Sister of missing Priscilla Clarke fears she may lie in unmarked grave

Sister of missing Priscilla Clarke fears she may lie in unmarked grave

Claire is pictured at home holding a picture of Priscilla.

The sister of a woman missing since 1988 is calling for mandatory inquests for unidentified remains, as well as a public database of such remains to help families of missing people in their search for their loved ones.

Priscilla Clarke went missing after going horseriding with her employer, Lynda Kavanagh, in Wicklow in 1988. Mrs Kavanagh’s body was recovered from the River Dargle two days later but Priscilla has never been found.

A cold case review of her disappearance was re-opened in 2008 but no progress was made.

Now, Priscilla’s sister Claire says there must be a publicly-accessible database set up, with details of any unidentified remains found in Ireland, with details of any jewellery or clothing found with them.

She stresses: “Such a database is critical for families.” And she says there also needs to be mandatory inquests held in cases where unidentified remains are discovered, to help establish their identity.

Priscilla is pictured on skiing trip before she went missing in 1988.
Priscilla is pictured on skiing trip before she went missing in 1988.

She was speaking after the Irish Examiner revealed on Thursday that the family of Limerick man Denis Walsh is to take a case against the State after they found out in February 2021 that their son’s remains lay in a communal grave in Galway unknown to them. 

He had disappeared 25 years earlier and his remains washed up on a beach on Inis Mor a month later. However, although his body lay in a morgue in Galway for 18 years before being buried in a communal grave, efforts by his parents Denis Snr and Mary to find their son failed.

Claire says she fears her sister’s remains could be lying in an unmarked grave, without the knowledge of the Clarke family.

She says: “Every cemetery in the country should be trawled for unidentified remains.” 

She also believes that there should be a Chief Coroner role created in Ireland to streamline the coronial system as she says that coroners are currently autonomous. She believes such a measure would make it easier to prevent other families having the same experience as Denis Walsh’s.

Claire says: “Priscilla would have been 60 in August this year. Both of our parents have died and they both thought they would be able to bury her. Any parent (in that position) wants to be able to lay their child to rest.” Priscilla’s family placed flowers on their parents’s grave to mark her birthday.

Claire says there needs to be mandatory inquests held in cases where unidentified remains are discovered, to help establish their identity.
Claire says there needs to be mandatory inquests held in cases where unidentified remains are discovered, to help establish their identity.

Claire says: “Every day we think about her. She was great craic, constantly messing, and she loved kids. She was just fun to be around.” 

Justice Minister Helen McEntee revealed in June that the existence of 27 unidentified remains in Ireland were brought to the attention of a forum of representatives from the Department of Justice, Forensic Science Ireland, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the State Pathologist by coroners across the country by the end of February, as requested. They include 13 full remains and 14 partial remains.

However, Ms McEntee’s department told the Irish Examiner that “a further number of unidentified remains” have been “recorded” through ongoing engagement by coroners with the forum. The department would not reveal how many remains have been “recorded” since February, nor where the remains are.

A spokeswoman said: “It is expected that details of all unidentified remains will be updated by the coroners in their returns to the Department in February 2023.”

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