Friday, November 8, 2013

Nortehrn Ireland: The Disappeared

As many of you know I am currently residing in Northern Ireland. 

There has been many history lessons given upon my arriving but tonight I watched a documentary on a haunting topic among the locals. "The Troubles" are a common phrase around here. Paramilitary and IRA were other terms with which only 2 months ago I had been completely ignorant of. Passing barbed wired housing areas with specific graffiti art a couple blocks down from my own home didn't seem to cause any alarm. When I inquired about a pub that looked interesting enough a few blocks in the other direction I received comments of, "Oh, you don't want to go there. Paramilitary folk hang out there." 
This meant nothing to me. 

The dictionary refers to paramilitary as being of, relating to, or being a group of civilians organized in a military fashion.

And the The Irish Republican Army (IRA)was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation.


British protestant army and IRA Catholics
Explosions, shootings, and bombings. This is the way life was.

1972- few would make eye contact with soldiers as complete loyalty was demanded by the IRA. 

There were however some odd contradictions in the early days, since the British army held discos in nearby basis and catholic girls came for a night out with British solders. The risk for the night was tremendous for the girls. Tar and feathering was a common punishment for such acts. 

Even helping injured British soldiers was a sin and a woman who did so was in the IRAs sights from there on in -- she was told one of her 10 children were injured and a car was waiting to take her to the hospital ... Instead the IRA took her to interrogate her. She was found early in the morning beaten black and blue. But the IRA came back for Jean.

The IRA broke into her home, some with masks on and took the widow and mother, screaming. 
The oldest child followed outside until a member of the IRA put a gun to his head and turned him away. 
5 days later-a large purse and the wedding rings were handed to the child that answered the door and the IRA member walked away. 

One of the children received a direct threat from the IRA youth ring when they abducted him, put a hood over his head and tied him to a chair with a gun to his head. There was an older man telling the younger ones what to do. Keep quiet or else. 

Eastern Protestants VS Western Catholics

Days after Jean was taken away- this family looked after themselves for nearly a week. The oldest being 16 an the youngest only 6 years old. The neighbors were unsympathetic and the parish priests were as well at only 7 days out of Christmas. 

The children waited for news of their widowed mother but Christmas came and went. 

6 weeks after the disappearance the newspapers finally caught up with the story- front page across Ireland. 

Even in the madness of the times, this was a story - so a scandal went out that she was in hiding and not murdered weeks prior at the age of 37. The newspapers were silenced at this lie. 

The 10 children were outcasts and scattered into care homes across Northern Ireland.

Jean was not the only individual the IRA made disappear- 3 of their own men that same year vanished, including 17 year old Kevin McKee.

Throwing stones and taking down the Union Jack (British flag) and setting fire to it was just what kids did in that era. It seemed a likely match when Kevin joined the IRA, 2nd Battalion 

New members saw themselves as  freedom fighters and Irish patriots. 

Kevin ended up being recruited by British intelligence. The IRA found out and Kevin confessed. A traitor; A spy.

In an attempt to prove his loyalties, Kevin revealed a laundry van cover set up by the British Army, hidden to spy and monitor the IRA. Kevin thought his role in reveling the van saved him but even after the ambush of the van and murder of a British solider the IRA came and put Kevin under arrest and his family never saw him again.The rumor was Kevin was staying away on his own accord and that suited the IRA just fine. His mother searched car boots and in the middle of the night getting the c other children out of bed to search the streets. She eventually suffered from a nervous break down. But a call from Kevin gave hope, asking mom to come to where he was a few towns over. She was currently in a mental hospital so it took her 3 days  set out to retrieve the lost Kevin with her family in tow. But  he was not there when they arrived at the IRA members home. They were sent away empty handed. 

The family is still searching for his remains and the guilt that they weren't able to leave that Friday and had to come on Monday haunts them. They have never heard from Kevin since. 

The disappearing of bodies goes back to the 1920 but the IRA resurrected the practice in 1972;  between the time were bodies were simply displayed on roadsides as a warning to all. 

The rules and as well as the risks were given when you signed up to join the IRA.

Jerry Adams was in a prison camp at 23 years old when he was released to represent the IRA in talks with the British government.He was appointed the Head of IRA Republicanism.

At least 16 people were disappeared during the time of the troubles-15 by the IRA- the practice was stopped in 1981. 

1994 the IRA cease fire changed everything. Campaigns to discover the location of the disappeared started and former US president Bill Clinton was part of that force as an ally in 1995. "I promise to help you find your son" he told one tear soaked mother. Brian, the son in question was accused of taking IRA weapons and using them in a robbery. 

10 year old Columbia disappeared in 1975- shot and buried like a dog. "The bastards didn't have the balls to tell me themselves" said a relative. 

Some of the bodies were at shooting field, another was buried in the front yard of a house. 

The IRA admitted being responsibly for the disappearing and killing of 9 people... but there were more. 
But from burying people to helping to find them, Jerry Adams IRA- republicans moved to helped the mourning. 

1999 a deal with Irish and British governments to find the disappeared sprang forth. The deal with the IR meant that no evidence was permitted to be gathered for prosecution purposes. A matter of hours after the deal was finalized the first body was brought about. The coffin was left under a symbol of the patron saint of lost children and a message saying that last rights had been given before the victim was shot. 

Searches began for the others. 

The woman who went to Clinton got her son back. Brian was found in a double grave just across the border of the North and Republic of Ireland. While evidence for persecution was not allowed the cause of death was assessed. The bodies were shot and dumped into a shallow grave. Large stones were placed on the bodies so that when the bogs rose the bodies themselves would not. 

And a search finally began for Jean. For the children the days seemed longer and longer as she was not there. The diggings continued and she was not found. The info given as to the whereabouts of Jean's body were wrong. 

4 years later a body was found by a local citizen on a beach 31 years after she had been taken. Evidence showed that Jean was held for 6 days, not for interrogating her but solely for squaring away the specifics about disappearing her. 2003 her body was found. The 9 of the surviving children were finally able to grieve. All for showing kindness to a British solider. 

The promise of cooperation from the IRA to help locate bodies of the disappeared came up short. As was seen over the next several years. Many individuals who were not on the official IRA disappeared list were never found... since the IRA never admitted to taking them they refused to help locate the bodies. 

"Whatever you say, say nothing." is a local mantra. But individual IRA members began to break ranks and reach out to families of the disappeared. 

The rumor mill started to say that the disappeared were seen here, there or where ever. The IRA have never admitted to several disappearances. "No claim, no Blame" mantra for themselves. 

"You can' be certain the sun is going to come up in the morning but you'll put money on it" is the same thought process when locals are confronted with the IRA's involvement and responsibility of the killings of several individuals. 

Recovering the dead has been a disappointing process. The hunt for that remaining disappeared is still an on-going search to this day.  

All the families can do is wait and hope for new and better information,
"One day maybe the bogs of Ireland will give up their dead."

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