Body washed up on Welsh coast 24 years ago confirmed as body of missing Wexford woman

The widower of a dog walker who went missing on an Irish beach 24 years ago died knowing her remains had finally been found, an inquest has heard.

Two decades of uncertainty for Pauline Finlay's family were ended when she was identified as the woman whose body was washed up on the north Wales coast in 1994, Dublin Coroner's Court was told.

The 49-year-old from Co Wexford had disappeared seven months previously while walking her two dogs on Old Bawn beach, Cahore near Ballygarrett.

Her husband Joe feared his non-swimming wife had slipped while washing her dogs in the surf and been pulled out by the tides.

The only trace of her was two wellington boots washed up on the sand.

Her final resting place was revealed by chance 18 months ago when detectives in north Wales tested DNA from the remains found at Cable Bay near Holyhead with a sample from Mrs Finlay's brother Joseph Hanlon.

During the inquest on Monday, coroner Dr Myra Cullinane asked Mr Hanlon had the identification been confirmed before his sister's widower died last year.

"It was, yes," he said.

The coroner said she hoped the development had brought a measure of finality to the family's many years of "unanswered questions".

"Science has progressed to the point where many families who were left bereaved and not knowing are now being assisted in being reunited with loved ones," she told the court.

Mr and Mrs Finlay had a mobile home at Old Bawn caravan park.

She had gone to walk the dogs around 3.30pm on the day of her disappearance.

They were preparing to go to a play that evening and Mr Finlay got concerned when his wife did not return for dinner.

During the inquest, statements from friends of the couple who helped in the search were read into the record.

One, from neighbour Gerard Byrne, described the poignant scene on an otherwise empty beach that confronted him and Mr Finlay as they arrived to look for her.

"We looked down from the dunes and we could see the two dogs at the water's edge," he said in his 1994 statement to gardai.

"They were barking and were very excited. And there were two wellingtons 10 feet apart."

A member of the Garda who later attended the scene recounted how the dogs would not leave the water's edge.

Mr Byrne told how local people continued to search for the next number of weeks, with several reported sightings of a body in the water in April 1994.

He said he tried to recover the body in a boat on one occasion.

"I saw very clearly a body just under the water," he stated.

"As we stopped the boat and turned around it disappeared."

He said the next day there was another sighting by people on shore scanning the horizon with binoculars.

A lifeboat that responded to the report found no trace of Mrs Finlay.

The coroner was told how a woman tending to seagulls covered in oil discovered partial human remains in the seaweed at Cable Bay on October 31 1994.

Despite police inquiries at the time, the remains were not identified and were buried at Ynys Wen Cemetery, at Valley near Holyhead on January 24 1995.

Two decades later a renewed bid by North Wales Police to solve a series of missing person cases finally brought the closure Mrs Finlay's family craved.

After the DNA match was confirmed, her body was subsequently exhumed and returned to Ireland at the turn of the year.

Dr Cullinane said it was likely Mrs Finlay had slipped and drowned but, as there were no witnesses to the incident, she could not specify the cause of death.

The coroner recorded an open verdict.

"Now all these years later it is possible to make a formal identification of the late Pauline Finlay," she said.

- Press Association

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