DNA identifies missing man after 20 years
Just over twenty years since they last saw their son and brother alive, the family of Kilmore native Patrick 'Packy' Gallagher huddled together as they entered the imposing structure of Wexford Courthouse on Thursday morning.
Two decades after Packy was last seen departing the old Tower Bar in Wexford town on September 28, 1999, the family had arrived to finally obtain closure on a saga which has had a devastating impact on them.
While Packy was listed as a missing person for the past twenty years, it has since emerged that his remains washed up on a beach in Courtown, three weeks after he went missing, and were buried in an unnamed grave at St Michael's Cemetery in Gorey.
Earlier this year, the body was exhumed to examine the possibility that it may have been a ferry passenger that went missing from an Irish Ferries sailing in the same month that Packy went missing. However, upon running DNA samples through the database, they proved a positive match with Packy's mother Doreen Gallagher, meaning that for all the intervening years, her son's body had lay in a grave just over an hour from the family home.
Thursday's inquest was not the first into Mr Gallagher's death. In the absence of a body, an inquest took place back in 2014, at which the Coroner Dr Sean Nixon stated that it was likely that Packy had died by suicide having entered Wexford Harbour and returned a verdict of death by misadventure as they could not be 100% sure the circumstances which saw him enter the water.
This verdict was upheld at Thursday's inquest, however, with the important distinction that Packy would no longer be listed as a 'missing person'.
Detective Garda Colm Dunne read aloud a statement which had been submitted at the last inquest by Packy's mother, Doreen Gallagher. In it, she stated that her son had been living at 42 Pierce Court in Wexford town for around 3 months having moved from the family home at Libgate, Kilmore.
She said that Packy had a history of mental health problems and had 'struggled with depression all of his adult life'. It was noted that he didn't always see eye to eye with his father with whom he had an argument in the days before he was last seen.
The Coroner, Dr Nixon, stated that the initial post mortem carried out by Dr Maurice Murphy on the body which we now know to have been Packy's stated an 'estimated height' of approximately 6'2", whereas Mr Gallagher was known to be 5'9" It was also noted that the body was that of a muscular man, while it was the assertion of those examining the body that they had been told Packy was of slight build.
For these reasons, the possibility of the remains being identified as those of Patrick Gallagher was dismissed and the remains were buried, unidentified in Gorey.
Dr Nixon also pointed out that DNA technology was not operating at the same level back in 1999 as it is today and that 'DNA sampling was not routine', however, he did note that the remains could have been identified as Mr Gallagher had dental records been checked.
'Retrospectively, had they looked at dental records, they may have been consistent with those of the body found in Courtown,' he said.
Concluding the inquest, Dr Nixon commiserated with the Gallagher family and their long wait for closure and apologised on the part of the coroner's office that this had been the case.
Given the opportunity to address the inquest at the end, Packy's sister Karen read a statement on behalf of the family describing the moment as 'bitter sweet'.
She thanked those who had worked hard to keep the case alive 'to bring Patrick home'. The family's heartbreak and sense of anger at the authorities was laid bare as she stated:
'We feel we've been left to suffer unnecessarily for the last twenty years.'
'My father passed away not knowing what had happened to his son and feeling the guilt of their last argument,' she added.
Ms Gallagher said that the family felt that the case had been forgotten about and that they 'hope mistakes like this are not made again'.
'For my mother, it was heartbreaking to think that her son was buried in the same county all that time,' she continued.
'We feel like we deserve an apology from An Garda Síochána as a result. However, we now have closure and we can finally move on with our lives.'
'Packy is no longer missing. He's at home with his loved ones.'
Condolences were also offered by Detective Garda Colm Dunne, who had been working on the case over the past year and had spoken with the Gallagher family on several occasions.
'I want to offer my condolences to the family,' he said. 'I've spoken to the girls a good bit in the past few months and I understand the frustration that they feel.'
'Obviously I can't apologise on behalf of An Garda Síochána, but I'd like to offer my sincerest condolences to the whole family.'
As the family left the court, it marked the final chapter in what had been an agonising twenty year wait. Having held a low-key service as Packy's body was reburied in St Mary's Cemetery in Kilmore back in July, there can be little doubt that the grave saw some additional visitors this week as he figured highly in the thoughts of family and friends.