Jean McConville murder: The Protestant-turned-Catholic mother of 10 executed by the IRA – but not found for 31 years

It was not until 1998 that the IRA said they accepted full responsibility, promising to do all in their power to alleviate the 'incalculable pain and anguish' inflicted

Ireland Correspondent

When Jean McConville was done to death by the IRA in 1972 Northern Ireland was one of the most dangerous places in Europe. Although she was one of almost 500 people who died violently in that year, her story was one of particular horror.

The bullet fired into the back of her head not only ended her life but condemned her orphaned children - 10 of them - to disturbed lifetimes scarred by pain and trauma.

It was once remarked that "the bullet just travels on for years through time" but in the case of the McConville family a single shot caused a tremendous amount of damage.

A slight woman who stood less than five feet tall, Jean McConville was a Protestant who became a Catholic on marrying her husband. Intimidated out of a Protestant area, they moved into the republican Falls Road district which was blighted by the twin ravages of violence and deprivation.

The couple, who lived in a small flat, had 10 children before her husband died. Less than a year later the IRA accused her of passing information to the army and she was abducted by a large gang of male and female IRA members.

"Four girls dragged her from the bathroom at gunpoint," her daughter, Helen McKendry, recalled. "The twins, who were only six at the time, were clinging to her, screaming to the women to let her go but they took her anyway. All we ever got back were her rings and her purse." The children were terrified and in hysterics.

She was never seen alive again. An additional gratuitous cruelty was that the IRA never admitted they murdered her: in fact, stories were circulated locally that she had deserted her family - she had probably, it was said, run away with a soldier.

Eight of the family were taken into care, with the family split up and scattered to various homes and orphanages. Many of them had deeply disturbed childhoods. "Some of them have got into trouble," according to Ms McKendry. "Others have had problems forming relationships. It ruined us."

Her brother Michael recalled: "I could quite easily have wound up being a thug, because that's what you learned in the homes. The IRA had ruined my life as a child, but I promised myself it wouldn't ruin my life as an adult."

It was more than two decades later, after the IRA declared its 1994 ceasefire, that the story of Jean McConville and the other Disappeared surfaced, to general astonishment and horror. Even then the IRA stonewalled. It took sustained political and public pressure before they admitted what they had done and revealed where some of the bodies were buried. Despite large-scale searches a number have yet to be found.

It was not until 1998 that the IRA said they accepted full responsibility, promising to do all in their power to alleviate the "incalculable pain and anguish" inflicted.

Mrs McConville's body was discovered on a southern beach in 2003, bringing some small element of closure to her family.

As president of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams has met members of the family and other affected families, promising to address their concerns. His personal position is that he was never a member of the IRA and had nothing to do with the Disappeared.

In the last few years however his name has increasingly been linked with the McConville case. A number of veteran republicans who were active in the 1970s admitted they were involved in the McConville disappearance, and claimed that she was killed on the orders of Adams.

A number of these gave interviews to an oral history project run by Boston College, on the understanding that their contents would not be divulged during their lifetimes.

But the US authorities launched protracted and ultimately successful legal proceedings which resulted in the college handing over tape recordings to the British security forces.

In recent weeks police in Belfast, having sifted through the college material, have made seven arrests in connection with the McConville killing. Five people, three men and two women, have been released without charge while a sixth, a veteran republican, has been charged with aiding and abetting. Gerry Adams is the seventh person to be arrested.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project