The discovery of human remains close to the spot where the IRA said it had buried a widowed mother of ten childrenmore than three decades ago was being investigated by police last night.
In one of the most poignant and harrowing murders of the Troubles, Jean McConville, 37, a widow and mother of ten children, was killed after republicans accused her of passing information to the Army. It is thought that she was murdered after she was seen assisting a British soldier as he lay dying on her Belfast doorstep.
The remains were found yesterday at a beach not far from the border in the Irish Republic by a man walking his dog. The discovery took place close to Templetown beach in Co Louth.
Last night, Mrs McConville's surviving relatives gathered at the scene as a local priest lead prayers before a hearse removed the remains shortly before 8.30pm. A postmortem will take place to establish the cause of death while DNA tests are expected to identify the body.
Mrs McConville's son Michael, 41, and her daughter Agnes, 44, were among a number of relatives at the scene awaiting further information.
Mr McConville said: "I'm just hoping to bring this nightmare to an end," he said.
"It has been 30 years of hell for all of us. I just hope it's her to get this over and done with.
"All my concern is whether it's my mother's body." Four years ago the authorities in the Republic made large-scale excavations at a number of sites where the IRA indicated nine bodies had been secretly buried. Only a few bodies were recovered, however, and most of the searches were eventually called off without result. A second unsuccessful search at Templetown was made last year. Geological experts said then that the topography of the beach could have shifted over time. The fact that nothing was found added an extra dimension of grief to the families, whose expectations had been twice raised and then dashed.
In the search for Mrs McConville's body, large sections of the beach were dug up, after those involved in the episode indicated where she had been placed. The IRA gave information about the killings only after a prolonged and intense campaign by the families of some of the victims, most of whom had disappeared without trace or explanation.
Mrs McConville, a Protestant who had become a Catholic, was taken from her Falls Road home in Belfast by a group of republican women and never seen again, shortly after reportedly helping a dying British soldier on her Belfast doorstep.
Many of her children were subsequently taken into care as the family broke up. Some have since lived disturbed lives since the tragedy. One of her daughters, Helen McKendry, brought the case to prominence through heart-rending public appeals to the IRA for information and for the right to give decent burials to those missing. The IRA complied with these requests only after its members were given protection by legislation passed in both London and Dublin.
An Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains was set up to co-ordinate the searches and communicate with the families who had relatives missing.
Last night, Mrs McKendry described how her family was praying that the discovery would bring to an end years of despair with the confirmation of the remains as those of her mother. "All these years waiting and not knowing anything but we have always had the feeling the body was there," she said. "As soon as I got the call I just went to bits. I'm just hoping and praying it is so we can have an end to all this, but our hopes have been raised so many times."
Her husband Seamus added: "We don't know whether this is welcome or unwelcome."
While a Garda spokesman said it was not possible to speculate on the identity of the skeletal remains, he confirmed that the link with Mrs Mrs McConville would be examined. "We can confirm the remains were found in a shallow grave," he said. "From the location and the fact we have been here twice before we certainly are looking at the possibility it could be Mrs McConville. But what we are dealing with here is unidentified skeletal remains."
The plight of the families of the "disappeared" has long been a source of embarrassment for the Republican leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
While Mr McGuinness has admitted being the IRA's number two in Londonderry, Mr Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, has always denied being a member and met the family of Mrs McConville on at least one occasion to discuss her disappearance.
Last night a source for Sinn Fein said: "Our thoughts remain with them at this difficult time.
"Their feelings should be respected by all and adding to speculation won't ease what the families are going through."Reuse content