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Family's final farewell to young man murdered by IRA in 1972

Malachi O'Doherty reports from the funeral of Seamus Wright, shot by the IRA in 1972

Published 16/09/2015

Grief stricken: family and friends of Disappeared victim Seamus Wright attend his funeral at St Agnes’ Church in west Belfast
Grief stricken: family and friends of Disappeared victim Seamus Wright attend his funeral at St Agnes’ Church in west Belfast
Seamus Wright’s sister Briege helps to carry his coffin
Grief stricken: family and friends of Disappeared victim Seamus Wright attend his funeral at St
Lost life: a picture of victim Seamus Wright

A set of rosary beads was found in the pocket of Seamus Wright when his body was recovered last month from a secret grave in a Co Meath bog along with Kevin McKee, another of the Disappeared.

Both men were murdered and buried by the IRA in 1972, in the worst year of the Troubles. At Seamus Wright's funeral Mass yesterday in St Agnes' church in Andersonstown, Fr Brendan Callanan, a redemptorist, told mourners that the young man, when he was shot, also had 'a programme of the 1968 All Ireland Football Final, in which Down beat Kerry'.

And he had the autograph of the Manchester United manager Matt Busby.

He said: "The GAA ban did not get in his way," a reference to the old rule that members did not play or support British games.

Fr Callanan said that Seamus was the third child of the family, and was named after an infant Seamus who had died. "An old tradition in Ireland, let it be said."

He told mourners that Seamus Wright had been a member of the Confraternity at Clonard Monastery, which met once a week to say the rosary.

It was the best that could be done to recover the humanity of a young man who had been murdered in secret and whose death had been concealed for decades.

That murder and burial by the IRA were first acknowledged 27 years after he was shot.

But the word murder did not feature in the homily or at any time in the funeral service, nor were any references made to the IRA. There were no harsh words about those who had detained Wright, ordered his shooting or who had pulled the trigger.

The IRA believed that Seamus Wright (25) and Kevin McKee (17) had been informers, that they had helped an Army unit called the MRF to gather intelligence on republicans. One of the MRF tactics was to run a laundry service in west Belfast, through which it could keep an eye on suspect houses and gather forensic evidence.

After the IRA learned about this it attacked the laundry and killed two undercover soldiers.

Wright and McKee were the first of the many Disappeared, taken three months before the murder and secret burial of the best known of them all, Jean McConville.

It was not a general practice of the IRA at the time to conceal bodies and deny knowledge of those they executed. Up to that point they had only killed three people as alleged informers in Belfast and left their bodies where they had fallen.

That's what they did with John Kavanagh, Martin Owens and Sam Boyd. Those killings have never been explained. Only William Bonner, killed on the same day that Wright and McKee disappeared, was named by the IRA as an informer at this time.

Gunmen went into the club where Bonner was drinking and lined the customers and staff up against a wall then picked him out and shot him in the head in front of the others. The IRA could hardly have been more open about it. But perhaps to have killed three in one day might have presented the IRA as more of a threat to its own base than it could risk, if it was to retain support.

Jean McConville's son Michael was at yesterday's funeral, as were representatives of most of the families of the Disappeared, both those who have been recovered and those whose remains have yet to be found.

Relatives of the Disappeared carried candles forward for each of them, including those yet to be found and prayers were said for them.

Four remain to be found and given proper funerals. They are Joe Lynskey, a former IRA member from Andersonstown, Columba McVeigh, a teenager with learning difficulties from Co Tyrone, Robert Nairac, a 29-year-old Army officer, and Seamus Ruddy, killed by the INLA in France.

Members of the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains attended the funeral Mass, as did local politicians Tim and Alex Attwood of the SDLP.

There was no conspicuous or formal Sinn Fein presence though one sister of Seamus Wright, Briege Wright, has been an active republican.

Mary McArdle, convicted of her role in the murder of Mary Travers, was also there.

Briege Wright was one of the pallbearers carrying the coffin into the church and gave the first reading from Isaiah including the lines: "He will remove the morning veil covering all people.

"He will take away his people's shame..."

She was given a round of applause at the end of the Mass when she thanked those who had helped the family in their efforts to locate Seamus' body.

She said: "All this was made much more possible because of so many people's efforts... including the people who provided the information to the Commission (Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains). We are extremely grateful for this."

The first Victims' Commissioner Ken Bloomfield was at the service. He was the first to recommend that a system be established for recovering the Disappeared.

He said: "I do think the Provos acted in good faith. It's an embarrassment to them; they'd like to get it off their backs."

He said that the murders were "desperate acts committed 30 or 40 years ago with people who were not thinking at the time to remember precisely where they had been so that they could go back there".

There were four priests on the altar for Seamus Wright and three bishops sent apologies for not being there.

Most of the mourners were older people, which seemed anomalous for a funeral for a young man, depicted on the front of the order of service in his suit and with a big smile, on the back, in a cowboy hat.

Yet these were his generation, hundreds of people who had lived through the Troubles as he had not, and seen them through to the end, most no doubt feeling older and wiser than they were in 1972.

And as the coffin was carried from the church some of the mourners wept. Some in the family looked utterly stricken, no less than if they had been burying a young man who had died a few days before.

Belfast Telegraph

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