Belfast Telegraph

'Miracle' return of woman who went missing a year ago and was found by a pal on holiday with his wife

By Chris Kilpatrick

It was a one-in-a-million discovery that finally ended the nightmare for Nollaig O'Connor's family – and revealed an amazing story of her 14-month struggle across Europe.

Had his wife not persuaded him to go on holiday, Nicholas Cassidy would never have recognised a homeless woman sleeping under a tree as his childhood friend missing from their home town since May last year.

Hotel owner Mr Cassidy was said to be somewhat reluctant about going on the break to Spain.

Eventually he agreed, and a short time after arriving in Murcia, solved a puzzle that had baffled Nollaig's friends, family and authorities.

A devout Christian, Nollaig had not been in contact with relatives since May of last year.

At the time she had been living in Aberdeen before deciding to go travelling. Her last known movements were captured on CCTV in Cornwall.

But after that the trail went dead. There were no further sightings or phone calls home. Nollaig's bank cards weren't used while she was away.

A huge search effort was launched, with thousands joining a social media campaign to track the 38-year-old down.

Travel agents in her native Enniskillen passed out flyers carrying her details to those booking foreign holidays.

Her sister said the family had no idea whether Nollaig – whose name means Christmas in Irish – was in the UK, Ireland or elsewhere in Europe.

The mystery was finally solved as a result of an incredible coincidence.

On Friday Mr Cassidy, a family friend, and his wife Tara were walking along a street in Murcia when they recognised Nollaig.

She, too, knew them, having been in a scouts band with Mr Cassidy.

They took her for a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe before calling family back in Northern Ireland to tell them their nightmare was over.

On Saturday a message posted on Facebook said that Nollaig had been found and that the family were "truly blessed".

It has since emerged Nollaig had busked her way across Europe, making just enough money to provide for herself by playing her beloved violin.

She had been in England, France and Italy. In Spain she lost her travel documents and her only source of income, her violin, was stolen.

Nollaig's father said he didn't want to think what might have happened to his daughter had she not been found on Friday.

Her sister Nuala was in France at the time and flew to Spain immediately to see her sibling.

The pair have returned to Ireland, but Nollaig will not be back in Enniskillen for the foreseeable future as she comes to terms with her ordeal.

Today, the man who made the remarkable discovery flies back to Northern Ireland. Busninessman Mr Cassidy played down his part in the rescue: "I have known Nollaig for a while, we grew up in the same area.

"When I saw her in Spain I recognised her straight away.

"All I did was put her in touch with the family.

"I'm just delighted she's been found safe and well."

5 other missing person mysteries

Martin Kelly

Martin (21) from Holywood was last seen enjoying drinks with friends at Pat's Bar in the Docks area of Belfast. He was captured on CCTV at 7.15pm on New Year's Day 2006 but has not been seen since.

Samuel Campbell

Samuel (49) was last seen cycling near Broughshane 45 minutes after he left his home in Kells on New Year's Day 2012. His bicycle was found by the seafront near Glenarm, Co Antrim, on January 3.

Alexander Carson

Alexander (40) left his Larne home on New Year's Day 1990 to go to a friend's house but never arrived there.

He was wearing a blue anorak, grey trousers and black and white trainers.

Charlotte Murray

The 34-year-old was originally from Omagh but her last known address was in The Moy, Co Tyrone. She was reported missing in May last year but has not been in contact since November 2012.

Timothy Hall

Timothy (25) has been missing for 30 years. He disappeared in the Portstewart area on January 2, 1983. He is thought to have been suicidal.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph