Sister of disappeared Columba McVeigh ‘frightened to build up hopes’ after fresh search announced

Lead forensic investigator for Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains says there is ‘credible reason’ for fresh search in Bragan Bog in Monaghan

This morning Dympna Kerr will do what she does every Monday morning – pray her brother’s remains will finally be found.

“I will go to Mass, and just keep begging the man above to point them in the right direction that they can find him. It’s like living a nightmare, but a nightmare you can waken up from. You can’t wake up from this.”

A new search will begin in Co Monaghan today (Monday) for her brother Columba McVeigh, who was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975. The body of the 19-year-old 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, including Mr McVeigh, are still missing.

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The lead forensic investigator for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), Geoff Knupfer, said there was a “credible reason” for the fresh search, and he remained “convinced that Columba was buried in Bragan Bog”.

Ms Kerr said there were “mixed emotions” for the family because previous searches had been unsuccessful, “but you’ve always got that hope.”

“You’re frightened to build your hopes up because you know at the end of it you’re going to be heartbroken if they don’t find him.”

She said her fear was that “time’s running out … for the people who know where he is [and] time’s running out for us as well”. She made an emotional appeal to anyone who knew where her brother’s remains were to come forward and help the search team.

“It would fulfil a promise that we made to our mother on her deathbed … her wish was that we’d get Columba, and to have him in the grave beside Daddy. She didn’t get that wish, but it’s now to put him in the ground beside her and my Dad, that’s what it would mean. It would fulfil a dying woman’s wish.

“Just do the right thing. Do it while the search is going on, point them in the right direction. e don’t need to know who these people are … all anybody cares about now is finding Columba. They’re coming to the end of their life, like I am. Do it, before it’s too late.”

Mr Knupfer made a similar appeal for information and said even though a search was beginning “that does not mean that people should assume that we have all the information we need”.

“Anyone who knows something that could help recover Columba’s remains should get that information to us safe in the knowledge that it will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

Jon Hill, senior investigator with the ICLVR who will take operational control of the search, said the search would focus on an area of “around two acres in total” which would be worked on in two phases. “We are working with a highly experienced team of contractors and archaeologists, and we will do our utmost to bring this search to a successful conclusion for the McVeigh family. We all know how much it would mean to them.”

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.

A reward for information which leads to the discovery of those still missing – Mr McVeigh, Joe Lynskey, Robert Nairac and Seamus Maguire – remains in place.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times