‘We’re just devastated. We can’t believe it’

Niall Murray, Midleton

After the grim news came through to the makeshift headquarters that a body had been found near the coast less than 10 miles away, groups of volunteers, gardaí and civil defence teams began making their way back to the clubhouse.

Although there was no official confirmation that the remains were those of Robert Holohan, the mood was extremely sombre among the weary groups sitting around drinking cups of coffee or pacing the car park of the club barely a mile from the missing schoolboy's home.

Brian Boland, whose son was in Robert's class, was in the field next to where the body was found a few hours earlier.

"We're just devastated. We can't believe it because there was always hope among us that he'd be found safe and well," he said.

Michael Keane was among a group of volunteers which had been searching through a rough field near Inch next to where the discovery was made. He said that somebody called out suddenly for a garda, and the helicopter swooped and landed in the field alongside them.

"If we hadn't found him for another week, we'd have kept going anyway," he said.

John O'Mahony, who had also been searching, spoke to members of group which found the body. They told him that they had reported the discovery and left the immediate scene in order not to disturb potential forensic evidence.

"It doesn't look good as far as the search is concerned," he said.

Thomas O'Shaughnessy had travelled from Thurles on Tuesday to help the massive search effort around east Cork for the missing 11-year-old.

"I was off work for a couple of days and said to my wife I wanted to go down and lend a hand. Anyone who has kids is affected by something like this," he said.

He said he was searching in a field with very rough ground when the shout went out that something had been found. "I went over to the cliff edge and it wasn't very far away. I rang my wife and I just started crying," said Thomas, who had only moved from Cork with his family three years ago. "It's a relief in a way that the body was found, it means the family can grieve," he said.

He was one of a large number of people from different parts of the country that joined the hundreds of search volunteers, some from as far away as Derry and Co Louth. As daylight began to fade shortly before 5pm the time most search groups would have been calling a halt for the day over the past week the hush suddenly changed to louder talk as further news emerged.

A body had been found in the Owenacurra River which runs around the centre of Midleton, about two miles from the golf club. Gardaí, who had been on breaks from their duties, quickly disappeared into patrol vehicles and sped off in the direction of the town.

There was understandable speculation for a short time that a second unexpected death in the area might have been related to Robert's disappearance and the earlier grim news.

However, it soon emerged that the death of the man, believed to be in his 60s and from the town, was an unconnected but coincidental tragedy amid the shock and disbelief being experienced by the population of the busy town and surrounding region.

The scene was not sealed off and the death appears unlikely to be treated as suspicious, although this will be clarified by a post mortem examination today.

Back at the golf club, a few remaining volunteers and gardaí gathered around the bar's television to watch the teatime RTÉ news bulletin, most of them shaking their heads in disbelief at the unfolding events.

At the top of the now quiet function hall which had been the briefing room for search efforts over the previous week, posters with Robert Holohan's picture still hung on a flipchart.

Outside the golf club door in the darkened car park, hats, gloves and other small items filled a cardboard apple box marked simply Lost + Found.

Rows of broken tree branches and umbrellas used as walking aids by searchers were leaned against the wall to the other side of the door.

Alongside, in a poignant reminder of Robert's bicycle, found abandoned in a ditch less than half-a-mile away, a child's scooter stood against the wall.

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