Columba McVeigh: Fifth search gives new hope to family of Disappeared victim

Columba McVeigh was 19 when he was murdered and buried by the IRA
Columba McVeigh was 19 when he was murdered and buried by the IRA

The brother of a teenager who was murdered and secretly buried by the Provisional IRA over 40 years ago says his family feels cautiously positive about a new search for his remains.

But Oliver McVeigh said the start of the new search will be hard for his family who have already been through four previously.

Oliver McVeigh said his family would not get their hopes up too high that Columba's body would be found

Oliver McVeigh said his family would not get their hopes up too high that Columba's body would be found

Columba McVeigh, 19, from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone was last seen in November 1975.

It is believed he was abducted and killed by the IRA before being secretly buried at Bragan bog near Emyvale in Co Monaghan.

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) announced a new search will begin in the area today.

Four searches have been carried out since 1999 by the Garda and the ICLVR.

Dympna Kerr, sister of Columba McVeigh, is hoping for an end to her family's torment

Dympna Kerr, sister of Columba McVeigh, is hoping for an end to her family's torment

The latest search for Columba is starting on the 21st anniversary of his father’s death.

Paddy McVeigh died without ever knowing where his son’s remains are buried. His wife Vera passed a decade later, again without answers.

The grave where they lie also has Columba’s name on it – the enduring hope being he will one day join them.

Oliver McVeigh said he and his family have learned not to expect too much too soon.

“It is hard to get your hopes up, you just hope that something is found this time,” he said.

“We have been in this position four times before, we have learned not to expect too much too soon.

“But you never know, we are positive enough.”

The IRA murder victim’s sister said she hopes the new dig will finally end the family’s torment.

Dympna Kerr said her father’s anniversary had added to the “emotional turmoil” of the fresh excavation.

Mrs Kerr, who lives in Merseyside, said: “For years I couldn’t bring myself to stand on that bog where we were eventually told that Columba was buried.

“I went to it earlier this year and it’s a bleak and desolate place and I cannot bear the thought that Columba is out there when he should be beside our mum and dad.

“Knowing that the ICLVR will do everything they possibly can to bring Columba home and also knowing that we have the thoughts and prayers of the other families of the Disappeared gives me the strength to face the coming days and weeks.

“It’s 21 years ago today that dad died not knowing where Columba was buried.

“As every year passes we ask ‘for how much longer must this go on?’

“I can only hope and pray that the torment will end.”

The new search will focus on an area around one acre in size.

ICLVR lead investigator Geoff Knupfer said they remain convinced that Mr McVeigh was buried at Bragan Bog.

“Over the last five years since the last unsuccessful search we have been working to refine the search area,” he said.

“That is what often has to be done when we are searching for a body that has been buried somewhere in a vast expanse of bog over 40 years ago.

“That’s what happened in the search for Brendan Megraw whose remains we found in October 2014 in Oristown Bog, Co Meath some 15 years after searching commenced.

“And we were close to the burial place of Seamus Ruddy in an earlier search before we recovered his remains in France in May last year.

“But ‘close’ is not good enough.

“The fact that we are back on Bragan Bog for a fresh search does not mean that anyone who has information about where Columba is buried should assume that it is no longer relevant.”

Jon Hill, a senior investigator with the ICLVR who will take charge of the initial phase of the search, said they will do all in their power to find Mr McVeigh.

“We carried out a scoping exercise earlier in the year and are now concentrating on an area of around one acre in size,” he said.

“While that is relatively small compared to some of the searches we’ve carried out in the past, each one presents its own challenges and so I don’t want to put a definitive time frame on it.

“Obviously we hope that we have an early success but if that’s not the case then we’ll press on for as long as it takes.

“We have a dedicated and vastly experienced team of contractors and forensic archaeologists working on the search.

“We all know what this means to the McVeigh family and we will do everything in our power to bring this search to a successful conclusion.”

Three of the 16 classified as the Disappeared remain missing.

They are Mr McVeigh as well as former monk Joe Lynskey and soldier Robert Nairac.

Mr Knupfer has issued a fresh call for information which could lead to their remains being found.