Family of serial killer's victim still search for closure
Cathal O'Brien's family in Co Wexford are left in limbo
THE PAST WEEK has marked the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of 22-year-old Wexford man Cathal O'Brien, who is believed to have been murdered by a serial killer.
Cathal's father Seamus has spoken of the anguish of losing Cathal and of how there will never be closure for the family until his remains are found.
Cathal was one of three men who disappeared in Cork city in 1994 in the 'House of Horrors' case which shocked the country. The man who is believed to have been responsible for the deaths, Fred Flannery, committed suicide in May 2003.
Speaking from his Kilmore home, Cathal's father Seamus said: 'We think it was April 18th when Cathal died. We think about him all the time.'
The first victim was Welshman Kevin Ball (42), who went missing in April 1994 and had connections to 9 Wellington Terrace in Cork, where Cathal was staying. Gardaí believe Cathal, who was the second man to go missing, lost his life days later because he was worried about Ball's whereabouts and suspected the truth.
A third man, Patch O'Driscoll, then disappeared. When Patch vanished in December 1994, Gardai launched one of biggest manhunts ever witnessed in Munster. The house on Wellington Terrace, with which all three missing men had connections, was the main focus of the investigation, which led Gardaí to Flannery.
After repeated appeals for information and a huge search of forests and isolated woodland adjacent to Cork city, pieces of Patch's body were finally discovered in 1995. After the discovery of Patch's remains, Gardaí charged Flannery with murdering Patch, only for the trial to sensationally collapse as crucial documents had been withheld by the prosecution. There was also a court ruling that Flannery was never to be retried.
All the while, Seamus was working as principal of Castlebridge NS.
The father-of-eight said: 'The whole family life was under stress and strain. It was very stressful at work but you just got on with it; the teachers were very supportive.'
In 1999, another tragedy visited the family when Cathal's brother Cormac (33) was killed in a motorcycle accident in Germany.
Seamus eventually tracked Flannery down and Flannery told him that Cathal came downstairs one day and 'he wasn't himself'. He intimated that Cathal had got a boat abroad. Seamus said he 'kept in Flannery's face' to remind him that he wasn't going away until he got some answers, but none came.
Seamus said Flannery's suicide was 'another major thread gone'.
He travels to 9 Wellington Place on his son's birthday every year to lay a flower from his garden at the house where Cathal lived.
He said the Gardaí review the cold case every January but there has been no breakthrough.
The O'Brien's last saw Cathal when he returned home for a week in Easter 1994.
'He went back Easter Monday and when he never got in contact with us coming up to his mother's birthday, we got really worried. We started checking then and we've been checking ever since,' his father said.
Describing Cathal as laid back and reflective, he said the former St Peter's College student was a normal young man who was very close to his family. He said Cathal had been living in Cork for five months and had a girlfriend.
'He did all night fasts in the park and raised funds for the Simon centre.'
He said the family can never get used to life without Cathal.
'You learn not to let it shove you over a cliff, especially when the thing is unfinished. We're all coping but it leaves a mark. All his brothers and sisters are left in limbo like the rest of us.
'I feel that I'm 70 now and it's 20 years going on; you'd like to see a little recognition of the suffering that is going on and is going to go on. Closure is what they call it but there's no such thing. The only closure is the box. It's my firm belief that there are people who are aware of what happened and that means culpability for them.'
He said Cathal is in the family's thoughts all the time.
'His sister Doireann had a baby boy nine months ago and she called him Cathal.'
Two photographs of a smiling, long haired, carefree Cathal have pride of place in the O'Brien's lovely sittingroom. They offer a clue as to the kind of person he was.
Tragically, no more clues have been forthcoming as to where his remains now rest.