ALMOST exactly 28 years ago, on February 15, Dublin native Gerard White, or Tony as he was known to those closest to him, was preparing for a night out with his family.
hile waiting to finalise the purchase of a new family home in Crumlin, the 37 year-old had decided to take his wife Alice, their two children Gary and Emma and his in-laws Mary and Michael Daly on a trip to the picturesque Wexford coastline at Cahore where they would be joined by other family members.
If there was excitement among the family for a night out, it was replicated around the country. The Republic of Ireland soccer team were due to take on old foes England at Landsdowne Road in what was to be a friendly match in name only
With Ray Houghton having scored to earn a memorable win for the Republic in Stuttgart at Euro ‘88, the two teams drew 1-1 at Italia ‘90 before seeing two more games play out with the same level scoreline in November of 1990 and March of ‘91.
The game scheduled for February ‘95 was to be an altogether more amicable affair. A friendly flexing of muscles and a gentle stoking of an historic rivalry.
The White family were looking forward to the occasion. With the promise of chips and a few pounds, they left teenage babysitters with the younger children and set off for the nearby Strand Bar.
The owner of the premises at the time, Lester Horgan, had specially prepared the lounge with a big screen for what was to be a big sporting occasion.
At that time of year, he was accustomed to seeing the same handful of locals perched on stools at the bar, so he clearly remembered the Dublin family’s arrival and was happy to make a fuss of them.
“There was seven or eight of them staying out in a mobile belonging to Kathleen Dempsey,” he recalled at the inquest. “It was out of season, so I remembered the group very well. I set up the big telly in the lounge and put on the heating in there for them. They said they were doing up a house in Dublin and were down for the week. They were in good spirits.”
As kick-off approached, all eyes were firmly fixed on the big screen. Cheers rang out in the lounge as David Kelly put Ireland 1-0 up on 22 minutes. When England had a goal disallowed for offside on 26 minutes, all hell broke loose at the stadium. A section of the English fans began throwing rocks, benches and any other available debris down into the lower stands prompting the referee to immediately abandon play.
A whole melee between gardaí and unruly English fans followed in what became known as The Landsdowne Road riots. Back in Cahore, the White family’s Wexford holiday was sadly to prove similarly ill-fated.
Despite the abandonment of the match, spirits remained high in The Strand. Tony and his family sat up at the bar, had a few drinks and chatted away with Mr Horgan, discussing the ugly scenes that had just unfolded.
“I remember they ordered a Chinese out from Gorey,” he recalled. “A huge amount of food arrived. They went to walk back to the mobile with the food and I knew no more about it until the following morning.”
A former member of the Defence Forces, Tony White met his wife Alice in 1984. They had lived in Birmingham for a time before returning to Dublin. They set up their home at 255 South Circular Road, but were in the process of moving to 42 Glenealy Road, Crumlin, with their two children when they decided on the Wexford trip. The legalities associated with moving home being a stressful thing, it was decided that the few days break would do them all good.
On the night of the match, Alice recalled that she had stayed back to settle the kids before setting off for the nearby pub.
“The match was over by the time I got there,” she said.
Before last orders, she recalled the decision was taken to order a Chinese to take back to the mobile. It duly arrived in a red box on the back of a Honda 50 and they walked it the short distance back to their accommodation before tucking in.
With food and drink flowing, it didn’t take long before things turned sour in the cramped confines of the mobile home. Going to use the bathroom, Tony opened the door on his unsuspecting mother-in-law. With drink taken and tempers flaring, he was accused of having purposely walked in on her.
“My father jumped up and called him a dirty man,” Alice recalled in her sworn deposition. An argument ensued and she remembered that: “Tony stormed out and turned back towards the pub. I walked after him and back towards the pier but couldn’t find him.”
Conscious of not wanting to wake the children calling out, Alice returned to the mobile home, where she remained quite upset. It was assumed that Tony had gone for a walk to calm down.
It was a bright night with a full moon. The sea was said to have been relatively calm for a February night, although there was a heavy swell.
Watching the hours and minutes tick by back at the mobile home, it eventually became apparent to the rest of the family that Tony was not coming back.
At 7 a.m. local gardaí became involved and searches of the local area began in earnest with the Civil Defence and other organisations involved. They turned up nothing.
Now an elected member of Wexford County Council, former garda detective Joe Sullivan was assigned to the case alongside the now deceased Detective Garda Gerry McKenna.
“We made general inquiries,” he said in his deposition. “Between April and May we met with the White family on South Circular Road in Dublin and they accepted that anything that could be done was being done to find this man.
“It had been told to me that if a body were to go in off Cahore at that time, there was a lessened chance of it being recovered.”
As the story of Tony’s disappearance broke, numerous theories were put forward. Some rumours stated that he had fled to England and had turned up again in Dublin years later. Others hinted at foul play. Neither carried any weight with those investigating the case.
“No there was never anything to suggest any foul play or anything like that,” Mr Sullivan said. “The family were extremely straight up in all their dealings with gardaí and they came across as thoroughly decent people.”
The most likely scenario that emerged was that Tony had made the short walk to Cahore Pier and, one way or another, had entered the water and been washed away. Alice refuses to believe that he took his own life.
“He never had any history of self-harm,” she said in her deposition which was read aloud before the coroner’s court. “He was a quiet-spoken man. We didn’t have any money trouble. We were managing like everyone else at the time, week to week. He had a job delivering chemicals.”
Her husband’s unexplained disappearance clearly carried a profound impact upon Alice and her two children.
“We were his world and he was ours,” she said. “He would never have left me and the kids.”
In the intervening years, nothing more came of the matter. Tony was never heard from again and his family grew up in his absence, albeit carrying the scars of his loss.
Having once been advised by his father that being a member of An Garda Síochána was “a good and honourable job”, this was the career path taken by Tony’s son Gary and he’s now stationed at Tallaght Garda Station.
Despite having managed without official documentation for the 28 years since Tony’s disappearance, eventually his family decided it was time to officially close a devastating chapter and they applied for a death certificate for him.
Sgt Stephen Ennis of Gorey Garda Station outlined how he opened a review into the disappearance of Gerard ‘Tony’ White in 2020 and carried out a number of interviews.
DNA samples were taken from his family and cross-referenced with Interpol’s database. There were no matches.
Having carried out inquiries, it was noted that the missing man had not claimed social welfare or obtained work since the date he went missing and there had been no application for a name change by deed poll.
Quite simply put, for all intents of purposes, Tony White had vanished into thin air that February night on the Wexford coast.
Although unorthodox in the absence of any body, Wexford Coroner Dr Sean Nixon decided he was satisfied to return a verdict of death by misadventure in the historic case.
“The cause of death, beyond reasonable doubt, would be drowning, probably from the pier,” he said. “It was only 300 metres from the mobile home and although it was supposedly a calm night, there was a significant swell.”
Explaining the verdict of misadventure, he stated that the missing man “had been in the pub for five or six hours and would have consumed a certain amount of alcohol. He then probably went to a place that would have put him at unnecessary risk given that he had alcohol taken.”
Despite it having taken place nearly three decades ago, Dr Nixon and An Garda Síochána offered condolences to Mr White’s wife and children who were present at the inquest.
“It’s a long time ago, but it doesn’t go away,” Dr Nixon said. “I hope that this might bring some kind of finality for you.”
That was the final hope for the White family. Although they may never definitively know what happened to their husband and father, the closest they can ever come to closure was the sound of the coroner’s stamp being placed on a death certificate.