The Disappeared – families still looking for their lost boys

Baroness Nuala O'Loan launches a book on the `Disappeared' in Belfast's Lyric theatre.

Baroness Nuala O'Loan launches a book on the `Disappeared' in Belfast's Lyric theatre.

It is hoped a new book launched on the `Disappeared’ – those kidnapped, killed and secretly buried by republicans during the Troubles – can help locate the bodies that have yet to be found. The Detail’s Steven McCaffery reports on the latest appeal and recalls his meeting 14 years ago with one mother who saw her missing son returned.

IT HAS been a week that began and ended with speeches about the young.

President Barack Obama implored students in the Waterfront Hall to help build a brighter future and bring a permanent end to violence.

And today Baroness Nuala O’Loan addressed bereaved families remembering their own “little boys”.

Those little boys, whose life stories have been recorded in a new book, never got to pursue their hopes and dreams.

As young adults they were kidnapped, murdered and secretly buried by republicans – and many remain lost.

The unfinished story of the Disappeared is another example of how difficult it will be to lay the past to rest – despite the desperate desire of these families to do so.

“In a world in which so many of us want so much,” Baroness O’Loan told relatives in Belfast’s Lyric theatre, “the families of the Disappeared want just one thing: they want to bring their loved ones home.”

The book, `The Disappeared of Northern Ireland’s Troubles’ is a record of the lives of 17 people.

All fell foul of republican paramilitaries, often with little or no explanation as to how or why.

Their disappearance remained a painful mystery until, under the pressure of the emerging peace process in the 1990s, some of the truth began to emerge.

Up to that point, the families had searched in vain for loved ones who had vanished overnight.

They didn’t find their missing relatives, but the families found each other, and a campaign slowly gathered momentum.

So far ten bodies have been recovered in isolated boglands or in the corner of beaches by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, whose work is sponsored by the British and Irish governments.

The organisation’s searches are based on information passed on the basis of complete anonymity and freedom from prosecution.

But the book published with the help of the Wave Trauma Centre, which has championed the families’ cause across two decades, also records how seven bodies remain missing.

Those yet to be found are Joe Lynskey who disappeared from west Belfast in 1972; Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright who disappeared from west Belfast in 1972; Columba McVeigh from Co Tyrone who disappeared in 1975, soldier Robert Nairac who disappeared in 1977; Brendan Megraw, last seen in Twinbrook in Belfast in 1978; and Seamus Ruddy who disappeared in Paris in 1985.

Baroness O’Loan said their families are “still waiting”.

“They have lived with terror, pain, grief and loss for decades. Each day they get up. And each day their loved ones are still missing.

“I ask that those who know where their bodies are, or who saw or who heard something, or even those who heard something from somebody else, that these people should come forward and tell what they know.

“That’s the only way in which these men will be brought home to their families.

“In this book you’ll read the stories of the people behind the names.

“And as you read this book, you’ll see the stories of the little people, the little people who grew-up to be the men who were disappeared.”

The book, compiled by Wave, recalls Brian McKinney as a vulnerable 22 year old, who got caught up in a robbery at a west Belfast bar said to have been linked to the IRA.

After his disappearance his family was assured by republicans that he would be returned unharmed, then told that he had been forced to leave the country, and finally informed he had never been held by the IRA at all.

He was never heard of again.

His mother Margaret pressed for information for years, eventually securing the support of US President Bill Clinton as the issue became intertwined with the peace process.

On the night Brian’s body was returned to his west Belfast home, 21 years after he was disappeared, his mother was happy – happy to finally be able to bury him.

“It is strange for a mother to feel relieved in this situation,” she said, standing by his coffin. “But that’s how I feel now.”

Sympathy cards lined the top of the casket.

They ran along the mantelpiece leading to family photographs of weddings and pictures of grandchildren.

The pictures spoke of the future enjoyed by his brother and two sisters, but denied to Brian.

“All my prayers, and everybody else’s have been answered after all these years,” his mother said at the time.

“I was here when he came home.

“We brought him into the room and said a wee prayer. I have to tell you it broke my heart.

“I couldn’t get my arms around the coffin to hug it. I was just hugging Brian.

“It was just wonderful holding him.

“It broke my heart at the same time. I sobbed my heart out.”

Nearly 15 years later, other families have experienced the same poignant relief.

But for seven others, the wait goes on.

Baroness O’Loan has asked anyone who might have information to imagine the `Disappeared’ men as children – now lost to their families and desperate to come home.

“Those who give information have a guarantee of anonymity, there can be no prosecutions, there can be no police investigations. There is nothing to fear by giving information.

“By telling what they know, no matter how trivial it may seem to them, they can help to bring peace to these brave people and allow them to lay their loved ones to rest in Christian graves.”

She added: “The governments continue to fund the work. But above all, those who know what happened to the little boys who grew up to be the Disappeared, must tell what they know.”

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains can be contacted on 00800 555 85500, by writing to ICLVR, PO Box 10827, Dublin 2, or via the website www.iclvr.ie.