It had been 25 years since a new boat had arrived at the Hugh Coveney Pier and its owner, local man Michael Meade, was surrounded by well-wishers.
Among them was the late Mr Coveney’s son, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, who was there to celebrate the launch of the trawler in the busy Co Cork fishing village.
Later that evening, on Friday April 30, 2004, the revelry spilled into the Moonduster Inn, where local fisherman Barry Coughlan joined friends for drinks. Mr Coughlan, who was 23 at the time, had recently been offered his first permanent job on a boat.
He celebrated by buying his first car, a red Toyota Corolla, and was spending his last weekend in Crosshaven before taking to the seas the following week. After a few drinks and a sing-song in the pub, Barry went home at 6.30pm for his dinner.
He had something to eat with his family and rested in bed for a few hours, before leaving home in his new car and returning to the Moonduster Inn.
He left his mobile phone in the house. After having about three pints in the company of locals, he left to go home.
Barry was last seen outside the Moonduster Inn between 1.30am and 2am on Saturday morning, May 1, 2004.
His car – with the licence plate 98-C-18625 – was parked nearby. The car was never found after he seemingly disappeared without trace.
At the time, the Coast Guard carried out a search of the immediate area and the coastline in the hope that they would find it. The river was also dredged, but all searches proved negative.
In the years that followed, Barry’s younger sister Donna campaigned tirelessly, trying to keep her brother’s case in the spotlight.
The Coughlan family said it was completely out of character for Barry, someone who was making plans for the future that included buying a house, to vanish.
He was last seen wearing a navy hooded top with an Old Navy logo, blue Wrangler jeans and blue Sketchers runners with beige trim. He stood 6ft 1in tall, with black hair, blue eyes and was of slim build. Despite a number of unconfirmed sightings, including one in Scotland, there were no concrete leads.
Then, on Wednesday of this week, out of nowhere, came a breakthrough.
During a training exercise on a stretch of water between Camden, to the east, and Drake’s Pool to the west of Crosshaven, members of Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery (CCMPSR) unit made a shock discovery.
They were testing the unit’s new €10,000 side-scanning sonar device when it detected a submerged “item of interest” near the Hugh Coveney Pier at around noon. The team rescanned the area several times before going ashore to view the footage on a big screen.
The scene was preserved as the Garda Water Unit conducted a search operation and were able to extract the car from the water on Thursday.
The car is currently being technically examined and has been confirmed as Barry Coughlan’s red Toyota Corolla.
Yesterday afternoon, gardaí confirmed that skeletal remains had been found inside.
“The remains will now be transferred to Cork City Morgue where an examination will be carried out,” said a garda spokesperson.
The results of the examination, and DNA analysis by Forensic Science Ireland, will hopefully assist in confirming the identity of the remains.
After 17 years, the Coughlan family, one of many families searching for their disappeared loved ones, may finally have answers.