Two bodies were found in a shallow double grave at Colgagh, Co Monaghan, one of six sites where the IRA said that eight bodies had been left in the 1970s and early 1980s. The mothers of the two murder victims were described as "delighted and emotional, but emotionally dignified".
The remains found yesterday are presumed to be those of Brian McKinney, 23, and John McClory, 17, who were abducted from Belfast in 1978 and were reportedly killed for using an IRA weapon to carry out a robbery in west Belfast.
Police made the find at lunchtime, unearthing a human leg bone roughly 70 yards from the spot where excavation work started 30 days ago at the isolated spot, close to the border with south Armagh. Mrs McKinney and Mrs McClory were brought to the site where they said a prayer for their sons.
The discovery was the first to be made since excavations began at six sites in various parts of the Republic a month ago, following word from the IRA on the locations of its victims. It will help dispel suspicions that the republicans had misled the authorities about where the bodies were buried.
The failure until yesterday to find any remains had led to fears that the bodies might never be discovered. The searches started at the end of May. As time passed, and nothing was found, there was speculation that the searches might eventually have to be called off.
Brian McKinney's father William said yesterday: "This is great news. People have been praying really hard lately and maybe, just maybe, this is a result of their prayers. Our hopes faded from time to time, but we never lost them completely. The neighbours have been a great source of strength. Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for the family. I just hope now that the rest of the bodies can be recovered."
Seamus McKendry, whose mother-in-law Jean McConville is said to be buried on the shores of Carlingford Lough, Co Louth, said: "I just hope and pray that these remains belong to the victims. It would mean there is new hope for us all. With us, it goes from one hour to the next. You lose hope; it returns again; [you] lose it again. It's as if you're in limbo."
Many Irish gardai (police officers) have been involved in the searches, some of which have involved pumping tens of thousands of gallons of water out of marshy areas. A state pathologist has been sent to Monaghan to begin work on establishing positive identification.
The recently established Victims' Commission said in a statement: "In light of this encouraging development, the Commission has asked the police to reassess the plans for the continuation of excavations at any site where available information indicates a prospect of making further discoveries."
Commission members met a number of relatives of the disappeared yesterday, and said later they had listened with sympathy and respect to their views. The assumption is that, following yesterday's discovery, the authorities will abandon any plans to end the searches.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said: "This is a very sad and tragic time for the families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. The circumstances and the passage of time made the recovery of these remains more difficult than was anticipated. Our hope is that the other remains will be recovered soon."Reuse content