She has been called ‘Ireland’s Madeleine McCann’. A tragic nickname for a little Irish girl who has been missing for nearly forty years. Six-year old Mary Boyle disappeared without a trace from her grandparents’ farm in 1977. Mary’s identical twin sister, Ann Doherty, has teamed up with investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty to search for the truth behind the tragedy – a truth that may have large implications for the Irish establishment.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: your child has gone missing and is never found. There are no goodbyes. There is no funeral to provide closure, no grave to visit, and no one to tell you what has happened. Your child may still be alive or may be buried somewhere in secret. The agony of not knowing the truth must be dealt with, day after crippling day.
But what if the missing child is your identical twin? What if your other half, who looks like you, speaks like you, and with whom you share a unique bond, simply disappears? The agony may be just as bad. It happened to Ann Doherty, whose twin sister Mary Boyle disappeared from her grandparents’ farm in a remote rural area near Ballyshannon in Donegal on March 18, 1977.
Forty years later, Mary is still missing. Not a single trace has been found of the little girl wearing a white and purple ribbon in her hair. Mary Boyle is now Ireland’s longest and youngest missing person. This in itself is a heartbreaking fact. What makes the case even more shattering, however, are recent allegations that the chief suspect in the investigation has been shielded by the political establishment and senior officers within the Irish police – An Garda Síochána.
Two retired local police officers, who worked on the case in 1977, have recently come forward saying that a yet unnamed Irish politician – presumably of the Fianna Fáil party – called the Ballyshannon police station to stop them from arresting and further questioning the chief suspect. In this way, the politician effectively prevented them from securing a likely confession. Interestingly, the politician not only knew the suspect well, but was also friends with the superintendent who was in charge of the case.
The allegations are part of a recent documentary, researched and written by Irish freelance journalist Gemma O’Doherty. Its explosive content, which focuses not only on the disappearance of Mary Boyle but also on the possible corruption underlying the investigation, is slowly beginning to alert British and Irish media.
Besides retracing Mary Boyle’s steps and exploring the alleged obstruction of justice, one of the interesting points O’Doherty presents in her work is how both the Gardaí and RTÉ – the Irish national broadcasting company – have consistently promoted the theory that Mary was abducted by a stranger, an outsider who simply snuck into the remote community, snatched the child, and disappeared without a trace.
Yet those who have worked on the case, including the two retired senior detectives, believe this to be fiction. The small town of Ballyshannon, which is close to the border with Northern Ireland, was closely watched due to the conflict in the North. No stranger would have gone unnoticed and no car would have been left uninspected. It is therefore much more likely, according to the policemen, that Mary Boyle was sexually assaulted and murdered by someone known to her.
If the allegations of political interference and attempts to mislead the public are true, the disappearance of Mary Boyle is a highly corrupt case. It certainly has set things stirring in Ireland. Two well-known politicians of the Fianna Fáil party – Sean McEniff and Pat Gallagher – already publicly denied any involvement in the case, although such statements carry little value without any objective criminal investigation.
Although the Garda’s Serious Crime Review Team has promised to re-examine the evidence – including the recent claim of a local fisherman who thinks he saw Mary being abducted by someone in a red Volkswagen Beetle – Ann Doherty has little faith in the outcome. The lengthy review, which may take years, could well be another way to delay the process of finding Mary Boyle’s remains.
Despite such fears, Ann Doherty and Gemma O’Doherty have doubled their efforts to raise public awareness about this case and are strongly supported by the twins’ distant cousin Margo O’Donnell. So far, the women have campaigned at Stormont, Westminster, Brussels and Washington DC. They have also met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who paid them lip service before passing the case on to the Garda Ombudsman.
Responses such as these have left Ann Doherty with no other choice than to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. On the grounds of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which obliges the state to investigate suspicious deaths in a prompt, effective and independent manner – she has launched a legal action against the Irish State, the Minister of Justice, and the Donegal Coroner for their refusal to hold an inquest into the death of Mary Boyle.
In the meantime, Gemma O’Doherty’s documentary, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story, has been viewed on YouTube well over 150,000 times. Shortly after its release, it also won an Award of Excellence and an Award of Recognition at the Hollywood Independent Documentary Awards of July 2016.
Not many people have the courage to call out the political establishment and those responsible for law enforcement. But Ann Doherty and Gemma O’Doherty have done so and will keep pursuing the truth for a good reason. “The very least that Mary deserves is justice – the very, very least. And like everyone else, she deserves a proper investigation. She deserves a decent burial. It’s her human right and it should be given to her,” Ann Doherty says in Mary Boyle: The Untold Story.
Nearly forty years after her disappearance, little Mary Boyle has not been forgotten. What’s more, she may well be pointing at a few bad eggs within the Irish establishment. It could be the surprising legacy of a bubbly and feisty six-year old girl from Donegal.
© Annemarie Latour