herald

Tuesday 29 July 2014

IRA left McConville children with 52p and a life of misery

THREE weeks after their mother was killed, someone called to the flat and gave Jean McConville's children her purse. It had 52p in it.

I bet it was the big, battered kind of purse my Mam had. Back then, mothers carried their lives in their purses, and it was the font of all blessings in a house if it was full and a source of anxiety if it was empty.

Jean McConville only had 52p left on the day she was murdered by the IRA – times were tough if you were a widowed mother of 10 children in Belfast in 1972.

I don't know why the purse plays on my mind so much. I suppose it's because I can imagine Jean McConville carefully doling out her pennies in the wake of her husband's death and thinking: "I'm just about holding it together for them."

But the psychotic IRA unit that killed her had no thought for her children. The only argument Republican Brendan Hughes records in the Boston tapes is about whether her body should be buried or left out in public because she was accused of informing.

According to Hughes, Gerry Adams wanted her buried because she was a woman, while other IRA leaders wanted her body to be put on display because otherwise what was "the point" in killing her?

We only know what happened to this mother because a storm in 2003 exposed her poor remains on Shelling Hill Beach in Co Louth.

PLEADED

She had cracked bones and mutilated hands from having been tortured. She had been shot in the back of the head, allegedly in a kneeling position.

Panic and pain probably overcame her fears for her children in her last moments, but any mother knows what she must have pleaded as she was led away: "Don't take me, what will happen to my children?"

I don't think she could have imagined that her youngest seven would be left to fend for themselves for six weeks under the care of their eldest sister, Helen, who was only 15 years old.

How could those neighbours have turned away from seven young children?

Did they believe the "informer" stories, and did the children have to pay the price?

Or were they simply scared of the IRA?

What were the social services doing that they let murdered Jean McConville's children go hungry for weeks before they stepped in and scattered them to foster homes?

Well, they didn't even investigate the murder until 1995, so no surprise there.

If the "informer" story didn't hold up – and the Police Ombudsman found that it didn't – then Jean McConville's murder was the "honour killing" of a woman born a Protestant, living in Catholic Divis and the widow of a Catholic member of the British armed forces.

The British army wouldn't have wanted to get involved in one of those.

Bear in mind that an early explanation of Jean McConville's disappearance was that she had "absconded" with a British soldier, leaving her children to their fate.

No one, on any side, seems to have thought of the children at all.

Even though Brendan Hughes talks like a psychopath in his interview about "getting kills", it's still shocking that neither he nor any of the other Republicans who planned Jean McConville's murder spared a single thought for her children.

VICIOUS

They were only 10 pieces of "collateral damage" in a just war, as far as the IRA was concerned. Ten precious pieces of humanity lodged in the heart of a mother as she was ripped out of their lives by a vicious IRA command and led to her death, clutching her purse with its cargo of 52p.

But Jean McConville's love for her children refused to die with her. It lives on in the hearts of her children and in the courage of Helen as she names her mother's killers.

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