SOME of the families of the country's 'missing' leave vacant chairs at the Christmas dinner table to mark their painful absence.
Former garda Tosh Lavery, who chairs the Searching for the Missing group, said the festive season in particular was a "horrible" time for the families of those who vanished.
"It is very hard to counsel someone about a missing person, it is different from a bereavement, so no one can empathise with them unless you are in that situation," said the former garda, who spent 30 years diving rivers and lakes in search of the missing.
"Some people have a vacant chair at Christmas to mark that person."
Mr Lavery said some of those who went missing did so intentionally, while others may have met unfortunate accidents or been deliberately killed.
"Over 30 men are missing in the Limerick area. I've no doubt some of them have been killed and buried," he said.
The former garda appealed to those who might now be older and raising families of their own to call the Searching for the Missing helpline on 086 8956917 in confidence and leave information on where some of the missing might be located.
In 2011, there were 8,511 people reported missing to Garda Missing Persons Bureau, with the latest available figures showing 28 of those were still missing.
Michael Deely, from Naas, Co Kildare, revealed he had drawn strength from his Catholic faith in the 12 years since son Trevor went missing.
"We have a prayer service every year," Mr Deely said.
"Christmas is a particularly difficult time, it is a time of friends coming back, and coming home."
The 22-year-old was last seen in the early hours walking along Haddington Road after a Christmas party on December 8, 2000.
His father said they were still hoping a member of the public would contact gardai with information.
Gerry Daly Snr (72), from Tallaght, Dublin, said he had "no idea" what had happened to his son, security dog trainer Gerry Daly Jnr (42), who disappeared from his home in Bailieboro, Co Cavan, on June 26, 2011.
His son lived in the same area as former garda John Kerins, who was found shot dead in November. Mr Kerins was arrested and questioned after his neighbour vanished.
Heartbroken father Bob Shanahan (70) said each festive season had been particularly difficult since their son Gussie disappeared from the streets of Limerick 12 years ago.
The family believe the 20-year-old employee of computer firm Dell may have been killed.
"From the moment you wake up, you are hoping and praying someone will have the courage to tell you what happened," he said.