The family of a Limerick man whose remains lay unidentified in a mortuary in Galway for 18 years before being buried in a communal grave is planning to take a case against the State.
Denis and Mary Walsh’s son, also Denis, went missing from his home in Caherdavin in Limerick City on March 9, 1996, and was never seen again. A month later, his remains were discovered washed up on Inis Mór, off Galway Bay.
The previous day, Denis Senior and Mary had delivered flyers with their son’s picture to Garda stations in Galway as they tried desperately to get information about the whereabouts of the 23-year-old.
However, the discovery of their son’s remains was not revealed to them until February 2021 — almost 25 years after his disappearance — because it was not possible to identify the remains in 1996.
The remains were held in storage for 18 years before being buried in a communal grave in Bohermore cemetery in Galway.
They were eventually identified in February 2021 after saliva swabs taken over a decade earlier from Denis and Mary were found to be a match with samples taken from their son’s remains which had been held by Forensic Science Ireland. The match was made possible through advances in DNA technology.
The remains were exhumed in April 2021 and finally laid to rest in Castlemungret cemetery in Limerick, in a family plot.
Prior to the funeral, his family brought his remains home to Caherdavin.
Denis Senior told the Irish Examiner that he is now pursuing legal action against the State and is currently in consultation with his legal team.
He said: “I want answers.”
The family is frustrated that the identification of Denis Junior’s remains took so long. He added:
I am doing this for Denis and also for myself, and also for the relatives of other missing people so that something like it doesn’t happen again.
“I know what relatives of missing people are going through.”
He said the family spent many times over the 25 years after Denis’s disappearance following leads that ended up with no news of his whereabouts — even though his remains were lying in a grave in Galway.
He recalls the pointless journeys throughout the country: “You would feel so down coming back.”
At the inquest into his death, held in Galway in April 2021, Galway West coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, called for the establishment of a database of unidentified human remains found in the State, to be shared across all Garda stations and coroners’ offices in the Republic.
The inquest returned an open verdict in the case.
According to the Department of Justice, Minister Heather Humphreys wrote to all coroners in July 2021, seeking details of all human remains within their district dating back over the previous 70 years.
A new question has also been added to the annual statistical returns form this year, as provided for under Section 55 of the Coroners Acts, 1962-2020, whereby coroners have been asked to provide details of all unidentified human remains reported to them in the preceding year in their district.
The coroner’s returns will be collated and shared with the Missing Persons Unit of An Garda Síochána, according to the department.