The Observer | Special reports | Forest park 'to be dug up for IRA body'

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday September 7, 2003
The Observer

An entire forest park will have to be dug up to find the body of a missing IRA victim, it was revealed this weekend.
The Irish government has received new information from the Provisionals about the whereabouts of one of the so-called 'Disappeared', Columba McVeigh, abducted by the IRA in 1975. McVeigh, 17, was seized from his home at Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, on Halloween. The IRA accused the teenager of working for the British security forces.

A senior source in the Irish government confirmed to The Observer that fresh intelligence has narrowed the location of McVeigh's body to a state-owned forest park in Co Monaghan. However, lack of precision about the burial site may result either in the park being dug up in its entirety or the hunt for McVeigh's remains being abandoned.

"They (the IRA) told us that Columba McVeigh was buried in a square mile of bogland in the forest park. The problem, we were told, was that they buried the victim's body at night. Given that there are actually 12 square miles of bogland, it would entail digging up most of the forest," the source said.

Human rights campaigner Father Denis Faul has described McVeigh as a victim of both sides in the Northern Ireland conflict. McVeigh had been used by British military intelligence to infiltrate the East Tyrone IRA and discover how the Provisionals were fleeing into the republic. After he realised the IRA had uncovered the plot, the teenager fled to Dublin and worked as a painter. Homesickness drove him back to Donaghmore, where an IRA squad was waiting. His body was thrown into a ready-made bog grave across the border in Monaghan.

The Irish source added that information on other missing victims, particularly those abducted, killed and buried in secret in South Armagh, was "lacking in total precision and frankly unhelpful". These include Charlie Armstrong, who disappeared in his native South Armagh 22 years ago. His daughter Anna McShane has talked about a "blanket of silence" that came down about her father's disappearance. It is assumed he antagonised the IRA's South Armagh Brigade.

Meanwhile the family of one of the three 'Disappeared' whose bodies have been recovered, Jean McConville, meet tomorrow to discuss funeral arrangements. Some family members want to bury their mother, who was seized, killed and disappeared in 1972, in the same graveyard as the IRA's main republican plot in west Belfast. They are determined their mother's coffin should be carried the full length of the Falls Road.

The McConville family, however, is deeply split, with other children coming under pressure for a more private service. They are waiting for DNA confirmation that remains found on a Co Louth beach a fortnight ago are indeed those of their mother.

Forensic investigations into two of the other 'Disappeared' whose bodies have been found - west Belfast men Brian McKinney and John McClory - can now reveal that both men were shot with one bullet. The Garda Technical Bureau has discovered that the pair were laid on top of each other in a shallow grave and then shot once, the bullet passing through both skulls. The duo disappeared in 1978 after they were abducted because the IRA believed they were carrying out armed robberies without its consent in the republican redoubt.

After they were taken across the border, the men were shot and buried in secret. The IRA claimed that McKinney and McClory had settled abroad - a similar cover story to the one republicans circulated about Jean McConville six years ago. Her reputation was smeared with allegations that she had left her family and gone to England with a British soldier.

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