LET THE BOGS RELEASE THEIR SECRETS
Kevin Myers calls on Sinn Fein-IRA to mark this
Easter by telling families where the bodies of their murdered loved ones are buried
Dublin THIS EASTER, like every Easter, Sinn Fein-IRA will be commemorating the East- er Rising in Dublin in 1916. In IRA mythology, from that rising the Irish nation rose again, redeemed, as Christianity believes that mankind was redeemed by the sacrifice at Calvary.
It was Joseph of Arimathea who prevent- ed the body of Jesus being dumped anony- mously in a common grave. He claimed the body of Christ from Pilate, wrapped it in new linen, and entombed it in a stone sepulchre, from where it was said to have arisen three days later.
Blood sacrifice, resur- rection, redemption are key elements in the Irish 'republican' psyche, and all made possible as myth by the deed of Joseph, the counsellor from Arimathea. As the movement towards peace inches forward, it surely must now be time for the IRA to emulate the example of Joseph: to permit the burial with dignity and decency of the bodies of those they have secretly killed and interred. In IRA par- lance they are called bog-jobs.
Much of Ireland is bog (one of the few unquestionably Irish words in the English language). We even export it, and call it peat, and you put it over your gardens. It is easy to bury things in bog: the wet decaying vegetable matter turns easily, and there is no surface scar. It is a splendid way of disposing of a corpse without ever being found out. Hence the term bog-job.
Nobody outside the IRA knows how many bog-jobs there are. The chances are that the IRA is not the only practitioner of the bog-job, that Protestant paramilitaries too have been busy with the spade at mid- night. It could all come to a tidy total. Sev- eral hundred people have gone missing in Northern Ireland in the past 25 years. Most of them have simply vanished as people do in all societies. How many of them went on to have the honour of becoming bog-jobs is something civil servants might enquire politely of all those besuited and polished paramilitaries making statesmanlike entrances to Stormont Castle in front of waiting television cameras.
The bog-job is not new. Occasionally the bodies of some unfortunate or other who crossed the IRA between 1920-23 turn up beneath a casually turned sod in the Republic. Others have never been discov- ered. Thomas Hornibrook, his son Samuel and Thomas's nephew Herbert Woods, Protestants in West Cork in 1922, were attacked by IRA men in their home. One of the attackers was shot by Woods. The three Protestants surrendered; Woods was — some IRA men later boasted — tor- tured, his eyes gouged out, then tied to the back of a car and driven around until he was dead. The other two were simply shot. All three were buried secretly, their bodies never discovered to this day.
The Hornibrook-Woods affair provides a clue to one motive in turning a killing into a bog-job. It must be quite inexcusable. Woods — an ex-soldier who had won an MM and MC in Irish regiments in the Great War — was given a hideous death. The two Hornibrooks, father and son, were innocent of anything. Better to remove the shameful evidence of a shameful deed.
So it is today. For few murders could have been so wantonly shameful, so purely wicked, as that reserved for Jean McConville, who was abducted by the IRA and killed just over 22 years ago.
Jean McConville was a truly marginal person. A working-class Protestant girl, she made the fatal error of marrying a Catholic ex- soldier. She and her family were evicted from their home in Protestant east Belfast because he was a Catholic. They moved to the Catholic Divis Flats, a vast and abom- inable municipal hell- hole, where they were regarded with deep sus- picion — he an ex-sol- dier, she a Protestant.
The following December she and her ten children moved to a flat in Farset Walk: their second home in the Divis complex.
They knew none of their neighbours. On their second night in Farset, armed IRA men visited the McConville home and accused Jean of being an informer. Her son protested: how could she be an informer when she knew nothing?
Her daughter Helen recalls her gut feel- ing that as her mother left she would not be seeing her again. Her gut feeling was correct. She has never been seen by friend or family since. She is dead.
What happened that night in 1972 as Christmas approached was the essence of evil. The children were told by the IRA not to inform anybody of their mother's abduc- tion. They did not. Helen was aged 15. Her older sister Anne, aged 19, was mentally retarded. Her brother Robert, aged 17, had been interned without trial. Helen was in charge of the family — Arthur 16, Agnes 13, Michael 12, Thomas 8, Susan 7, Billy and Jim 6.
Nobody knew what had happened. No social workers called. These children fend- ed for themselves, waiting for their mother to come home. She did not. Christmas arrived. The children cowered motherless in their flat.
Divis Flats — now demolished — was unlike anywhere else in Europe: a vast and teeming hive of poverty, joblessness, terror- ism, crime. It was outside the law in every sense. When young Helen finally sum- moned up the nerve to report her mother's abduction to the RUC, they expressed no interest. This brave young girl left the Police station — which as a Catholic from Divis Flats she entered at risk to her life from the IRA — as helpless as when she arrived. No doubt Divis Flats was seen as beyond the pale of civilisation. Finally the welfare authorities discovered that these children were living alone, unaided by state or friends, and took them into care. The family was broken up and has never recovered.
Helen, now at 37 the age her mother was when she was abducted, has been pestering Sinn Fein about her fate. She knows her mother is dead. She wants no vengeance, wants nobody charged. She wants a grave she can tend, mourn beside. Sinn Fein has been stalling since she approached them last year. 'Not just yet,' they said, 'we're a wee bit busy, there's a ceasefire coming.' Then they said, 'Not just yet, there's going to be talks.' Then they said . . .
The fate of Jean McConville is doubly a Protestant nightmare: not merely did she go and many a Catholic and get murdered for her trouble, but she has posthumously also produced — to date — 20 Catholic grandchildren.
Kevin McKee's was another marginal family. Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright were two teenage IRA members inducted into the British army undercover unit, the MRF — Military Reconnaissance Force. They received arms training from the army but continued their association with the IRA, feeding information to their army intelligence handlers. The IRA rumbled them, turned them, and for a while they belonged to that direst of professions, the double agent, giving information to the army to keep their handlers sweet and to the IRA to keep themselves alive.
With the Wright-McKee information, the IRA was able to destroy one army under- cover operation, Four Square Laundry, and murder a soldier. But this sort of life has only one end, and Seamus and Kevin got it: a grave. They were kept alive some time after the Four Square hit and according to Martin Dillon's Dirty War McKee was such a likable young man that the family respon- sible for keeping him in custody in South Armagh refused to have anything to do with his murder. Two Belfast men, one of them a neighbour of McKee's, finally shot him, and his body was buried secretly.
Many years ago, not knowing that McKee was dead, I went to check the story. I visited his family home in Ballymurphy. The woman who answered the door did not even know what year it was. There was shit on the walls..,Tho naked children, a boy and a girl, played amid this filth. Here was another marginal family who would remain perpetually outside the ken or the concern of the police.
Seamus Wright just vanished. His family believed he had been spirited away by the army and maybe murdered. According to Dillon, he too was executed by the IRA and buried secretly. As was Columba McVeigh, another fabulously unsuccessful attempt by the fellows in the British Mili- tary Intelligence — they got better over time — to run an agent inside the IRA.
This 17-year-old from Dungannon, County Tyrone, was the subject of a brain- less army wheeze. He was falsely charged with possessing ammunition merely to get him into jail with IRA men, even though he himself was not IRA. In jail, knowing he wasn't one of theirs, IRA men beat him till he told them the lies that beaten men usu- ally do tell to end beatings. He made up stories, including the spurious allegation that his milkman — the only Protestant he knew — was a Protestant paramilitary lead- er.
The milkman was shot (as it happened, the 'wrong' innocent man: that morning a relief took over from the regular man). Three Catholics were shot by Protestant paramilitaries in reply. This was army intel- ligence-gathering at its best.
McVeigh, according to Dillon, was released from jail, picked up by the IRA, murdered and secretly buried.
Other men whose names we do not know have simply vanished. An IRA quarter- master working for British intelligence was abducted, interrogated and shot after the British located a series of secret IRA dumps in Belfast in 1974. He was, appar- ently, kept alive for two years before being murdered. A long two years.
Only the IRA and British intelligence know about such people and how many there were. They played a dangerous game with a known tariff, which they paid. John McClory, aged 18, and Brian McKinney, aged 22, did not play that game. In Belfast parlance, they were simply hoods, petty criminals who caused trouble almost wher- ever they went. One morning in May 1978 they were taken from their places of work — pretend jobs created by government agencies to massage unemployment figures downwards and to keep kids off the street. The IRA, as it happens, had hit on a better way.
The IRA had previously interrogated them — blindfolded and bound — for 48 hours over allegations of criminality in the IRA stronghold of Andersonstown, even feeling their legs to find just the right place to shoot them, but then they were released unshot.
When they were picked up not long afterwards each went voluntarily. They have not been seen by friends or family since. IRA leaders approached by the fami- ly members have said they know nothing about the disappearances. The families are reconciled to the fate of the two men. They are dead, murdered by the IRA. Applica- tions to Sinn Fein and to Mr Clinton's friend Mr Adams for help have been unre- warded.
'We just want to give our sons a Chris- tian burial,' says Mary McClory, who for Do you mean to say that I'm the only one in this office not on Prozac?' years used to tap tall dark strange men on the shoulder hoping they would turn around and be her son. 'We're all getting on. We don't want to go to our graves with- out our sons properly buried.'
Margaret McKinney says of her son: 'If he was buried in a cemetery, I could go and talk to him, tell him off for getting into trouble in the first place. I could cry, I could bring flowers.'
It is unlikely that Captain Robert Nairac's family will ever have a grave to take flowers to. Nairac was an undercover soldier operating in South Armagh. Most accounts indicate that he was brave, and he was awarded a posthumous George Cross for his work. Brave, yes, foolish even more so. For an Englishman to pretend to be Northern Irish, drinking in pubs and singing IRA songs, requires suicidal fool- hardiness which could only have one end. He was picked up after drinking and singing in a pub in South Armagh, beaten savagely and murdered. His body was never found. The rumour in Ireland is that it was fed to pigs. If there is a grave, common decency demands that the body be recov- ered and the family be allowed to mourn and honour their loved one who met his end without betraying his fellow soldiers.
It is widely believed in Northern Ireland that there are other military deaths which have not been acknowledged. The IRA have repeatedly alleged that they have killed soldiers whose deaths were never publicised. One known military death — that of a para in South Armagh — was kept secret until discovered and disclosed by Anne McHardie of the Guardian. The IRA insists that it has killed SAS men in Tyrone and in South Armagh.
If the army has concealed other deaths — and there is no clear evidence that it has — it would no doubt be for reasons of morale or propaganda. Presumably this is the reason why SAS men after death — for the purposes of press statements — invari- ably revert to their parent regiments. But have there been other army deaths which have not been disclosed?
I know I ran into an ambush in Belfast by chance in July 1972. I saw three men — one with an M1 carbine, one with a Garand rifle, one with a handgun — open fire on an army patrol. The leading soldier went down, and was dragged into cover by other members of the patrol. The leading soldier was repeatedly hit by gunfire as he lay on the ground. It seemed to me inconceivable that he could have survived. An armoured personnel carrier arrived and the soldier on the ground was hurled into it like a sack of potatoes.
When I asked the army press office about this, they simply said that they had no record of any such shooting. Admitted- ly, it was a bad day. Many soldiers had been shot in other attacks. Maybe the army press office was so snowed under that it lost track of this incident. But I believe I saw a man die doing his duty. There could be others.
The time for the undead of Northern Ireland is now: if there are those who per- ished secretly while serving in the armed forces they should be acknowledged. And those pathetic creatures who had such ter- rible ends, kneeling in prayer, their hands bound with wire while their executioners pressed gun-barrels into their hair — they must now be finally disinterred and given the resting places that civilisation and decency deserve. Let the bogs release their secrets.
Kevin Myers is a columnist on the Irish Times.