several tradesmen and businesses in Wexford so that his vision could become a reality. There was no talk of recession or resources when the question was put to them – they all got gave generously of their skills, time and, in some cases, stock, to help the refuge.

The staff of the women's refuge in Wexford

Betty made an important point about the garden project – it is solely the result of the hard work and generosity of men. This is not an insignificant point at a place where the majority of women and children find themselves because of men.

The manager of the women’s refuge said that a number of great men have walked through the doors of the refuge over the past year to work on the project.

“That in itself is not an easy task for any man. Yet they accomplished what they came to do with dignity and respect,” said Betty.

She pointed out that Liam hadn’t just seen a hill full of weeds last year – he had seen a genuine need.

“He has carefully observed how the mothers paced up and down by the back door, sometimes in the pouring rain, attempting to make or take a phone call,” said Betty.

“The call couldn’t be taken in the bedroom, there are children around. In the kitchen and sitting room there are other residents and children, all going through their own trauma,” said Betty.

“There is nowhere to sit in peace, to take a call from a parent or sibling. There is no place to shed tears privately. I found Liam’s insight, empathy and holistic approach amazing,” she said.

“So Liam built a house and made a garden and from this day on it will be known as the Liam Keating Garden.”

Liam, just to the right of the plaque bearing his name, at the official unveiling of the garden.

The refuge is continuing to look forward and despite constant funding issues due to government spending cuts (without the support of local organisations, businesses and volunteers it would simply not be able to stay open), it still has ambitious plans, as the chairman of its board, Gus Smyth outlined.

Gus said the vision for the future is to transform the refuge from communal accommodation into self-contained flats.

‘We’re trying to get away from treating women as victims and trying to help them, with their children, establish a life for themselves,’ he said.

Meanwhile, up in the garden, grass continues to spring up where once weeds had completely taken hold.

“Ambiguous loss is the worst cancer of all – not knowing where someone is”

Families from all over Ireland will gather in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of Our Lady’s Island on Sunday (August 7) to pray for their missing loved ones.

The pilgrimage at the Island in south Wexford takes place from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and people are urged to go along and show their support for these brave families.

It follows last year’s moving and dignified ceremony, the first of its kind here. I attended it and spoke to some the families of missing people. None of them were praying for miracles, they were simply praying for closure

The outdoor Mass was celebrated less than a kilometre from the pub where Fiona Sinnott was last seen in February 1998. The 19-year-old was looking forward to her sister’s 21st birthday party when she disappeared. And her daughter’s first birthday.

A plaque in her memory was erected on a wall at the local cemetery to mark the tenth anniversary of her disappearance in 2008. It’s the closest thing her loving family have to a resting place.

Fiona’s family are one of many in Ireland who are living with such a terrible and tragic loss. Hopefully, they will find some solace in each other’s company on Sunday, as they did last year, but the acute pain they still feel, years after they lost their loved ones, does not dissipate with time.

Here’s the report I wrote for The Irish Times:

FAMILIES OF missing people travelled from around Ireland on Saturday to attend a Mass in a place of ancient pilgrimage.

The Mass at Our Lady’s Island in south Wexford was organised by Search for the Missing, which is headed by retired Garda diver Thomas Lavery.

Mr Lavery extended a special welcome to the families of missing people in attendance, which included relatives of Jo Jo Dullard from Kilkenny, Gussie Shanahan from Limerick and Philip Cairns from Dublin.

The largest representation by far was from a local family, the Sinnotts. The outdoor Mass was celebrated by Fr Brendan Nolan less than a kilometre from the pub Fiona Sinnott was last seen leaving in February 1998.

“Ambiguous loss is the worst cancer of all – not knowing where someone is,” said Mr Lavery.

During the Mass, seven homing pigeons were released by Mr Lavery with the help of Fiona Sinnott’s nephew, Johnny Walsh.

Mr Lavery said the two white pigeons represented a male and female missing person and the five blue pigeons were going to guide them home.

“We’re not looking for justice, we’re just looking for closure,” said Bob Shanahan, whose son Gussie went missing in Limerick more than 10 years ago.

“We just someone to come forward with information so we can give our son a decent burial,” said Mr Shanahan, who is offering a substantial reward for information that will lead to the recovery of his son’s remains.

He said he was glad so many had come to the Mass. “It was lovely because you can discuss it with other people. You are trying to console one another. It gets no easier, you are always hoping for closure,” he said.

Also still looking for closure are the Sinnott family. Fiona’s first cousin Gina Sinnott once again appealed, in a poem, for those with knowledge of what happened to the 19-year-old mother of one to do the right thing.

“How can you sleep with what you have done, with tears flowing down her face, her empty cries, her swollen eyes, only you know her resting place,” she read.

After Mass, Fr Nolan passed the cross to her and she led the families of missing people and the other pilgrims in attendance around the island, as they prayed for the return of their loved ones.