A St. Johnston man who saw Madeleine McCann three weeks before she went missing has welcomed the recent media surge surrounding her case and urged everyone to continue praying for her safe return.
Five years ago this week, Madeleine was on holiday in the Portugese resort, the Praia de Luz in the Algarve. In nine days time the pretty tot would celebrate her fourth birthday with her family. However, rather than celebrating her birthday with Madeleine, the McCann family made international headlines following the toddler’s sudden disappearance. Five years later, following extensive international media coverage and a huge investigation, the search for Madeleine continues.
Three weeks before their family holiday, the McCann family had been enjoying their time in Dungloe. They left the Rosses and went to visit McCann’s pub in St. Johnston. Madeleine’s grandmother Eileen had leased the pub to Joe Peoples and they would often call into the friendly local publican. He enjoyed their brief visit because the McCann family had the children with them. He remembers Kate, Eileen and the children being in the pub but recalls that Gerry, Madeleine’s father was not with them on this occasion.
“I remember Madeleine. She was a wee toddler. I told her to go in behind the counter for me and fix the bottles. She thought that this was great and she stood their fixing the bottles,” he said.
Joe’s pub in St. Johnston is known as ‘McCann’s’ to those who are of an age to recall the history of the popular pub. “The pub belonged to Eileen’s husband’s father. Eileen is Madeleine’s granny. She has been in here once, I think, since it happened,” he said.
Joe recalled that they used to call and say ‘hello’ when they were in Donegal. “Things have changed though. Everything is different. All you can do now is keep her in mind. It’s back in the news again. I watched a programme about it, there was a couple of them on. I follow the story as much as I can. I am not sure that the whole case was handled properly from the beginning,” he said.
If Madeleine were to be found, Joe is certain that he would be the first to phone the family and congratulate them. “If she was found, I would be the first to be ringing across. She was a lovely wee girl. It is very difficult, very difficult. When you know the people it makes it all worse. It is heartbreaking. You find it hard not to think about it. It is back in the news and that can do no harm. The last time I saw her was five years ago and she must have changed a lot since. All we can do is keep on praying,” he said.