DNA to unlock mystery of granddad missing 34 years and body on British beach

Patrick Healy was 70 when he disappeared. His body washed up 250km away weeks later, but could only be identified recently. Photo: RTE

Conor Feehan

The puzzle of what happened a Dublin grandfather who disappeared in 1986 will finally end today when an inquest in the UK will hear that modern DNA tests prove that a body that washed up on a beach in northern England was him.

The family of Patrick Healy, who was 70 when he vanished on September 20 that year, will finally be able to hear about his fate.

RTÉ journalist Barry Cummins, who has written extensively about missing persons cases and broke the news of the latest development in the case yesterday, said there are a number of tidal movements in the Irish Sea that can result in bodies being pulled across to the UK.

"We may never know where exactly he entered the water in Dublin, but we now know Patrick's body was washed across the Irish Sea, past the Isle of Man and on up in a north-east direction to Cumbria," he said.

Patrick left his home at St Attracta Road in Cabra on Dublin's northside that day, but the father of three and grandfather of eight was not seen again.

A missing person's investigation began, but with no CCTV or mobile phone tracking at the time, finding out what happened was next to impossible.

Patrick had indicated he was going to the coast, and just over a month later, a body was washed up on a beach in Cumbria, more than 250km away.

But because of the time it had been in the water it was impossible to visually identify it.

There were some clues that indicated the man was Irish, because there was Irish money in his pockets, but beyond that, it was not possible to prove that the body was that of Patrick.

His clothing was similar to that which Patrick could have worn, but there was nothing that could prove the body was him beyond doubt.

The family were informed, but it was only after a new look at the evidence, and the exhumation of Patrick's body in England, that a DNA sample could be compared to a sample from his daughter Mary in Dublin.

The Healys had always wondered if the unidentified body found in Cumbria might be Patrick, and the link was finally made recently.

The process was not without its challenges however, one being that other bodies had been placed in the same grave by the local council since Patrick was buried.

Just as the process was getting under way, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and this added further delays to proceedings.


Today in Cumbria the inquest into Patrick's death will finally be heard, 34 years after he disappeared, RTÉ reported.

Patrick's wife Josephine died a number of years ago not knowing what happened.

A number of people will attend proceedings remotely including Patrick's granddaughter Alison who has been in close contact with Cumbria Coroner's Office since last year.

His body was recently returned to Ireland with the assistance of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, which helps families in situations where a loved one dies abroad, and a private cremation service was held.