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We haven’t heard much about the IRA in the news lately, but you may recall images of car bombs and masked gunmen from coverage of northern Ireland’s “Troubles” in the 60s and 70s. For decades, Irish nationalist Catholics fought Protestants loyal to Britain.
“This was a series of events that really scarred this corner of the world, and people there still live with these scars every day,” journalist and author Patrick Radden Keefe said.
While the IRA and Britain signed a peace agreement two decades ago, some tensions remain. Keefe decided to explore the ongoing conflict by revisiting the death of Gene McConville, who was killed during the Troubles in Belfast.
In December 1972, a gang of armed people wearing masks stormed McConville’s apartment and dragged the widowed mother away from her 10 kids.
“Watch the children until I come back,” she yelled to her oldest son.
McConville was never seen alive again. After the IRA identified her as an informant, the entire community turned their backs on her family. Her 10 children became wards of the state.
“These are kids who just grew up reeling with trauma, parentless, and really unsure of exactly what happened to their mother, so they were living with that nagging mystery,” Keefe said.
Her assumed death remained unsolved for decades, partially because the code of silence continues even today, according to Keefe.
“For me what matters is the truth, as a journalist I’m going to go out there and discover the truth — and defy the culture of ‘say nothing,'” Keefe said.
McConville’s body wasn’t discovered until 2003, when a man walking on a beach discovered human remains determined to be hers. There was a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
While the murder was many decades ago, Keefe searched for clues in a secret archive assembled at Boston University called the “Belfast Project.” IRA members gave taped interviews to be released only after their deaths. By interviewing key players identified in those tapes, Keefe says he discovered what happened that night. And the killer.
“One thing I discovered as I was doing research for the book — to my surprise — was the identity of the individual who pulled trigger,” Keefe said.
According to Keefe, McConville’s killer is still alive today.
WGN’s Larry Potash has the Backstory.