Search for Jo Jo 'will keep going', mourners for sister Mary are told
The search for missing Jo Jo Dullard will go on, despite the death of her sister Mary Phelan, a tireless campaigner for justice for her, mourners at Mary's funeral were told.
Mary (67), who had cancer, died last Friday at her Co Kilkenny home, 22 years after Jo Jo disappeared.
Among symbols of her life taken to the altar of the Church of the Holy Cross in Cuffesgrange was the piece of crystal she was presented with as a Person of the Year recipient for her work on behalf of her sister and all missing people.
Fr Willie Purcell, a family friend, told the congregation that the two most important things to Mary - family and friendship - were well represented at the Mass, by the large number of mourners, her husband Martin, daughter Imelda, son Melvin and sisters Kathleen and Nora.
Jo Jo was just 21 when she was last heard from in Moone, Co Kildare, in November 1995.
Fr Purcell said Mary never lost hope that Jo Jo would come home one day, even when her questions weren't being answered or things were happening too slowly or information wasn't forthcoming.
"One day I met Mary on High Street and we were talking about Jo Jo," he added.
"She said, 'There's not one day that goes by when I don't think of her. She's in my heart all of the time'.
"She never gave up the search. It was that hope that kept you and her friends and relatives and all of us strong in the search for Jo Jo.
"The greatest way we can remember her - and I know Mary would want us to do this - is to keep the search going for Jo Jo.
"Even in her last days, she said, 'We must keep praying' and was talking about prayers for Jo Jo and not herself.
"Mary, we will bring Jo Jo home."
Among those who visited the family home on Sunday was former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
"When I was trawling through the many tributes to Mary, there was one very powerful tribute that hit me. It said, 'Mary Phelan - an inspiration'," said Fr Purcell.
"Mary met many important people. She met presidents and government leaders. About 20 years ago, Mary and Martin went up to meet the taoiseach.
"Just before they left, she opened her bag and took out a cake because it was his birthday. That same taoiseach was there last night.
"Mary Phelan was a humble woman, small in stature but with a heart as big as any that could be found.
"Even in the darkest days, Mary radiated hope and joy.
"She was a woman of great faith, who never gave up on God and had many medals and relics of the saints, whom she would ask to 'watch over and protect Jo Jo' and everybody else."
Mary's campaign often brought her into contact with the media, but after all of the attention, and when the interviews were over, she would say: "All I want to do is go home and wait for Jo Jo."
Before Mary was buried in the nearby graveyard, short tributes were paid to her by family members.
"When myself and my family think of mam, we think of selflessness and caring for others," said Imelda, describing her mother as a small woman who was full of love and compassion.
"She outshone the biggest obstacles," she added.