If Ciara Breen was still around Dundalk, she’d be a 35-year-old woman, possibly venturing to The Big House pub to see singer Dominic Kettle in action on Saturday.
Or she may even have followed the crowds to Oriel Park, home of League Of Ireland champions Dundalk, to roar on ‘The Town’.
The reality is, though, less than 500m from those venues at Balmers Bog, gardaí continue to conduct searches for Ciara’s remains. The apprentice hairdresser has not been seen since February 13, 1997, six weeks before her 18th birthday.
Acting on information received after RTÉ’s CrimeCall programme, gardaí revisited Ciara’s disappearance last December and zoned in on a specific area of the 16 acres of marsh land, and brought in sniffer dogs this week to help with their efforts.
Accessible only via a Bus Éireann work yard used to repair and refuel the fleet, and surrounded by a metal fence, Balmers Bog is a place unchanged since 1997.
According to locals, it remains a place where under-age drinkers and so-called winos frequent on a regular basis.
It’s also just a three-minute stroll from the local Garda station but would not have been monitored by too many CCTV cameras on the Thursday Ciara disappeared from her home in Bachelor’s Walk in the middle of the town — a 10-minute walk away.
For all the problems posed in getting into the bog, it’s centrally located, yet remote enough for someone to hide something away from prying eyes with little danger of being spotted.
Right beside the Bus Éireann depot, the local grammar school was a hive of activity as preparations were put in place for the return of pupils next week.
Indeed, inside the depot, a number of school buses are lined up ready for action, a poignant reminder that were Ciara still around, she may have had school-going children herself.
Ciara’s parents, Gerry and Bernadette, married on March 18, 1978, but it did not last. Gerry, 63, from nearby Knockbridge, was a pipe fitter and welder but has been in the US for many years.
Bernadette, 57, is a member of the Coburn family from St Mary’s Park in Dundalk. A friend who worked with her in the PJ Carrolls cigarette factory said: “She was a bubbly outgoing girl, the kind of person everyone centred in on if we were on a night out.
"She was great craic though Ciara’s disappearance has changed Bernadette’s life completely.”
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