Cashelard is a small country village five miles from Ballyshannon in County Donegal. It is not dissimilar to hundreds of other Irish county villages. It has a catholic church, a pub, shop and post office. I attended a residential workshop there recently, and spent a week at the Breezy Centre which is situated in the centre of the village. Long country walks with my friends took us past farms with fields full of cattle. We enjoyed going to the village pub, ‘Whoriskey’s’, where, over hot whiskeys, we were entertained to ceili music and locals playing poker. However, despite the simplicity and pleasurable comforts of Cashelard, this small, Irish village is enveloped with an underlying sadness. Nearly forty years ago a young girl named Mary Boyle went missing in the area and has never been found.
Mary, who was six at the time, was visiting her grandparents in Cashelard when she disappeared on the 18th March, 1977. She had travelled with her parents, twin sister and older brother from her home in another part of Donegal to attend the anniversary Mass of her uncle who had died in an accident. Mary went missing from one of the nearby fields close to her grandparents’ house and despite a stringent search of ditches, dykes, rivers, lakes, bog land, mountains and forests in the immediate vicinity and beyond, her body remains undiscovered.
There are posters on telegraph poles in Cashelard with her picture containing the caption ‘Justice for Mary’. This made me think about what type of justice was being sought for her. Her family must yearn for answers as to what happened to her – where her remains are – and hope that the perpetrator is caught and imprisoned, presuming they are still alive. I gathered from local opinion in the village that the possibility that Mary was kidnapped is slim, given the isolated rural area from where she vanished.
The villagers believe that she was murdered by somebody local who has managed to cover up their crime all these years. Indeed, newspaper articles and a recent documentary have alluded to the possibility of Mary having known her killer. Whatever the truth the fact remains that nobody has ever been charged with Mary’s murder. Her remains have never been found, despite various searches. In simple, Mary remains the youngest and longest missing person in the Irish state.
It remains unclear whether Mary will receive the justice her supporters are currently advocating. But what about justice in a spiritual sense? There will be those who believe that Mary, upon her death will have followed the light to heaven and may have long since forgiven whoever murdered her. Another aspect of this is to consider God’s viewpoint because after all, isn’t his justice the only type that really matters? For the perpetrator, the guilt of having murdered a child all those years ago must be a living hell. If they have a conscience, living with this dreadful secret is far worse perhaps than owning up to the truth because every day they will have to think about what they did to Mary. There will never be an escape from this. They know the truth of what they did and must be haunted knowing that Mary was scared and terrified before she was murdered. They know where she is buried. They hold the answers to this longstanding mystery that has never been solved.
There is of course a possibility that Mary’s killer may never be brought to justice. Questions will remain unanswered. I believe Mary’s supporters, in their quest for justice, are seeking a public inquest into her disappearance so that clues will be uncovered, the killer caught, and the multiple hypotheses about Mary’s murder are finally silenced.
In the meantime, there is uncertainty. And her supporters will have to live with this uncertainty. Yet one would hopes that they never give up the courage to keep on fighting for justice for Mary, and that one day the truth will finally be revealed. Only then, will they have that sense of closure and peace of mind – and Mary will finally be laid to rest.
Image credit: https://www.irishtimes.com/