Hope in the air as Northern Ireland Disappeared families tell harrowing stories of loss and pain

Book launched in Belfast tells stories of 17 people acknowledged as murdered and secretly buried by republicans

Kieran Megraw, brother of one of the Disappeared, Brendan Megraw, with the new book, The Disappeared Of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Kieran Megraw, brother of one of the Disappeared, Brendan Megraw, with the new book, The Disappeared Of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire


The details are harrowing. A mother who routinely cooks a meal for a son who never came home. A family redecorating their home in anticipation of a wake still to happen. A woman so torn apart that she spends most of her life in psychiatric care.

These fragments are from a new book, launched yesterday in Belfast, and written by the relatives of the North’s Disappeared – the 17 people acknowledged as having been murdered and secretly buried by republicans.

All but three of the bodies are believed to have been buried in the Republic.

Launching the book, entitled The Disappeared of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan said the collection of personal testimonies did “not make for easy reading”. She said the Disappeared were “all young, with lives ahead of them.

“Three of them were teenagers, 10 were in their 20s,” she said. Their families had “lived with terror and pain” for decades, until the peace process brought the glimmer of hope that bodies might be recovered.

“Some times the families were told to be quiet, but they never were,” she added. “They are launching this book in the hope that fresh information will be forthcoming.”

Their campaign has been backed by the actors Liam Neeson and Jimmy Nesbitt, who sent a message of support to coincide with the event.

Bodies recovered
Ten bodies have been recovered since the setting up of the cross-Border Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in 1999. Under its auspices, all information supplied is confidential and can only be used for the purposes of locating bodies.

Despite various Garda searches, the remains of seven people are still unaccounted for. A dig at Wilkinstown, Navan, Co Meath, failed to find the joint grave of Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright. A separate dig at nearby Oristown failed to locate the remains of Brendan Megraw.

The body of Seamus Ruddy, last seen alive in Paris in 1985, has never been recovered, despite two police searches in France.

An ongoing search of a site near Emyvale in Co Monaghan, has so far failed to locate the remains of Columba McVeigh, who disappeared from Dublin in 1975.

There have been no searches for the bodies of Joe Lynskey and Robert Nairac, both of whom were abducted in the 1970s.

Speaking after yesterday’s launch, Columba McVeigh’s younger brother Oliver said it was “hard not to lose hope”. “We don’t even want answers about what happened,” he said. “We just want a grave to visit.”

Philomena McKee, the sister of Kevin McKee, said she could not put into words “how much difference having a body would make”. “Since the peace process, my life has been at a standstill,” she said. “I hope somebody out there has the crucial piece of information.”

Adams appeal
Separately, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams yesterday appealed for anyone with information about the whereabouts of victims’ remains to come forward. In a statement released, Mr Adams said: “The IRA acknowledged that it was responsible for 13 of the people who were killed and secretly buried during the conflict. “It apologised to the families for the grief it caused.”