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Body of missing former Blackrock resident discovered in Welsh grave after 36 years

Body of missing former Blackrock resident discovered in Welsh grave after 36 years

The body of an Irishman, who lived for a time in Blackrock, has been identified in a Welsh grave 36 years after he went missing.

Conor Whooley was just 24 when he vanished in Dublin in August 1983.

One of a family of seven, from Greystones, Co Wicklow, Conor had been living in Rathmines at the time of his disappearance.

According to local man Gerry Malone, the Whooley’s lived on the Rock Road in Blackrock before moving with his family to Athlone when he was nine. They later relocated to Wicklow three years later.

According to a report by RTÉ News, it was publicity about a previously solved case that led to Conor’s body finally being found.

His mother was watching RTÉ’s Crime Call two years ago and saw an appeal being made by gardaí for the families of all long-term missing people to give DNA samples, which could then be compared with unidentified bodies in Ireland, Britain and further afield.

Operation Runabay, led by the Garda Missing Persons Bureau and Forensic Science Ireland, has led to the successful identification of a number of unidentified bodies both at home and in Britain.

Through linking up with police in north Wales – who have been running a similar investigation on the other side of the Irish Sea, called Operation Orchid – detectives and scientists have now solved three long-term missing person cases, all Irish citizens who for decades lay buried unidentified in graveyards in Wales.

Conor Whooley’s case is the latest success story.

The other two are the cases of Pauline Finlay and Joseph Brendan Dowley with Conor’s body discovered in the same cemetery – Menai Bridge Cemetery on Anglesey, as Brendan’s.

An unidentified body had been found washed up on a beach at Rhoscolyn on a Saturday morning in October 1983.

At that time, and in an era before DNA profiles could be extracted from bodies, all Welsh police had to go on was dental records, and the knowledge that the body was male, and had been in the water for some time.

The body was buried at ‘Plot 322’ at Menai Bridge Cemetery.

Under Operation Orchid, the body was exhumed in 2013 so a DNA profile could be extracted, amid hope the body might be a missing Norwegian sailor.

Tests later showed the body could not be that missing man, but in recent weeks came dramatic news that the body had now been identified as Conor Whooley.

Conor’s brother Seán said his mother gave a DNA sample two years ago and he was later asked to give a DNA sample.

All of the testing has now shown that the body at Menai Bridge Cemetery, which has lain unidentified for 36 years, is his missing brother.

“This has really come as a bolt from the blue. For the first four or five years that Conor was missing we were hoping for a call, but 36 years later to get this news, it really came out of the blue,” he said.

“Conor is one of a family of seven, he’s the third eldest. Our father passed away in 2015 still wondering what happened to Conor. Our mother is still hale and hearty, and it was she who gave DNA after seeing a report on RTÉ.

“It took two years from giving that sample to get this news. It is good that we finally know what happened to Conor.”

The work of forensic scientists in this case shows how examining DNA profiles and getting matches can be a long and meticulous process. In this case, the scientists took maternal DNA and sibling DNA, which both ultimately showed a match with the body at Menai Bridge Cemetery.

Members of the Whooley family, including Conor’s mother, will travel by ferry from Dublin to Holyhead today where they will be met by Detective Sergeant Don Kenyon.

They will travel to Menai Bridge Cemetery and visit Conor’s grave.

Poignantly, there is now a special marking at the grave. It is no longer simply ‘Plot 322’.

When Sergeant Richie Lynch recently met Seán Whooley to tell him in person that his missing brother’s body had been found, Seán rang his daughter who was travelling through Britain.

She went directly to the grave in Wales. Nearby, she arranged for a plaque to be constructed, and she placed it at the grave in readiness for the visit by some of Conor’s siblings and his mother.

The plaque reads “Conor Whooley, Ireland, 1959-1983. A loved soul is never lost”.