The IRA and the Disappeared: Tell us where Kevin is buried and I’ll shake hands
In 1972, when he was 17, Kevin McKee was abducted from his Belfast home by the IRA, which later confirmed it had killed and buried him. His sister continues to search for the truth about his death
Wilkinstown: Phil McKee at the site in Co Meath where her brother Kevin is believed to be buried. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Abducted: Kevin McKee
‘As far as I know, Kevin was held at a house in Monaghan for three days, and the people that held him got so fond of him they didn’t want him shot,” says Phil McKee, remembering her older brother.
Kevin McKee disappeared from west Belfast in 1972, when he was 17. His aunts went to Sinn Féin, but it said it knew nothing about his whereabouts. In 1999 the IRA issued a list of the people it had “disappeared”, and Kevin was on it.
The last photograph taken of him was by his aunt; it’s a picture, taken on Whiterock Road, of a good-looking young man with a thick mop of brown hair.
Phil McKee, who was nine when Kevin disappeared and is now 50, recalls a lovely older brother who always looked out for her. The story she heard from Aunt Phil was that his good nature also impressed his IRA abductors.
“The ones who were to do it couldn’t do it, so it was Belfast ones that came down and did it, because he was a very friendly person,” says Phil. “They grew that fond of him they did not want him killed. Remembering him, I can understand that: it would have took anybody to have a heart of stone to do what they did to him.”
Phil says many of her memories of Kevin are hazy, because she was a “wee girl” in 1972, but she recalls well how he used to sit in the front room of the family house, then in Moyard in west Belfast, playing records on “a big old-fashioned radiogram” with his arm around his young fiancee, Eileen.
“I think they were only 16 when they got engaged,” says Phil. She met Eileen, who is married and has children, in recent years. “She was crying when she was talking about him,” says Phil. “She said, ‘Jesus, Philomena, I was so in love with Kevin.’ She said he was so good, and so lovable, with his big blue eyes. She said she told her husband all about Kevin, and told all her family as well.”
When he was about 16 Kevin was arrested with some of his friends and taken to Springfield Road barracks. His ever-helpful aunts went to check on him but were told he had escaped and that shots had been fired at him.
Nothing was heard from Kevin for about a year, until he started making contact by letter and telephone. Eventually, at his mother’s urging, he came back to Belfast.
But there were rumours that he was passing information to the British army. Some time after that he was abducted and taken to Monaghan.
Phil says he was allowed to make a phone call home to his mother from a priest’s house near where he was being held. He asked his mother to bring him some clothes. “My Aunt Philomena drove her down to Monaghan to the house where we think he was held. I’m not even sure if he realised he was being held. The door was answered, and they were told Kevin had just left. The man who answered the door said, ‘Take the clothes with you. He’ll not be back here.’ ”
No more contact
There was no more contact. Kevin was killed, as was Seamus Wright. They are belived to have been buried in Coghalstown bog, near Wilkinstown in Co Meath. Phil McKee has no idea whether her brother and Seamus Wright were held, shot or buried together.