Belfast Telegraph

Memory of murdered mum to fore as campaigning son makes same final journey

ByIvan Little

One of Billy McConville's last requests was that he should be buried from the same Falls Road church as the mother he barely knew.

Billy was only six years old when the IRA dragged his mum Jean from their home in Divis Flats in Belfast in December 1972 to shoot her in the back of the head, claiming that she was an informer - allegations rejected as ludicrous by her family.

Billy and his nine siblings never saw their mother again. And it wasn't until 31 years later that the remains of the most prominent of the so-called Disappeared were found by chance on a beach in Co Louth.

In November 2003 the McConville children finally got the chance to say an emotional farewell to their mother at a Requiem Mass at St Paul's Church opposite the Royal Victoria Hospital.

And Billy, who had spoken so publicly about the abuse he suffered in the years after he was taken into care, told his family that it was important to him that his funeral service should be at St Paul's too.

Nearly 14 years ago, representatives from the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists were among the hundreds of mourners who gathered at the landmark red-brick church, but yesterday leading politicians were conspicuous by their absence at father-of-four Billy McConville's funeral.

And even though it had been 45 years since his mother was abducted, she wasn't forgotten yesterday. Far from it.

In the hearse behind her 50-year-old son's coffin was a photograph of Mrs McConville and a drawing based on it - the only image the family have ever had.

Inside the church Billy McConville's ex-British soldier father Arthur, who, like his son, died from cancer, was remembered in prayer along with his wife Jean, whose abduction came eight months after her husband's passing.

In recent years there have been regular reports of tensions among the McConville children.

But yesterday the eight surviving siblings, including Billy's twin Jim (below), were all at St Paul's, carrying, or walking behind, his coffin in solemn unity.

During a series of tributes to a "caring, loving, funny and compassionate" man, his daughter Aime said of her "strong and unbelievably brave" father: "You built your bridges and you brought your family back together."

Fr Patrick McCafferty, who was frequently by Billy's side during his illness, namechecked all of his brothers and sisters at the start of his homily, including Helen McKendry, who spearheaded the campaign to pressurise the IRA into revealing where it had buried her mum. The McConville family yesterday talked quietly of their determination to continue their brother's fight for justice in his name for the victims of State and Church abuse.

Not long before his death Billy, who'd given evidence at the HIA inquiry, tearfully urged politicians at Stormont to settle their differences and help bring closure and compensation to the victims.

And there was a welcome yesterday from campaigners that the former First Minister Peter Robinson had, that very morning, called for immediate action to compensate abuse victims after the payments proposed by the HIA inquiry were delayed because of the Stormont impasse.

"It's a pity Billy never got to hear that," said a friend. "But it's better late than never for the other victims."

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