‘A dark cloud that hasn’t lifted’: Search for remains of IRA victim Columba McVeigh resumes

Families of the Disappeared are still living ‘in horrible limbo’, says sister

While the Belfast Agreement brought “a new dawn of hope” for Northern Ireland 25 years ago, the families of the Disappeared are still living with a “dark, thick cloud that hasn’t lifted”, the sister of one of the victims has said.

Dympna Kerr also said the US president, Joe Biden – who is to visit Ireland next week – should know there are still some families waiting for resolution.

“President Biden will rightly be proud of the role played by the US in our peace process,” she said, “and president Clinton did so much for the families of the Disappeared. But president Biden needs to know that there is unfinished business and that there are Irish men and women who every day and every night still have to live in this horrible limbo.”

Ms Kerr was speaking ahead of the resumption of the search for the remains of her brother, Columba McVeigh, in Co Monaghan on Monday.


Columba McVeigh, who was 19 and from Co Tyrone, was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975. His body has never been found, despite successive searches carried out in Bragan Bog, near Emyvale in Co Monaghan between 1999 and 2019.

He is among 17 people known as the Disappeared who were killed and secretly buried by paramilitaries during the North’s Troubles. Four – Joe Lynskey, Robert Nairac, Seamus Maguire and Mr McVeigh – are still missing.

Investigators from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) began a fresh search for Mr McVeigh’s remains in Bragan Bog in October 2022. Operations were paused over the winter because ground conditions on the bog were too dangerous for contractors and archaeologists to continue their work.

Mr Kerr said while she hoped her brother would be found, “those hopes have been dashed so many times before that there is still that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach”.

“Please make it [be] this time,” she said.

The ICLVR’s lead investigator, Jon Hill, said he had always intended to resume the search for Mr McVeigh “at the earliest opportunity” and if his remains “are in this part of the bog, we will find them”.

He said the search team would “continue to methodically work our way through phase one of the search which will take us up to the tree line. Clearly, we hope we find Columba before then but if we have to clear a section of the forest then we’ll do it.

“Every time we undertake a search the thoughts of everyone involved are with the McVeigh family. Our focus is on doing everything we can to bring this search to a successful conclusion.”

Mr Hill repeated an appeal by the ICLVR for information and said the fact the search had recommenced did not mean anyone with information about where Columba was buried should assume that it was no longer relevant.

“If anyone has any information in relation to Columba’s disappearance, however insignificant they may think it is, they should get it to the commission,” he said. “Any information that comes to us is treated in the strictest confidence and will never be used for any other purpose than to find the remains and return them to their family.”

There is a reward for information which leads to the discovery of any of the Disappeared who are still missing. The ICLVR can be contacted by telephone on 00800-55585500 or +353 1 602 8655, via email to Secretary@iclvr.ie or by post to ICLVR PO Box 10827.

CrimeStoppers can be contacted on 0800 555 111 and the untraceable anonymous online form is at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times