it was a bittersweet moment last Saturday, March 24 when Imelda Keenan’s family released bright red balloons into the clear blue sky over Mountmellick, marking her 41st birthday.
Constantly searching for answers since Imelda’s disappearance from her Waterford flat 18 years ago, the family had overwhelming support for their first ever march through the town, blessed by sunshine. About 150 people gathered to walk holding photos from O’Moore Street to Turley’s Bar, where prayers, a beautiful poem and heartrending words from her brother Donal were heard.
Fr Noel Dunphy prayed for information on Imelda’s whereabouts.
“Some day we will know what happened, we must never give up hope. Through our prayers, some light will be thrown onto the mystery. We ask for some information about the disappearance of Imelda, and of other people around the country. There is great sadness, with families always grieving, always hoping. We pray they will find what happened so they can have closure, peace in the knowing,” he said.
Her eldest brother Donal recalled the last words of his brother Ned, who passed away from cancer on May 7.
“With less than 24 hours to live, he whispered, ‘I should have looked after Imelda a lot more than I did. If the person could walk into the room and tell us what happened, I would forgive them.’ 24 hours later Ned’s fight to find Imelda finished. In June 2008 we were at our mother’s bedside. The medical people told us she had minutes to live. I thought in those minutes that if someone would walk in and tell us, Mam wouldn’t have died of a broken heart,” he said.
He asked everyone to visit the family grave, in St Joseph’s cemetery, where an inscription for Imelda is written.
“I’m terrified to think that’s the nearest we will come,” he said, before asking for silence to remember missing people everywhere.
The march was attended by other families left in limbo over their disappeared, including Fiona Pender’s mother Josephine, Philip Cairns’ mother Alice, and Mary Byrne’s twin sister Ann Doherty.
“I am here to support the family, and to keep Fiona’s name out there,” said Josphine, “She would be 41 now, the same age as Imelda. I should have a 16 year old granddaughter, I have missed out on that too,” said Mrs Pender. Fiona went missing in Tullamore when she was eight months pregnant. Tragedy has marked the Penders. Josephine’s son Mark died in a road crash, and her husband took his own life in 2000. She has one son left, John, and a grandson Dean.
“I still have to keep hoping. I won’t let go. Before I go to my maker, I want Fiona found and laid to rest. Give her back a bit of dignity, not have her lying out in a field, but laid to rest with her daddy and brother,” said Mrs Pender.
She hopes to hold a similar walk in Tullamore, while Philip Cairns’ family are holding an afternoon of prayer for all missing people in the Capuchin Friary, Church Street, Dublin on April 28.
The Missing in Ireland Support Service helpline is 1890 442 552