Why, I wonder, of all the horrors that the Troubles visited on us, is the death of Jean McConville receiving such attention? Perhaps because she was a woman and a mother of ten children. Perhaps because her body was not discovered for decades after her death. Perhaps because it seems so horrible that a person would be killed for helping a dying soldier. There was an investigation into claims that she had been passing information secretly to the authorities – that is, spying – but an investigation found no evidence of this. She was killed, as were many others, by the IRA. Whether it was because she comforted a dying soldier, or because the IRA thought she was passing information to the authorities, seems to matter little now.
Her death certainly was a cruel and brutal one. As were so many other deaths during the Troubles. From the many hundreds, here are a few.
“When they killed my darling, they killed me too. Despite my outward appearance I am dead, so this seemed a sensible solution. Let me also tell you, Mum and Dad, how very much I love you and how very sorry I am for the pain I’ve caused.”
– Note left by girl who took her own life after loyalists killed her boyfriend
“As I bury my son, both of you bury your pride. I don’t want any mother or father going through what my wife and I went through today. Please stop this. Bury your pride with my boy. To those who’ve done this, I and my family forgive you.”
– Father of Catholic man shot by loyalists
“I took hold of the other Catholic and set myself up as judge, jury and executioner. I beat him to death with a breeze block in an alleyway off the Shankill.”
“Nobody, nobody, has ever, ever, ever said to me, ‘I’m sorry about your eldest son, your first-born son, I am sorry that I killed your son’.”
– Mother of Derry youth knocked down by an Army vehicle
“The despair would hurt you now and again. I’ll never get rid of her name – she wrote it anywhere, inside the airing cupboard and on books. I was changing a pillowcase and she had written her name on the inside of it.”
– Mother of 14-year-old schoolgirl killed by a plastic bullet.
And then there are the dozens of deaths catalogued by Anne Cadwallader in her book Lethal Allies, where innocent people were killed by loyalist gangs working in conjunction with British military authorities.
None of this is to take away an iota from the suffering caused by Jean McConville’s death or the suffering passed onto her ten children. But so harrowing are even the few cases I’ve instanced above, I can’t rid myself of the suspicion that Mrs McConville’s death has been plucked out from the hundreds of other heart—crushing stories because it can be used as a political weapon. Do those who shout loudest about the pity of her lonely death secretly rejoice in the political club it provides?
Perhaps I’m wrong – I don’t know enough about the case. But if I am, the question remains: why her?