Sunday 17 December 2017

Sadness of innocent mum's short life

Jean McConville's coffin passing the Divis Flats, in Belfast
Jean McConville's coffin passing the Divis Flats, in Belfast
Jean McConville who was murdered by the IRA
The search for Jean McConville's remains in Co Louth
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

IN her all too short life, Jean McConville had endured hardship, sectarian hatred and more than her share of sadness.

On the day in December 1972 that masked men smashed down her door and dragged her from her home, she was already widowed at just 37 with 10 children to care for.

The east Belfast Protestant had converted to Catholicism to marry Arthur McConville, a former soldier in the British army.

And, like many families, after the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 they suffered sectarian intimidation and violence which led them to make the difficult choice to leave their East Belfast home.

After living in temporary accommodation with their 10 children, they set up home in the Divis Flats area off the Catholic Falls Road in west Belfast.

And, 1972 was to become the year that forever changed the lives of the McConville children. In January, their father Arthur died leaving behind his wife with 10 children – aged from 20 down to the six-year-old twin boys.

Just the week before the train of events that was to ingrain Mrs McConville's name as one of the best known of the 'Disappeared', the family had moved to a new council home.

It is believed Mrs McConville helped to comfort a British soldier shot and wounded outside her home, a move that led her to be labelled as a British sympathiser to IRA leaders.

Soon after her family recalled, she had been lured from a bingo hall, beaten and left wandering the streets distressed, bruised and dazed. And, she was warned not to give information to the military.

Her children gathered around to help clean up her wounds.

Less than a day later, masked men and women, some wearing balaclavas walked into an everyday family scene as the children were waiting for their sister Helen to bring back chips from the local chip shop.

Mrs McConville's son Archie (16) told how a banging on their door signalled their life was about to change forever.

"They came into the house and told my mother to put on her coat. We were all in a panic and the children were squealing everywhere," Archie recalled at her inquest, as he told how he'd sought to go with her. At the bottom of the stairs a gang of masked people with guns awaited them – with a blue minibus and a car.

A gun was pointed at his head, and he was ordered back upstairs.

"We just waited and waited from that night, for years and years and we never saw our mother alive again," he recalled.

Several weeks after her abduction a man called to their council home, and handed the children her purse and wedding ring.

A bogus story began to circulate, from the IRA, that she had run away to England abandoning her children.

It was more than 20 years later before the Provisional IRA admitted they had killed a number of people, including Mrs McConville.

It was claimed she was an informant, yet former Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, has dismissed this allegation.

The children, left scattered after being taken into care, eventually had their mother's body returned to them. A massive storm battering the coast of Co Louth exposed her remains at Shelling Hill beach, Carlingford, in August 2003.

And, after all that, the police ombudsman found, the mother was simply "an innocent woman".

Irish Independent

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