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Heartache Brother of missing Limerick man reveals frustration at delay in identifying remains

"If the gardaí in Galway had been in contact with the gardaí in Limerick, or I suppose vice versa, one would assume that they could put two and two together, but it just didn't happen£


Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

The brother of a Limerick man who had been missing for 25 years have expressed his family’s frustration at the delay in identifying his remains. 

Denis Walsh was just 23 years of age when he disappeared in March 1996.

Less than a month later his body was discovered on the shoreline at Inis Mór, off Galway Bay.

However, his family were only told that he had been found last year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor Show, Denis’ brother Paul Walsh said: “That’s a source of tremendous frustration for us, I have to say."

Paul told Brendan about the heartache and grief his family dealt with.

Before Denis went missing in March 1996, there were a number of incidents when he expressed feelings that he wanted to end his life.

He had connections to Galway, which led the family to focus their own search there.

“In the month of March and early April, Mam and Dad were going up and down to Galway and then, on 7 April, a body was washed up on Inis Mór and brought to the mainland, I think the next day.

His parents went into a Garda station in Galway with fliers about their missing son.

Mr Walsh added: “If the gardaí in Galway had been in contact with the gardaí in Limerick, or I suppose vice versa, one would assume that they could put two and two together, but it just didn’t happen.”

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The family has since learned that Denis’ body was not buried for more than 18 years after it was discovered because one doctor anticipated advancements in forensics, which might some day help find his family

“He was very forward-looking in that he held onto the body for 18 years because he knew that advances were coming and DNA technology,” Paul said.

“They took samples from the remains more than once over that period."

After the doctor retired the decision was made in 2014 to bury Denis in a communal grave.

For 25 years, the Walshes had no idea what happened to their son and brother and whether he was still alive.

Paul said that he would have dreams that Denis had returned home and their mother would speak to her son every night.

“As siblings, we got on with our lives but my mam and dad were younger then than I am now.

“They faced into the next 25 years of tracking and searching down every lead they got."

Last February their parents got a knock on their door which brought an end to the mystery.

“On a Friday evening in February, two gardaí came to the door and informed my dad that a positive identification had been made on remains by Forensic Science Ireland as Denis."

After being told that their son’s remains were in a communal grave in Galway, the family decided to give him a funeral and rebury him

They were told that due to the lockdown and an inquest being done, it may take up to two years.

However, Paul and his sister rang the coroner, Galway City Council and the HSE and were able to have a funeral for Denis in May.

He revealed how the family are dealing with the discovery in different ways, their father is angry about the last 25 years whereas their mother is relying on her faith.

“The thing about the grieving as well is that it’s so strange because we had 25 years where we were half grieving. Then in this year, we’re grieving for something that happened 25 years ago. It’s just strange."

Mr Walsh also recalled what his brother was like growing up.

“He didn’t want to sleep in the house. He wanted to sleep outside and things that just weren’t normal behaviour.”

Paul’s brother was given a diagnosis of manic depression which is now known as bipolar disorder

“He spent the next five years getting treatment and being on medication, I think it was lithium, but he would regularly come off the lithium.

“He never got back to the old Denis, it controlled him really and he would still loaf around the house."

He explains that his parents didn’t know what to do and just offered their love to their son.

“When it’s mental illness, you can’t rest there and put your leg up or something you can’t do anything like that.

“All you can do is be supportive and sometimes that support is rejected and even used against you.

“Denis was born in 1972. He was the youngest of five children, so he was always the baby of the family even though he became the tallest.

“I left home when he was 14, to go to England and at that stage, he was just the bright and bubbly person in the house,” he said.

In the summer of 1991, he travelled with friends to Amsterdam in search of work. Mr Walsh said the group visited a coffee shop and, after taking some drugs, they all suffered a bad reaction, but Denis was worst affected.

Paul said that he “came back a changed person”. Later, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was receiving treatment, but at times he stopped taking his prescribed medication.

“It was an up and down five years,” he said.

Denis Walsh’s story is featured on Virgin Media’s series Ireland’s Unidentified Bodies available on Virgin Media Player.

There are multiple freephone numbers to contact if you are struggling with your mental health:

Samaritans: 116 123

Pieta house: 1800 247 247

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