Remembrance mass to be held for man whose unidentified remains were recovered 25 years ago while family continued to search for him

Denis Walsh at his home in Caherdavin shortly before he went missing on March 9, 1996.

A man who was declared missing 25 years ago tomorrow, despite being found in 1996 and buried in 2014, unbeknownst to his family who continued to search for him, will be remembered at a mass in his native Limerick tomorrow.

Denis Walsh (23) left his home in Caherdavin on March 9, 1996. His unidentified partial remains were discovered, 29 days later, on April 7th, on the shoreline at Inis Mór, off Galway Bay.

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It appears that, at the time Galway gardai were not aware that Limerick gardai had begun a missing persons investigation on March 9th, and Limerick gardai were not aware a body had been found on Inis Mór on April 7th. Gardai have declined to comment on this.

At the time Mr Walsh’s family were not notified of the discovery of the unidentified human remains, and it’s unclear if Galway gardai made efforts to check missing person cases, or indeed if efforts were made to contact any families of missing persons.

Gardai informed the Walsh family on February 5th this year that they had been notified that the identity of the partial body found on Inis Mór, could be confirmed as belonging to Denis Walsh jnr, following advances in DNA profiling.

Mr Walsh’s remains were held in storage at Galway University Hospital, from April 1996, until they were laid to rest in a communal grave, at Bohermore Cemetery, Co Galway, in 2014.

“It’s 25 years since he walked out of the house and there’s a mass in Caherdavin tomorrow, so we’d like people who knew Denis to know that,” said the deceased’s father, Denis Walsh snr.

The family continue to seek answers, he said: “For 25 years we were going around looking for Denis and the State had his body for all that time, it beggars belief that they weren’t able to join up the dots.”

Today, a garda spokesman said gardai would be “making no further comment” when asked if they would be conducting a review of investigations into Denis Walsh jnr’s disappearance and the subsequent recovery of his unidentified partial body.

The spokesman added that, gardai were “preparing a file for the information of the Coroner, and will continue to liaise with the family of Denis Walsh through this process”.

Denis Walsh snr said there were two positive sightings of his son in Limerick on March 13th, 1996, and that, “therefore the most that Denis could have been in the water was 25 days, because he was found on April 7th”.

Gardai have informed the Walsh family that identification of their son’s human remains had not been possible through dental records, fingerprints, or clothing.

In a letter to the family last month, gardai also offered their “deepest condolences”, and acknowledged the family had “undoubtedly been through a very tough time over the past 25 years in your search for Denis”.

“To learn that Denis’s remains were found just over four weeks after he went missing will leave you all with lots of justifiable questions on how it took so long too identify Denis,” the letter stated.

The family have asked gardai why identification was not possible through DNA from hair reportedly found on the head of the body.

A report in the Tuam Herald (April 13th, 1996), stated the unidentified male body found on Inis Mór on April 7th had “neatly cut brown hair”.

Denis Walsh snr, along with his daughter and a neighbour, handed out flyers with his son’s photograph at Gort garda station, Co Galway, on the day before it transpired Denis jnr’s unidentified body was found.

Denis snr said he and his wife Mary also travelled to Galway a month later, enquiring at Millstreet garda station if they had heard anything about their son, who had been diagnosed with a psychiatric medical condfition, and who previously had to be rescued from the sea at Salthill.

Mr Walsh snr said that it had transpired that 24 hours after they attended at Millstreet garda station, Limerick gardai made an appeal for information about the whereabouts of Denis jnr on the RTE Crimeline programme.

“Did the gardai look at television, or read the newspaper, do they look at Crimeline? We are still waiting for answers,” Mr Walsh said.

Tomorrow’s mass will take place at Christ The King Church, Caherdavin, at 10am, and can be viewed via a live streaming service available online at

In recent days, Labour TD Duncan Smith, called on the Minister for Justice to appoint an agency to carry out a national audit of coroners and cemeteries to establish the number of unidentified bodies in the State, in order to try to help identify these remains.

“In Ireland, there are 823 missing persons files open. However, there is no record of how many remains have been interred in cemeteries, or remain in morgues, as the current rules regulating coroners does not compel them to report unidentified remains to a central system,” Deputy Smith said.