Disappearance of Mary Boyle

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Mary Boyle
Mary Boyle 1977.jpg
Mary Boyle in a photograph taken one week before her disappearance
Born14 June 1970
Disappeared18 March 1977 (aged 6)
Cashelard, Ballyshannon, Republic of Ireland
StatusMissing for 41 years, 11 months and 1 day

Mary Boyle (born 14 June 1970)[1][2][3] was a six-year-old girl who disappeared on the County Donegal/County Fermanagh border on 18 March 1977. To date, she is the longest missing child case in the Republic of Ireland. The investigation into her disappearance has been beset by allegations of political intervention and police incompetence. The Guardian have labelled her case as "Ireland's Madeleine McCann".


Mary Boyle was last seen at 3:30 pm on 18 March 1977 near to her grandparents' farm in Cashelard, near to Ballyshannon, County Donegal.[4] The family; including Mary's mother Ann, father Charlie, older brother Paddy, and twin sister Ann; had gone to Boyle's maternal grandparents house on St Patrick's Day from their home in Kincasslagh further up the coast.[5] She had being playing outside with her siblings and two cousins, and then followed her uncle who was returning a ladder to another farm, 400 yards (370 m) across the hillside, when they had reached a pool of water that was too deep for her to get through. Either her uncle told her to go back, or Boyle decided for herself, but she turned around halfway into the journey saying she was going back.[6][7] The walk back for Boyle should not have lasted longer than five minutes, whilst her uncle stayed at the neighbours for 30 minutes chatting with the family that he had returned the ladder to.[8] After discovering that Boyle had disappeared, her family instituted searches of the local area and questioned passers-by if they had seen the girl. One fisherman claimed that he had seen Boyle being put into a red car and then driven away.[9]

Many of the bogs in the area were drained and scoured in an effort to find Boyle.[10] Boyle's twin sister had stated that she was eating a packet of crisps at the time and if she had fallen into a bog, the packet would have floated on the surface.[2]


The Gardaí started a search of the surrounding area and drained a lake behind her grandparents' house.[11] They also created a reconstruction of the disappearance and Ann, Mary Boyle's twin sister, was used in the film as 'Mary'.[12] The initial investigation has been subjected to several accusations of political interference and police incompetence.[13]

In 2008, the Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ, profiled a documentary programme about the case called "Cracking Crime".[14] Over the intervening years, the performer Margo O'Donnell, a friend of, and relation to the family, has funded searches on the surrounding hillsides in an effort to try and locate Boyle's body.[15] Police searches have also taken place since 1977, with the latest taking place in 2016 when An Garda Síochána launched a new investigation. However, no evidence has been found.[16]

The case has attracted some publicity because of the allegations of political involvement which centred around the accusation that a politician phoned the Gardaí and told them to not question or detain their main suspect. Margo O'Donnell was said to have walked up to the politician who was accused of making the call in 1977 and asked if he had done so. According to O'Donnell he said "[that it] was untrue and called me a bare-faced liar."[17] The length of time that Boyle has been missing and its counter-accusations of official involvement has led to The Guardian labelling the case "Ireland's Madeleine McCann".[18] The case is now the longest running missing child case in the Republic of Ireland,[19] and despite the publicity it attracts, it has not been debated in the Dáil. It was raised by Lynn Boylan, MEP, in the European Parliament where she highlighted the lack of direction in the case.[20]

In 2018, relatives and supporters held a silent protest outside the coroner's office in Stranorlar. The protest was intended to force the coroner to hold an inquest into Boyle's death which would allow key witnesses to be interviewed on public record for the first time. Mary Boyle's twin sister Ann was among the group, which handed in a petition containing more than 10,000 signatures demanding that an inquest be held.[21]

Irish investigative journalist, Gemma O'Doherty, has produced a documentary about the disappearance ("Mary Boyle: The Untold Story") which explores several possible causes for her disappearance. Boyle's twin sister, Ann, posits the scenario that Mary was raped and then murdered.[22] The documentary has come under some criticism by the people interviewed for the programme. Both the retired Garda sergeants who talked on screen deny that any political pressure was brought to bear on their investigation,[23] although one interviewing officer was told to "ease-off" when questioning one of the suspects in the case, though this was by a senior officer in the room at the time of the suspect's interview.[24]

In March 2018, Gardaí issued a request for information regarding the case and stated that the investigation was still live.[25]


The initial suspect, questioned soon after Boyle disappeared, was released without charge. Other people have been questioned in relation to the disappearance of Boyle; Brian McMahon was taken in for questioning by Gardaí in October 2014, but was released without charge the following day.[26] McMahon later went on public record denying any involvement in the disappearance and stating that local people knew he could not have been involved.[27] Robert Black, a convicted child-killer, was also proposed as a suspect when it was revealed that he was a cross-border truck driver who could have been in the area at the time of Boyle's disappearance as he'd often visited Donegal delivering goods.[10] Black was known in the area and had been charged by the Garda for after hours drinking. His van was identified outside a pub in Annagry, County Donegal, at the time of Boyle's disappearance. A witness later claimed that they had heard crying and whimpering from the rear of the van.[28] However, by the time of Gemma O'Doherty's documentary going online, it was widely believed that Black could not have been responsible.[29][30]

Mary Boyle's twin sister Ann and several other relatives publicly claim they believe they know what happened to Mary and who is responsible for her disappearance. This has caused tension and a division within the Boyle family, with Ann's mother (also named Ann) publicly admonishing her daughter in 2016; calling her public appeals "...the most ridiculous carry on I ever seen in my life."[31] Mary Boyle's father Charlie died in a fishing accident off the coast of Donegal in 2005.[32]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cummins, Barry (2010). "7. Mary Boyle". Missing: Ireland's disappeared. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 9780717148387.


  1. ^ "Parents of missing girl still hope daughter's remains will be found". Irish Times. 17 March 2004. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b Lockley, Mike (6 August 2016). "The 'first Madeleine McCann': Brum girl who vanished 39 years ago". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  3. ^ "Mary Boyle- Age progressed". An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  4. ^ McDonald, Henry (9 June 2007). "'After 30 years, I still hold on to hope that she will be found'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Excavation under way in Co Donegal in search for missing Mary Boyle". BelfastTelegraph.co.uk. 15 July 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  6. ^ Devine, Catherine (14 March 2017). "'Nannie's afraid in her own home' - Ann Boyle receiving hate mail 40 years after daughter Mary's disappearance - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  7. ^ Maguire, Stephen (10 March 2018). "'Time is running out': call for inquest in case of Mary Boyle". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  8. ^ McGlaughlin, Brighid (16 May 1999). "Mary Boyle - a stolen child - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  9. ^ Devine, Catherine (14 July 2016). "'I saw Mary being driven away in a red car'- fisherman believes he saw Mary Boyle (6) being 'lifted' - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  10. ^ a b Cusack, Jim (26 October 2014). "Notorious serial killer was in Donegal when Mary Boyle vanished - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  11. ^ McLaughlin, Brighid (16 May 1999). "Mary Boyle - a stolen child - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  12. ^ Love, Robert (25 November 2007). "I just could not put my parents through losing another Mary". The Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 3 September 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  13. ^ Sheehan, Maeve (11 October 2015). "Retired cop recalls rumours of political influence in missing Mary Boyle probe: National crime unit may take on the case following new claims by her twin". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  14. ^ "CRACKING CRIME | RTÉ Presspack". presspack.rte.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  15. ^ "New search for missing Irish girl". BBC News. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  16. ^ Maguire, Stephen (9 August 2016). "Twin sister of missing Mary Boyle brands Garda review of cold case as 'a sham'". Irish Mirror. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  17. ^ Maguire, Stephen (14 July 2014). "Relative calls for arrest in Mary Boyle disappearance case". The Irish Times. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  18. ^ Greenslade, Roy (29 April 2016). "Why has Ireland's mainstream media turned its back on Mary Boyle?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  19. ^ Ryan, Órla (14 March 2017). "'It frightened the life out of me': Mary Boyle's mother has been sent hate mail". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  20. ^ Mooney, John (17 July 2016). "Search for the truth". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 3 September 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  21. ^ Maguire, Stephen (31 March 2018). "Missing Mary Boyle hate-mail suspect dies". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  22. ^ Harrington, Katy (18 July 2016). "Twelve facts about Mary Boyle - the little Irish girl who vanished and the allegations of 40 year cover up | The Irish Post". The Irish Post. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  23. ^ Sheehan, Maeve (14 August 2016). "Second garda denies Mary Boyle cover-up - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  24. ^ Devine, Catherine (13 July 2016). "Robert Black main suspect as cold case cops probe mystery of missing Donegal girl Mary Boyle". BelfastTelegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  25. ^ MacAleese, Deborah (19 March 2018). "Mary Boyle case: Gardaí make renewed appeal for information". The Irish News. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  26. ^ "Man freed in missing girl inquiry". BBC News. 22 October 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  27. ^ Harkin, Greg (11 February 2015). "Missing Mary is a mystery to me, says paedophile - Independent.ie". Independent.ie. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  28. ^ McEwan, Alan (13 October 2014). "Robert Black linked to murder of seven-year-old girl". Daily Record. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  29. ^ Young, Connla (8 July 2016). "Documentary puts Mary Boyle mystery in spotlight again". The Irish News. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  30. ^ Moriarty, Gerry (12 January 2016). "Paedophile and child serial killer Robert Black dies in jail". The Irish Times. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  31. ^ Doyle Higgins, Erica (22 August 2016). "Mother of Mary Boyle wants Mary's twin sister Ann to stop seeking publicity for the unsolved case". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  32. ^ McDonald, Henry (9 June 2007). "'After 30 years, I still hold on to hope that she will be found'". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2018.

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