Columba McVeigh, one of the 'disappeared'

Columba McVeigh, one of the ‘disappeared’

The Catholic Primate of All-Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh has made a new appeal for information to help find the remains of the six people known as “The Disappeared”. RTÉ News reported that Archbishop Eamon Martin celebrated Mass with family members of the victims in Armagh this afternoon.

As happened with his predecessor, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Martin this afternoon celebrated Palm Sunday mass in Armagh with families who had a loved one killed and secretly buried by republicans during the troubles. Since the mid-1990’s ten bodies have been recovered but six are still missing.

A dig for the remains of one of them, Joe Lynskey, began in a County Meath bog earlier this month.

Archbishop Martin said some families are living a long Good Friday. He appealed to the conscience of anyone who has information that might help to come for forward. His hope is the six affected families could, at this late stage, be able to offer a christian burial to their loved ones.

In recent years republicans, through confidential channels set up by the Irish and British governments, gave information that led to the recovery of the remains of several victims.

Annually on Palm Sunday in the College Chapel of Saint Patrick’s Grammar School in Armagh a Mass of Remembrance is held. For the past sixteen years the gathering helps the families to connect with each other in solidarity and compassion. Eleven of the seventeen families have recovered the long-lost bodies of their loved ones.

The text of his homily was published by the Catholic Communications Office:

“Some families are living a long Good Friday, and it is difficult for them to know the Easter promise of resurrection”
“I appeal to the conscience of anyone who has information that might help to come forward to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains”  – Archbishop Martin.

“It is a humbling experience for me to meet and pray for the first time today with families of ‘The Disappeared’. For sixteen years the families of those abducted, murdered and secretly buried, have gathered annually on Palm Sunday here at Saint Patrick’s College in Armagh for a Mass of Remembrance. The gathering helps the families to connect with each other in solidarity and compassion.

Over these sixteen years the families have comforted each other, and consoling friendships have formed among them. There have been moments of hope when fresh information has come forward leading to a new search. There have been great disappointments when some of those searches have proven futile. And, thank God, during that time, eleven of the seventeen families have recovered the long-lost bodies of their loved ones, allowing them to begin at last to find some closure.

For other families the pain, uncertainty and waiting continues. Today, as we begin Holy Week, their sorrowful burden reminds me of how our Saviour had to carry His heavy Cross along the Via Dolorosa. Some families are living a long Good Friday, and it is difficult for them to know the Easter promise of resurrection. The recovery, last October in County Meath, of Brendan Megraw’s body, encourages them not to lose hope. I appeal to the conscience of anyone who has information that might help to come forward to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains so that, even at this late stage, the remaining families can experience the consolation of being able to offer a Christian burial to their loved ones. They come with the assurance that the information can only be used to recover the bodies of those disappeared”.

Archbishop Martin also issued a Joint Holy Week and Easter 2015 message with the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh,  Archbishop Richard Clarke:

We join in wishing you all, wherever you may be, a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Eastertide.  We invite you to enter with real spiritual seriousness into the powerful story of Holy Week so that you can experience personally and profoundly the joy and happiness of Easter.

Easter Day is far more than a happy ending to the sad tale of Good Friday. Rather it is the celebration of the ultimate victory of God over all that damages, terrifies and destroys us.
On Good Friday it seemed that the worst that the world can do was victorious over the best that there can ever be. The crucifixion was the rejection of all that it is to be truly human. It was the refusal to believe that only in Christ can men and women find their truest identity and fullest humanity. It was the attack of darkness on the reality of a total Love.
All around us today, we still see powerful signs of that same darkness in our world. It is found in in the horrors of cruel and vicious inhumanity to those who are seen as other; in the day to day debasement of the dignity of those who are unable to defend themselves; in physical violence, murder, war and persecution. It issues in the extreme selfishness of some individual lives that have fallen away catastrophically from any generosity and forgiveness.
But in the compassionate cry of abandonment from the cross, Good Friday reminds us that God is to be found not among those who can destroy others most effectively, but rather totally with those who are at the receiving end of the envy, spite and viciousness of others.
Saint Paul describes the resurrection of Christ as the “first fruits” – the evidence that there will be a harvest of hope, and a final victory of love over hatred, injustice and futility.
May we together follow trustfully with Jesus Christ on the way to the Cross, and share fully with him in the joy of his resurrection. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

+Eamon Martin​​​​​                                                                             +Richard Clarke

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh                      ​​Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh


Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh at the Mass in Carrickroe    Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh at a Mass in Carrickroe, Emyvale, County Monaghan, at which a new appeal was made for information about the location of Columba McVeigh’s remains Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed the Irish government will continue its commitment to help fund the search for the so-called ‘disappeared’. Following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Irish and British Governments set up the Independent Commission for the Recovery of Victims Remains. Its aim was to locate the remains of those killed by republican paramilitaries and secretly buried during the ‘troubles’ – people commonly referred to as the ‘disappeared’.

RTÉ’s Northern Editor Tommie Gorman in a special Nationwide programme tonight reported on the ongoing work of the Commission, with the remains of six people still to be recovered.

The Commission has a confidential telephone number and post box, and the information it receives can only be used to help recover the dead. In many of the ten cases where remains have been found, republicans and/or others used these facilities to provide crucial information.

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality  Photo: Fine Gael

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality Photo: Fine Gael

With a search for one of the six still missing, Belfast-born Joe Lynskey, due to begin in County Meath this month, the Minister for Justice has confirmed the Irish government’s ongoing commitment to help fund the work. Frances Fitzgerald said the government remained as strongly committed now to the humanitarian aim of locating the victims for their families as at the outset of the process, and would continue to support the ongoing efforts to locate those victims who have yet to be found. The Minister said she would encourage anyone with information that could help to locate those still missing to give that information, in full confidence, to the ICLVR without delay. “The families of the missing victims have suffered enough.  Out of common human decency, I appeal to anyone who can help bring an end to that suffering to do so”, she said.

Of the six people still missing, five are thought to be buried south of the Irish border and a sixth, Seamus Ruddy, is believed to be buried in a forest in France. The INLA admitted killing Seamus Ruddy.  The five other deaths are attributed to the IRA. The remaining ‘Disappeared’

In February 2010 Joe Lynskey was added to the official list of the disappeared. He was a member of the IRA. He went missing from his west Belfast home during the summer of 1972; his body has never been recovered. Joseph Lynskey was a former Cistercian monk from the Beechmount area of west Belfast. A new search for his remains is due to begin in Co Meath later this month.

Columba McVeigh  Photo: Irish Times

                                                                    Columba McVeigh Photo: Irish Times

Columba McVeigh disappeared on November 1st 1975 and his body has never been recovered. He was from Donaghmore, County Tyrone. He had been working as a painter in Dublin and had only returned to the North a few days earlier. Although extensive searches, based on information received, have been carried out at Bragan Bog near Emyvale in North Monaghan, his remains have not yet been discovered.

Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright disappeared on 2 October 1972. The two of them were from Belfast – Seamus Wright worked as an asphalt layer.  He was aged 25 and married when he went missing. It is thought they were both members of the IRA and were suspected of passing on information to the security forces. The Commission has carried out extensive but unsuccessful searches in the Coghalstown area of Co Meath for the remains of the men.

Captain Robert Nairac disappeared in 1977.  He was an officer with the British Army’s Grenadier Guards on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland when he went missing. It’s thought he was on an intelligence-gathering operation and was singing republican songs at a pub in Silverbridge, South Armagh, on the night of his abduction.  He was 29.  A man was convicted of his murder in 1977 and served a prison sentence. Captain Nairac received a posthumous George Cross.

Seamus Ruddy disappeared in Paris on 9 May 1985. A native of Newry, he had links to the INLA and its political wing, the IRSP.  He was involved in negotiations on behalf of INLA prisoners in the MAZE during the 1981 Hunger Strikes and helped to carry the coffin of hunger striker, Michael Devine, at his funeral in Derry.  In May 1985 he was working as an English teacher in Paris.  It is thought he got into a dispute with INLA members who were attempting to procure weapons in France. . In December 1995 the INLA admitted responsibility for his death. In February 1999 information emerged to suggest that his body was buried in Rouen, France, but despite searches having been carried out his remains have not yet been recovered.

It is believed that information provided by republicans and/or others assisted in eight of the ten cases where remains were recovered.  With Jean Mc Conville (2003) and Eugene Simons (1984), the discoveries were made by chance.

Brendan Megraw was 23-years-old when he was taken from his flat in Twinbrook, west Belfast by the IRA in April 1978.  His wife was expecting their first child at the time. His remains were recovered at Oristown Bog, near Kells in County Meath in autumn 2014.

Peter Wilson was 21 when he went missing in West Belfast in 1973.  Described as a vulnerable person with learning difficulties, his remains were located at Waterfoot beach in County Antrim in November 2010.

Gerard Evans from Crossmaglen in South Armagh was last seen hitch-hiking in County Monaghan in March 1979. In March 2008 his aunt received a map, claiming to identify the location of his remains.  They were eventually recovered from the site near Hackballscross in County Louth in October 2010.

Charlie Armstrong was a 54-year-old father of five who had no connections with paramilitary organisations.  He went missing one Sunday morning in 1981 when he left his Crossmaglen home to collect a neighbour to go to Mass.  His remains were located in a County Monaghan bog in 2010, 29 years after his abduction.

Danny McIlhone went missing from his West Belfast home in 1981.  His remains were found in the Wicklow mountains in November 2008 – two earier, unsuccessful searches were carried out in the area.

Jean McConville was a widowed mother of ten, she was taken from her Belfast flat by the IRA in 1972.  A man out walking on Shelling Beach near Carlingford in County Louth found her remains in August 2003.

Eamon Molloy was abducted from his home in North Belfast in 1975. His body was discovered in a coffin left in Faughart graveyard, close to the border, near Dundalk in 1999.

Brian McKinney was aged 22 when he went missing in Belfast in 1978. His remains were located in a Co Monaghan bog in 1999.

John McClory was aged 17 when he went missing with his friend, Brian McKinney in Belfast in 1978. Their remains were found in the same area of Co Monaghan bogland 21 years later.

Eugene Simons was a 26 year old who went missing form his home near Castlewellan in Co Down in January 1981.  His body was discovered by chance in May 1984 in a bog near Dundalk, Co Louth.


Columba McVeigh  Photo: Irish Times

Columba McVeigh Photo: Irish Times

The Bishop of Clogher Dr Liam MacDaid at a special Mass  last night in North Monaghan appealed “in the name of humanity” to anyone with information about where one of the so-called disappeared, Columba McVeigh, is buried to bring it forward to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR).

At the Mass in Carrickroe, near Emyvale, Dr MacDaid urged anyone who might have even a small shred of evidence about where Mr McVeigh was secretly buried to come forward to the Commission and help end the burden the McVeigh family had carried for forty years. Prayers were also said and a candle was lit for Kieran McAree, the Emyvale man who is believed to have gone into the water in Lough Erne in Enniskillen and for whom the search has continued for five weeks.

The Sacred Heart church is a few miles from Bragan mountain, where Mr McVeigh is believed to have been buried after being abducted and murdered by the IRA in November 1975. Four searches, the most recent in September 2013, have been carried out in the bogland since 1999, but Mr McVeigh’s remains have yet to be found. The Commission is hoping former IRA members directly or indirectly involved in the incident would come forward with more specific information to assist in the search.

Family members of the disappeared point to how after an appeal by the Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, in September 2013, new information was passed to the Commission. Last October the remains of another of the disappeared, Brendan Megraw, were recovered from Oristown bog in County Meath.

“In the name of humanity and of this community, I would entreat anyone with any information to search their conscience and help bring an end to this suffering,” Bishop MacDaid told the congregation, who included Columba’s brother Oliver and sister Dympna Kerr, as well as other families of the disappeared. Dympna lives at St Helen’s near Liverpool in England and flew over yesterday afternoon to attend.

Frank Murray  Photo: ICLVR

Frank Murray Photo: ICLVR

One of the two Commissioners, Frank Murray, a former Secretary to the Irish government, attended the Mass along with forensic expert Geoff Knupfer, who has led some of the searches carried out by the Commission. Before the service, Mr Murray addressed the congregation. He stressed the independence and confidentiality offered by his office and said anyone who gave information to him was immune from prosecution.

“For almost four decades the McVeigh family have had to bear the pain of the loss of Columba, a pain deepened almost beyond imagination by the fact that they have no grave to tend, no place to grieve,” Bishop MacDaid said.

Oliver McVeigh from Donaghmore in County Tyrone also appealed for anyone with information to bring it forward. “The ICLVR needs more information to narrow down the search area to find Columba, just as they were able to do at Oristown and find Brendan Megraw,” he added. “How can anyone with a shred of humanity about them leave us like this after forty years knowing that they could end our suffering?”

The Chief Executive of the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast, Sandra Peake, said the families of the disappeared appreciated the prayers and support of Bishop MacDaid and the wider local community. They will not rest until Columba and all those who have yet to be recovered are returned to their families to bring an end to this cruel torment, she said.

The remains of 11 of the 17 Disappeared have been recovered, including those of Jean McConville from Belfast, whose son Michael attended the Mass along with his wife and daughter. I interviewed Michael at various times as the search was going on for her remains, which were recovered eleven years ago, though it seems a lot less.

The six yet to be recovered are Columba McVeigh; Joe Lynskey, who went missing from Belfast in 1972; Captain Robert Nairac, a British Army officer believed to have been shot dead close to the border in the Louth/South Armagh area in 1977; Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright, who disappeared in 1972 and are believed buried in a bog at Coghalstown, near Wilkinstown in County Meath; and Seamus Ruddy. He was killed in France by the INLA in 1985 during an internal feud and is believed to be buried in a forest near Rouen.

Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh at the Mass in Carrickroe    Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh, at the Mass in Carrickroe Photo: © Michael Fisher