This March marked the 40th anniversary of Mary Boyle’s disappearance. Ever since she vanished on St. Patrick’s weekend in 1977, a veil of secrecy has shrouded the case of the Donegal schoolgirl who is Ireland’s longest and youngest missing person.
There are few scandals that embarrass the establishment more, not least because of the sinister role played by senior political, Garda and media figures in suppressing the truth about what happened to the six-year-old. Yet despite a virtual blackout by the mainstream media on all of the astonishing new revelations in the case, the lid is slowly being lifted on this sad and sordid story, and the public is hungry for justice.
My 2016 documentary ‘Mary Boyle: The Untold Story’ has been viewed almost 600,000 times on YouTube. A recent petition to the Donegal coroner’s office requesting an inquest was signed by thousands in a matter of hours.
There is growing frustration and fury that justice has not been done and little doubt that the case involves a cover-up of enormous magnitude.
Few believe the story as it was spun in 1977 when Mary went missing during a visit to her grandparents’ home in Cashelard, Ballyshannon. It is implausible that a little girl, who was born in Birmingham, could simply vanish without trace on an isolated farm while in the company of at least 10 members of her family.
A ‘Cold Case’ review, set up in the days immediately after the documentary’s release, has resulted in nothing almost a year and a half on, and there is no conclusion in sight.
It appears now that this review – one of several that have led to nothing – was established to placate public outrage over allegations contained in the film, especially those made by retired gardaí who claim that Fianna Fáil politician Sean McEniff tried to stop their investigation in its tracks.
Expert legal opinion suggests the Gardaí have ample evidence to make charges, yet nobody has been arrested.
The last person known to have seen Mary, her uncle and local Fianna Fáil stalwart Gerry Gallagher, has given several unconvincing and inconsistent accounts of what happened the day she went missing.
His claim that his niece simply vanished into thin air after accompanying him along a laneway on his farm holds no credibility. Gallagher’s failure to admit when initially asked that Mary had been with him is suspicious at the very least. Statements given to gardaí at the time by him and certain other family members are laden with contradictions.
Some officers who were first on the scene that day say they are in no doubt Gerry Gallagher was responsible for Mary’s disappearance.
Retired sergeant Martin Collins describes one encounter with Gallagher, where Collins put it to him that he was responsible for his niece’s disappearance. Gallagher, he says, sat in silence and made no attempt to rebuke it.
Collins, who was initially refused entry to the cottage by the family, also claims he was told numerous times by Ann Boyle – Mary’s mother and Gerry Gallagher’s sister – that she believed Gallagher was responsible.
Mary’s twin sister Ann Doherty and country singer Margo O’Donnell, a distant cousin, say Mrs Boyle told them the same story. Mrs Boyle appears to have now retracted this belief, and says the matter should be addressed privately not publicly. She has been scathing about the justice campaign for her daughter, and has told Donegal coroner Dr Denis McCauley she does not want an inquest into her death, an astonishing position but one that the coroner supports, depriving Mary, her twin sister and the public of a key mechanism for justice and closure in the case.
Sergeant Collins also alleges that another close relation of Mary came to him in tears at Ballyshannon station in the days after her disappearance, repeating the claim that he believed Gallagher was responsible.
Retired detective Aidan Murray, one of the lead Gardaí in the original ‘investigation’ supports Collins’ theories. He claims that during an interview with Gallagher, he was on the brink of getting a confession when he got a ‘nudge’ under the table from his superior officer who ordered Murray to leave the room and get water for the suspect.
More disturbingly, both officers say they are in no doubt Mary was sexually assaulted before her death. Ann Doherty makes the same claim and says Mary was going to blow the whistle on the alleged abuse and had to be silenced.
The retired Gardaí also allege that Fianna Fáil’s longest-serving councillor, the late Sean McEniff, made a phone call to Ballyshannon Garda station ordering that none of the Gallagher family were to be made suspects in the case.
Shortly before his death earlier this year, McEniff denied their claim yet Aidan Murray, the former head of Special Branch in the area, has stated on camera: “I know that as a result of that phone call, certain people were not allowed to be interviewed. It was all hands off them and we were to look somewhere else”.
Given the power McEniff wielded in almost every aspect of Donegal life, there is little doubt his intervention could have derailed the investigation.
His legacy of corruption is notorious and was well documented in a recent obituary of him in Village magazine, not least because of his close relationships with Gardaí whom he seems to have been able to order around with impunity, especially where his illegal gaming operation in Bundoran was concerned.
A 1985 RTÉ documentary ‘Law and Order in Donegal’, reveals the control McEniff had over local superintendent Dom Murray, who was in charge of the Mary Boyle investigation and who told a number of lies about the case in media interviews through the years.
It offers a damning insight into the incestuous relationship between Fianna Fáil and the Gardaí, which has been used to protect the party from scandal on numerous occasions, not least in the aftermath of the Fr Niall Molloy murder in Offaly in 1985.
Gerry Gallagher was a crony of Sean McEniff who canvassed for the politician with his brother Michael in the rural townlands of Ballyshannon.
Like the archetypal mafia don, McEniff’s modus operandi was to acquire dirt on people who might be a threat to him, walk them into compromising positions and dangle the threat of exposure in their faces.
Superintendent Dom Murray’s wife had a gambling habit which McEniff is claimed to have nurtured while she ran up debts in his Bundoran casinos. This ensured the politician had the officer in his pocket and could use him to bend the law when required.
In recent months, more disturbing allegations have emerged about McEniff. a young woman has come forward making claims that he groomed and sexually abused her as a child. She says he also forced her to have sex with other men in some of his hotels, while he looked on.
The woman, who has never spoken publicly about the abuse but is a contributor to RTÉ and other media about another aspect of her life, also says a complaint she made to Gardaí about the abuse went nowhere.
For decades, there have been rumours that a powerful paedophile network operated in south Donegal involving politicians, businessmen, and other VIPs.
Its most southerly town Bundoran was home to two notorious industrial schools which housed many vulnerable children who could have been preyed upon by local and visiting abusers.
St Martha’s, which was run by the St Louis nuns, was dreaded for its brutality. The institution became infamous for the ‘Bundoran shave’, following an incident in 1963 in which eight girls caught trying to escape had their heads completely shorn as punishment.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring Sligo village of Mullaghmore, the once-cherished legacy of Lord Louis Mountbatten, mentor and godfather to Prince Charles, is gradually being revised as allegations persist about his possible links to the Kincora Boys Home scandal and paedophilia.
His bizarre friendship with predatory sex offender Jimmy Saville, whom Mountbatten introduced to the inner circle of the British royal family, has added fuel to the claims.
Belfast writer Robin Bryans was considered at length in an article by Joseph De Búrca last month in Village. His family connections to the Orange Order gave him access to the secret lives of some members of the British aristocracy. In 1990, he claimed that Mountbatten was involved in an old-boys’ network that held gay orgies in country houses.
There is growing disquiet about what really went on behind the austere walls of Mountbatten’s Sligo castle, ‘Classiebawn’, where he employed young boys to work for him.
One of them, Paul Maxwell from Enniskillen, Fermanagh, was his waiter and ‘boat-boy’.
He was just 15 when he died alongside Mountbatten (79) in an IRA bomb attack during a fishing trip in august 1979.
Maxwell attended Portora Royal College in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland’s most hallowed school, about which allegations have been made that vice rings were able to procure some of its well-bred students.
On summer trips to his imposing Victorian castle, Mountbatten got to know locals with influence and similar interests.
Sean McEniff was one of the first on the scene in Mullaghmore harbour on the day of the explosion. Eyebrows were raised when the Donegal councillor later called for the erection of a memorial to Mountbatten in sligo, generating consternation in some quarters as to why a Fianna Fáil politician from outside the area would take such a stance, and questions were asked as to who exactly he was trying to impress.
Fianna Fail’s connections with Mountbatten’s close friend Jimmy Saville are well documented. The ‘Top of the Pops’ host who sexually abused hundreds of children at the height of his fame in the 1970s was a regular visitor to Charles Haughey’s Dublin home ‘Abbéville’ in Kinsealy.
Another close associate of Mceniff, Bundoran beef baron Hugh Tunney, became an unlikely friend of Mountbatten during his stays in Sligo.
The former butcher’s apprentice, who went on to own the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, came to his aid when he could no longer fund the running of Classiebawn.
In 1976, a leasing agreement was put in place between the pair which allowed the British royal to visit the 3000-acre estate every August.
Reported to be a devout Catholic, Tunney was said to be present in the castle saying his rosary on the day the explosion struck.
Local affection for Tunney, who died in 2011, is thin on the ground.
Within the castle grounds, a graveyard containing the remains of dozens of unbaptised infants has become the subject of controversy in recent years. In 2006, a group of locals asked Tunney if they could erect a memorial to the children in the burial ground known as Cill na mBochtan, but he turned them down.
They were forced to place it on the roadside outside the estate instead, leaving a sour taste in the community for the millionaire cattle-dealer. Questions linger as to why he would not grant permission for it.
Earlier this month, Mountbatten’s murder again came under scrutiny when it emerged that a former British military police officer who worked as his security guard in Sligo had warned superiors several times that his old fishing boat was vulnerable to a bomb attack. The officer, Graham Yuill, said his concerns met deaf ears.
He was removed from his post shortly before the bombing and was told that Gardaí would be looking after Mountbatten from then on, an unusual decision given his status in the royal family.
These revelations add credence to theories that his IRA killers may not have acted alone and that he may have been killed for reasons that went deeper than the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Was a darker side to Mountbatten’s life in Sligo about to be revealed? Did others, apart from the Provisionals, want him dead? Why was security around him so lax given the fact that he was such an obvious target?
There’s little doubt that powerful forces were involved in Mary Boyle’s disappearance and the cover-up that followed. Is it possible that the sordid world of Anglo-Irish child abuse trafficking networks in London and Belfast, and of associated secret-service blackmailings, outlined in recent months by Joseph De Búrca in Village, had tentacles that reached into Cashelard in Donegal? This might explain the baffling failure by so many Garda commissioners, justice ministers and Irish governments to deal with a case that many believe could easily be solved. it could also provide an insight into why the British authorities have turned their backs on Mary Boyle, even though she was one of their own who went missing, abroad.