THE family of missing Dubliner Paul Byrne are almost certain that a bracelet and set of keys found close to a skull in the Wicklow Mountains belong to the dad-of-two.
Mr Byrne's mother and girlfriend expect confirmation from gardai today that bones uncovered by forest workers in a Blessington woodland on Thursday are his.
"The gardai showed one of my daughters a set of keys and a bracelet they found, and she is almost certain they are Paul's," the missing man's mother, Ashley Dempsey, told the Herald today.
The 20-year-old Tallaght man went missing last July and his family have long believed that he was murdered by local criminals.
Ashley, who was on a break in Spain when she heard about the grim discovery, is trying to get a flight home today to be with her family.
Garda technical teams searched the remote forest at Ballyfolan near Manor Kilbride yesterday after the forest workers discovered a skull while clearing ground.
The keys and bracelet were found by officers who swept the forest with metal detectors and were immediately bagged as evidence.
Speaking to the Herald today, Ashley Dempsey said she hoped the remains found were those of Paul so that she could give him a Christian burial.
"No mother wants to hear that their son has been murdered, but the agony of not knowing where Paul disappeared to is too much," said Ashley.
"I have prayed so much for the return of his body that I hope it is Paul and I can at least give him a proper funeral and put him in a proper place I can visit him."
The skull has already been transferred to a garda forensic laboratory to be examined.
Tests are expected to confirm by this evening that they are the remains of Paul Byrne.
His family are bracing themselves for the news they have been waiting for since July 15 last year when their brother and son got into a wine-coloured Mitsubishi car outside his home in Kilmartin Green, never to be seen again.
Paul is presumed to have been murdered by a criminal gang despite the fact that he has no criminal record and was not known to be in any trouble.
Despite intensive searches by his family and gardai, no trace of him has been found.
Paul's partner, Martina McQuillan, had only found out she was pregnant with their second child in the weeks before he vanished.
She gave birth to their second daughter, Faith, a sister to Abbey, in February.
Sources close to the family said they are surprised Paul got into the car, even though he knew who was in it.
If the skull is discovered to be that of Paul, gardai will change the status of their investigation from that of missing person to murder.
Searches are continuing today for the remainder of the skeleton as well as clothing and other items that will not only help identify the body but also yield forensic evidence as to how the person died.