Family of Jean McConville demand retraction from IRA for allegations she was informer

‘I will demand that apology until the day I die’, says son Michael, 50 years on from his mother’s disappearance

The McConville children are not sure what date it was that the IRA abducted and killed their mother Jean 50 years ago. For many decades it was assumed that December 7th, 1972 was the date in question.

Dates do not have the same hold on the childhood mind as they do on adults. A comprehensive report by the then Northern Ireland ombudsman Nuala O’Loan identified November 30th or December 1st as the most likely day she was abducted.

Whatever the exact date, the passage of time has not diminished the revulsion and horror that surrounds the death of the mother of 10.

She was abducted from her home at 1A St Jude’s Walk, Divis Flats in republican west Belfast in front of their children and they were told she would be returned to her family soon.


Her remains were found at Shelling Hill Beach, also knows as Templetown Beach, near Dundalk, Co Louth, on August 27th, 2003.

Her son Michael was among the hundreds of relatives who attended the annual National Missing Persons Day at Croke Park to remember the 897 people, North and South, who are classified as missing.

Jean McConville is no longer missing, but the pain never goes away for her family. The years have not been kind to her children. Of the 10, four are now dead, Ann, Billy, Agnes and Archie jnr. He died in October last year at the age of 65 from cancer.

In 2003, the Provisional IRA apologised for her disappearance and that of eight others. They never retracted their allegation that Jean McConville was an informer though Nuala O’Loan’s report comprehensively debunked the idea that she was one.

The horrors of their mother’s disappearance were compounded by the death of their father, Arthur McConville (49), earlier that year from cancer leaving their children as orphans.

Mr McConville said: “We are not a close family. You can’t get back those years. We were a very close family before all this happened. Our lives were stripped away from all of us.

“When my father was ill and he had died on January 3rd, 1972, I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to our family. Little did I know 11 months later that our mother was going to be missing and disappeared by the IRA.

“I also lost my siblings. In 1973 I was put into a home by myself. I did not see my younger brothers or sisters only on a handful of times when they were growing up.”

He attended the National Missing Persons Day in solidarity with the families of those who still have nowhere to grieve and no information about those who have disappeared.

“We all share the same thing. The hardest thing to except when your family member is missing is not knowing their whereabouts. It is hard to come to terms with their death as well,” he said.

“When you get your family’s body back years later, you can’t open the coffin because there are only bones left.”

Over the intervening years many republican have approached the family and apologised for what happened. Gerry Adams, who was named by the now deceased Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes as having ordered the killing, has always denied any involvement in it.

He also apologised publicly for her death, but nobody in the republican movement has retracted the accusation that she was an informer.

“Gerry Adams got me in touch with the IRA to ask them some things. I asked them if they would apologise for the murder of my mother,” he said.

“We as a family want an apology for all the accusations of our mother of having been an informer. I’ll look for that apology until the day I die. These accusations cause more hurt to our family.”

Michael’s sister Helen McKendry has set up a legal fund to sue Sinn Féin for reparations arising out of her mother’s death. The fund was set up last January and has raised almost £18,000 (€21,000) to date, the target being £10,000.

The National Missing Persons Day heard from many families who have been bereaved. Clare Clarke-Keane spoke about her sister Priscilla Clarke who is missing presumed drowned in the Dargle river, Co Wicklow, on May 3rd, 1988.

“Nothing in our lives was ever the same after that,” she said. “She was a wonderful young woman. Priscilla absolutely loved Christmas so it is always a poignant time for us.”

She said their family were shocked to learn that unidentified remains were found near the scene, but were buried without seeking the help of the families of the disappeared.

She said it should be “mandatory for coroners to hold inquests on all unidentified remains” and that a national database should be set up for all missing people in Ireland.

Anthea Langelaan’s 29-year-old son Cian disappeared on September 27th, 2020. He was last seen in the Hornhead area of Dunfanaghy in Co Donegal.

Ms Langelaan said she felt powerless about doing anything to find her son. “I try to maximise the positives in my life rather than dwell on my heartbreak,” she said.

“I will continue to have hope. The alternative does not bear thinking about.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times