“It is far easier to be sensible in cities than in many country places I could tell you of. When one walks on those grey roads at evening by the scented elder-bushes of the white cottages, watching the faint mountains gathering the clouds upon their heads, one all too readily discovers, beyond the thin cobweb veil of the senses, those creatures, the goblins, hurrying from the white square stone door to the north, or from the Heart Lake in the south.” – William Butler Yeats, “Kidnappers”
The women were all young, and the best efforts of police to find clues about their disappearances came up empty.
There were six women officially–nine by some counts–who went missing beginning in 1993. Rewards, some for as much as €10,000, were offered to those willing to come forward with any substantial information about the disappearances, but none bore any fruit. In the aftermath, the region where the disappearances occurred–all of them still unexplained today–would be marked with a name commemorating the odd and unsettling mystery that occurred here.
It is known today as Ireland’s “Vanishing Triangle”.
“She was always reaching out and touching someone,” said John McCarrick, the father of Annie McCarrick, the first of the girls to go missing. “She would never have gone a day without talking to someone. We were very, very concerned.” Annie had failed to show up at a dinner party she had planned to host, and days earlier, the New York native, attending school in Dublin, had not been present to accept a check from her job on payday.
Annie was last seen, according to some, in a small pub call Johnny Fox’s, just outside Enniskerry, County Dublin. Annie had no boyfriend at the time, according to those who knew her, but those who had seen her at Johnny Fox’s swore that she had been in the company of a man that evening… it would be the last evening that anyone saw Annie alive.
The same year Annie McCarrick vanished, 40-year-old Eva Brennan went missing also, after leaving here parent’s home one night. The following January, Imelda Keenan, the youngest of the victims to-date, disappeared near Lomarard Street in Waterford. Keenan was followed by Josephine Dollard, a 21-year-old who went missing in 1995 after hitch-hiking from Dublin to her home in Kilkenny. She was last seen using a pay phone along what would be her final, and incomplete, journey.
Continuing the trend toward younger women, two 18-year-olds, Ciara Breen and Deirdre Jacob, 18, both went missing in 1998. The case of Miss Jacob, a student teacher at the time of her disappearance, remains one of the most puzzling of all the cases in the Vanishing Triangle, as there had been numerous witnesses who claimed to see her just yards from her parent’s home on the evening she vanished. Motorists saw the girl approaching her parent’s driveway, and security cameras managed to document her travels as she followed a familiar path she had known her entire life.
“Neighbors saw her about 200 yards from her home,” according to Geraldine Niland, an author and chronicler of missing women in Ireland. “And then, suddenly, she was gone. She literally was standing at the side of the road, about to cross over into her home, and then, she was gone.” Jacob vanished in broad daylight.
The final two women, both named Fiona, would disappear in 1996 an 1998; Miss Fiona Pender, 25, had been seven months pregnant when she vanished. Fiona Sinnott, age 19, had last been seen at a pub, much like Annie McCarrick just five years earlier.
While numerous theories exist linking the various disappearances, perhaps the most popular among them involves the idea that a serial killer may have been involved. Others argue that unusual daylight disappearances, like that of Deirdre Jacob, are more difficult to explain.
Ireland has a long history of mysterious disappearances, some of which extend well beyond the confines of the everyday. William Butler Yeats, though famed for his poetry, Yeats documented in his 1893 The Celtic Twilight a rather strange series of fabled kidnappings, which were attributed by legend to the “fae” or fairy folk. According to such legends, even those carried away into the haunted hills were sometimes allowed to revisit their families, albeit once, after a period of seven years:
“Sometimes those who are carried off are allowed after many years–seven usually–a final glimpse of their friends. Many years ago a woman vanished suddenly from a Sligo garden where she was walking with her husband. When her son, who was then a baby, had grown up he received word in some way, not handed down, that his mother was glamoured by faeries, and imprisoned for the time in a house in Glasgow and longing to see him. Glasgow in those days of sailing-ships seemed to the peasant mind almost over the edge of the known world, yet he, being a dutiful son, started away. For a long time he walked the streets of Glasgow; at last down in a cellar he saw his mother working. She was happy, she said, and had the best of good eating, and would he not eat? and therewith laid all kinds of food on the table; but he, knowing well that she was trying to cast on him the glamour by giving him faery food, that she might keep him with her, refused and came home to his people in Sligo.”
The legends of these “faery kidnappings” involved a great stone doorway, located toward the southern end of Ben Bulben, a sheer stony mountain nearest the Seaport town of Sligo:
“A little north of the town of Sligo, on the southern side of Ben Bulben, some hundreds of feet above the plain, is a small white square in the limestone. No mortal has ever touched it with his hand; no sheep or goat has ever browsed grass beside it. There is no more inaccessible place upon the earth, and few more encircled by awe to the deep considering. It is the door of faery-land.”
Yeats noted the prolific history of strange kidnappings, adding that, “There is hardly a valley or mountainside where folk cannot tell you of some one pillaged from amongst them,” emphasizing that, “Many near the white stone door in Ben Bulben have been stolen away.”
The mythologies related in Yeats’ prose are not to be taken as literal explanation behind Ireland’s mysterious disappearances, of course. Yet when pondering the seemingly inexplicable circumstances surrounding those who simply vanish into thin air, one almost cannot help but wonder, at times, if there weren’t some supernatural link that could be attributed; modern researchers of uncanny claims note that parallels exist in equal measure between inexplicable kidnappings and the faery lore of yesteryear… perhaps the legends have some basis–however remote–in fact, after all.
The disappearances of the Vanishing Triangle challenged the strength of communities around Dublin, and today a monument exists at Kilkenny Castle, in tribute to those who have vanished while wandering home alone along Ireland’s country roads.
Author’s Note: In June of 2015, I’ll be participating in a tour of Ireland that will focus on ancient sites and the country’s various mysteries. For more information about how to join the “Ancient Megaliths and Sacred Spaces of Ireland” tour, click here.