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I've never given up hope: Co Down mum still searching for missing son last seen 21 years ago

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Patricia Douglas from Downpatrick with a photograph of her son Sean, who has been missing since 1998

Patricia Douglas from Downpatrick with a photograph of her son Sean, who has been missing since 1998

Sean Ryan in June 1998

Sean Ryan in June 1998

How Sean might look today

How Sean might look today

Patricia Douglas from Downpatrick with a photograph of her son Sean, who has been missing since 1998

A Co Down mother-of-five whose youngest son vanished more than 20 years ago has told how she will never give up hope of him coming home.

Patricia Douglas vowed she will never stop looking for her lost boy Sean Ryan, who went missing as a 17-year-old near the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare.

Patricia (71) last saw her son on August 31, 1998, when he left their family home in Downpatrick. He had been due back at school the next day.

Relatives spotted him in Galway a day later, and he was again seen near the Cliffs of Moher a few days after that. He hasn't been heard of or seen since.

In recent weeks Patricia has spent her time contacting every hotel in Co Clare in her latest bid to help track down her son.

"Sean had just turned 17 on the 29th of June," she said, speaking from her home in Downpatrick.

"He had been working during the summer in the local hotel in Downpatrick, in their kitchens. He was getting ready to go back to school for the second year of his A-levels.

"He seemed to be looking forward to going back and seeing his friends and I had turned up his new trousers the night before. I had everything ready for him going back to school, but he didn't go.

"I went to work and came home and in the evening time there was no sign of him, and as the night went on I started to get really worried about him. I started making phone calls and looking for him.

"It turned out he had taken £300 out of his Post Office savings account that morning. He had very little with him, just a shoulder bag, a jacket and a pair of jeans and a jumper."

As the days went on Patricia's hopes were raised and dashed that she would see Sean again.

"Two of my cousins from Donegal were in Galway and they saw him on Thursday, the day after he left," she added. "He said that he was going away for a few days.

"On the Saturday night a fisherman in Co Clare gave him a lift. He left him in Lahinch and told him that there were quite a few hostels that he could check in to.

"The fisherman must have felt uneasy and called the Guards. A patrol car came across Sean later that night walking towards the Cliffs of Moher.

"The officer asked him his name and he told her, and that he was going to a house on the lane, but of course he wasn't.

"That was the last time anyone saw him."

A massive sea and coastline search was carried out in the area following Sean's disappearance, but no trace of him was ever found.

In the latest bid to track him down, Patricia has designed posters and sent letters to hotels in Co Clare, around the area he was last seen.

"I have never given up hope," she added. "Sometimes you think that there is no hope, but unless something has changed I need to keep hoping.

"He is my son. I have never given up looking for him.

"I keep hoping that someone will have seen him or will know something."

Patricia described how she has created posters and written to around 40 hotels in Co Clare.

"Before he went missing Sean was working in a hotel kitchen, so I thought he might go for that type of work again," she added.

"I asked the hotels to bring his photograph into their kitchens and ask staff if they maybe saw him or knew him.

"I have hope that he is still alive. As long as he hasn't been found, but then again sometimes they never are.

"As a mother I have to hold on to that hope. My son was always quite self-sufficient and able to look after himself.

"I just hold on to the fact that that would hold him in good stead. I just hope that he has been able to do something."

Twenty-one years is a long time. Patricia said that her search for Sean has consumed her life.

"You just try and work through it," she added.

"It's only when you look back that you realise how awful it was and you wonder where your head was.

"It has affected my health and made me anxious. I would rarely sleep all night.

"It's the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. He is always on my mind.

"Times like Christmas and birthdays are very, very difficult and painful. His birthday is the worst. He would be 38 years old now.

"It can be hard to keep going. There is no closure, I don't know what to do. All I can do is hope. I just want to know that he is okay.

"It's the not knowing is the worst thing. I wouldn't mind if he has settled somewhere and has made a life for himself, if I just knew that. It's like torture not knowing what happened.

"I will never give up the search for him. I want to know where he is and what happened. The older I get, the worse it gets.

"I have to hold on to hope that he will come home and explain what this was all about.

"That would be the ideal scenario, and I can only hope for that."

Patricia has asked that anyone with information about Sean contact missing.ie or info@missing.ie or her directly on pat_ryan50@hotmail.com.

Belfast Telegraph