Michael’s sister Susan, who was eight when Jean was taken, told me that she knew, eventually, that her mother was dead, because otherwise “she would have found her way back to us.”After several months of fending for themselves, the Mc Conville children were separated by the state, and the younger ones were dispersed to different orphanages. The siblings saw each other infrequently and never spoke of what happened to their mother. agreed to help locate bodies that its members had buried in hidden graves during the seventies. He maintains that he never played any operational role in the violence of the Troubles, and that he confined himself to the leadership of Sinn Fein. “It was wrong for the Republican movement to do what they did to your mother.”The first person to speak publicly about involvement in the disappearance of Jean Mc Conville was a former I. As a little girl in Belfast, she sat on the knee of her father, Albert, and listened to stories about how, as a teen-ager in the forties, he had taken part in an I. She and Marian attended teacher-training school, but she gravitated to radical politics, taking part in civil-rights demonstrations and travelling to Milan to give a talk on “British repression” at the headquarters of a Maoist political group. Catholics in the north were subjected to rampant discrimination in housing and jobs, and, with the advent of the Troubles, in 1969, these tensions exploded in violence. raided the Price house repeatedly during this period, suspicious of Albert Price’s I. Hughes devised an ingenious plan to ship the guns back to Ireland. In Adams’s autobiography, “Before the Dawn,” he describes British troops capturing his dog, Shane, and taking him for a walk on a leash, in the hope that he might lead them to his owner.One by-product of the Troubles was a culture of silence; with armed factions at war in the streets, making inquiries could be dangerous. beat Michael Mc Conville and stabbed him in the leg with a penknife. to abandon armed resistance and tolerate a continued British presence in Northern Ireland. Though Adams is the most famous face of the Irish Republican movement, he has long denied having been a member of the I. As the chief Republican delegate involved in peace negotiations, however, he was obliged to confront the matter of forced disappearances, and he met on several occasions with the Mc Conville children. Tensions had persisted in Northern Ireland since 1920, when the Irish War of Independence led to the partition of the island, ultimately resulting in an independent republic of twenty-six counties in the south and continued British dominion over six counties in the north. New paramilitary groups loyal to the British Crown were emerging, including the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association, and that January loyalist mobs attacked civil-rights protesters as they marched from Belfast to Derry. In 1969, the Queen Elizabeth 2 began making stately transatlantic crossings between Southampton and New York. had just a few dozen members, and was therefore easy to track. Adams and Hughes became targets of assassination, and they perpetually moved among safe houses, counting on support from the community in West Belfast.The family continued to live in Divis Flats—a housing complex just off the Falls Road, in the heart of Catholic West Belfast—but had recently moved to a slightly larger apartment.
It set up a washing service called Four Square Laundry, issued coupons offering steep discounts, then sent a van into Catholic neighborhoods to pick up and drop off clothes. West Belfast was a hazardous place for an adventurous kid, but Michael had no fear, he told me: “Most boys didn’t, being brought up in a war zone.” On one occasion, he scaled the façade of an old mill only to discover a unit of British soldiers encamped inside.
Clockwise from top right: Dolours Price; Gerry Adams; Jean Mc Conville and three of her children; I. Mc Conville had just taken a bath when the intruders knocked on the door.
men at the funeral of Bobby Sands; Divis Flats, the Belfast housing project from which Mc Conville was abducted.
Four men and four women burst in; some wore balaclavas, others had covered their faces with nylon stockings that ghoulishly distorted their features. Jean Mc Conville put on a tweed overcoat and a head scarf as the younger children were herded into one of the bedrooms. A couple of the men were not wearing masks, and Michael realized, to his horror, that the people taking his mother away were not strangers—they were his neighbors.
Divis Flats had been constructed in the late nineteen-sixties, in one of those fits of architectural utopianism that yield dystopian results.