Donegal village where Madeleine McCann played keeps her close to its heart

As police in Portugal begin a new search for Madeleine McCann, a small village in Co Donegal always has her in its thoughts.

It may be 16 years since she vanished, but the Madeleine McCann story still resonates in the little border village of Saint Johnston.

Madeleine’s grandparents owned a bar there, and were at the centre of village life.

Local residents have fond memories of a toddler Madeleine going there to stay with family.

St Baithin’s Roman Catholic Church sits just off the village main street and a group of women leaving mass said they often thought of the McCann family.

One described Madeleine as “a gorgeous wee child, always full of fun,” while another hoped that the Portuguese police could recover her body and find some measure of closure for the McCann family.

Kate and Gerry McCann.

College lecturer Catherine Lynch has lived in Saint Johnston for more than 20 years, and she said: “It’s one of those cases that is part of this community. We still think about it, even more so when there are anniversaries.

“It’s just horrible, what those parents must be going through must be absolutely devastating,” she added.

Patrick McDaid says Maddie’s story is never far from people’s minds: “The McCanns owned the bar here in the village so everyone knew them, and we remember that the wee girl would come here to stay with her relatives. We talk about them all the time.”

Police divers entered the water early on Tuesday at the Barragem do Arade reservoir, about 30 miles from Praia da Luz, where Madeleine went missing in 2007.

The story of the four-year-old has touched people around the world, and particularly so in this tiny Donegal village.

There may be many hundreds of miles between the Algarve and Co Donegal, but for the residents of Saint Johnston, the Madeleine McCann story will always be close to their hearts.

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