Rest in peace, Paul McGinty
The story of how the body of a man lay unidentified in a Navan cemetery for 30 years and how he came to be eventually known was revealed at an inquest in Trim last week.
The man was found dead at Bracetown near Dunboyne on 18th April 1991. Foul play was not suspected in the case and the man was not carrying any identification. Because the body was found within a day or so of the man’s death, Gardai were able to take photographs of his face but then the case went cold and 30 years were to pass before the man’s identity could be established.
The man was Paul McGinty and originally came from Mountcharles, Co Donegal. Although he had no links to Co Meath Gardai established that he was in a pub in Ratoath and also went to a GAA match in Dunboyne. A person who had spoken to Mr McGinty in the pub thought he might have been from Scotland or perhaps Liverpool. However, he was from a family of nine in Co Donegal and last week, his only remaining sibling, Eileen (84), was in the Coroner’s Court at Trim Courthouse to hear the details of how her brother had been found after disappearing in England.
The inquest had been opened in November 1991 and then reopened last week. A verdict in 1991 had found the man died from asphyxia.
At the inquest, conducted by Coroner for Meath Nathaniel Lacy, Detective Sergeant Lee Gavin said that Sergeant Alan Dowling, now retired, was the original investigating officer. A national media appeal had been made at the time the man’s body was found but this proved unsuccessful. The man had been living rough in a council yard up to a week before his death and a number of locals had seen him walking through the roads and even attending football matches, and had been in a pub in Ratoath but no one knew who he was. Gardai knew that he was aged between 45 and 60.
The detective said that in 2021 he had visited the unmarked grave in St Mary’s Cemetery with Fr Declan Hurley. The grave of the unidentified man was unmarked but there was a stone at the bottom of the grave with a flower pot beside it.
Fr Hurley had given him the grave number and he soon established that the grave was not that of any of the missing persons the Gardai were investigating at that time. The detective said he thought the best course was to have the body exhumed in order to get a DNA sample. Inspector Michael O’Keeffe made an application to have the body exhumed. On 25th August last year the exhumation had taken place.
A renewed appeal to ascertain the man’s identity was made in November last year and this went out through media sources here and in the UK. A number of people came forward with information but only one was useful and it came from Mr John Leonard from Mountcharles, Co Donegal. Mr Leonard had told the Gardai that in 1991 he resided in Coventry, working on building sites among a strong Irish community. Mr Paul McGinty was one of his friends and had been born in 1940. Mr Leonard said he recognised a portrait of the man from a media appeal and he believed him to be Paul. They would normally have a drink around pubs in Coventry and Mr McGinty had been unemployed. He was a very quiet and private sort of man.
He had been depressed through ill-health and not being able to find work. The last time Mr Leonard had been with him was 7th April 1991 and he had left the pub earlier than usual. He had learned that Paul had gone back to the pub later that evening and “looked dishevelled”.
Mr Leonard was able to tell him that Paul’s sister, Eileen, was still alive in Mountcharles. The detective said he was able to get a photograph of Mr McGinty attending the funeral of his brother in 1987.
Photographs of the deceased had been shown to a granddaughter of Mr McGinty’s former landlord in Coventry and she had been able to identify Mr McGinty from them.
Eileen McGinty, Old Road, Mountcharles, in a statement read to the inquest by Garda Inspector Joseph Finnegan, said that she had seven brothers and one sister and she was the only survivor. Her brother had moved to England in the 1960s and worked first in London and then Coventry. She said Paul was very fond of his mother and would write regularly to her and send a few pounds. Her brother Michael had died in 1987 and Paul had come home for the funeral. He had stayed on for a while because their mother hadn’t been well. Eileen McGinty said she spoke with him every Easter and Christmas but she never saw him after that because he never came home again.
She remembered phoning him in 1991 but his landlord had answered the phone and said Paul had moved back to Ireland. “That was when everyone got worried and that was when the search began to see where Paul had gone”.
She had a younger brother in London and he had gone to the Salvation Army to see if they could help. Mr Leonard told her that he had seen a man on television that looked like Paul.
The Coroner Mr Lacy said that he was now satisfied that Mr McGinty’s identity had been established. He offered his sincere sympathies to Mr McGinty’s family and said that he could only imagine what the last 31 years had been like for them because of the uncertainty around Paul’s death but he hoped the inquest would bring them some closure. Inspector Finnegan also offered his condolences. The coroner congratulated Detective Gavin for his “very sensitive” investigation into the death.