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Sixth search of a Co Monaghan site for the remains of one of the ‘Disappeared’ begins

Since 1999, there have been five searches of Bragan Bog for Columba McVeigh’s body.

Columba McVeigh
Columba McVeigh

Updated Oct 3rd 2022, 12:38 PM

A SIXTH SEARCH of a Co Monaghan site thought to contain the remains of one of the ‘Disappeared’ has begun.

The Disappeared is the name given to the group of 17 people who went missing and were presumed to have been killed during The Troubles.

Columba McVeigh, who was murdered and secretly buried in 1975, is one of four people, alongside Joe Lynskey, Robert Nairac and Seamus Maguire, whose bodies have not yet been discovered.

Since 1999, there have been five searches of Bragan Bog, near Emyvale in Co Monaghan for McVeigh’s body.

The most recent search of Bragan Bog for McVeigh’s remains ended in September 2019.

However, the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), which is in charge of locating the remaining bodies, has returned to the site today to carry out a further search.

Geoff Knupfer is the ICLVR’s lead forensic investigator and he says he remains “convinced that Columba was buried in Bragan Bog”.

He says the number of unsuccessful searches to this point has been “deeply disappointing and frustrating, especially for the McVeigh family”, but adds: “In this work, that is not in itself unusual I’m afraid.”

Knupfer noted that in 2014, the ICLVR found Brendan Megraw’s remains fifteen years after the first search of Oristown Bog in Co Meath.

“We constantly review information and refine it,” said Knupfer.

He adds that this current search of Bragan Bog would not be taking place “unless we believed that there was a credible reason for doing so”. 

Knupfer also appealed to anyone who may have information on McVeigh’s remains to come forward.

“Even though we are searching an area, that does not mean that people should assume that we have all the information we need,” he noted.

“Anyone who knows something that could help recover Columba’s remains should get that information to us, safe in the knowledge that it will be treated in the strictest confidence”.

Jon Hill is the senior investigator with the ICLVR and will take operational control of the search.

He explained: “We are looking at an area of around two acres in total, which we’ll work on in two phases. 

“I can’t put a timeframe on the search but obviously we would hope to see success in phase one which starts today.

“In terms of how the search will progress, much will depend on the weather and the state of the bog as we move through the autumn.”

Hill notes that part of the area if forested which poses an additional challenge, but he added: “We’ll deal with that if we have to further down the line.”

“We are working with a highly experienced team of contractors and archaeologists,” said Hill, “and we will do our utmost to bring this search to a successful conclusion for the McVeigh family.”

Meanwhile, Knupfer reiterated an appeal for information in the other three outstanding cases, of Joe Lynskey, Robert Nairac and Seamus Maguire.

“The role of the ICLVR is purely humanitarian and our only desire is to bring the remains of their loved ones home to their families so that they can be given a Christian burial”, said Knupfer.

“But we need help to do that. We need information on all the outstanding cases and I want to emphasise that any information that comes to us can be used only to locate the remains of those still missing.”

He added that a Crimestoppers reward of $60,000 (€61,300) put up by an anonymous donor is still in place.

‘Deja vu’

McVeigh’s brother, Oliver, said his family are hoping they may finally be able to find him and give him a Christian burial alongside their mother.

“It’s a bit like deja vu except for the final ending that we want,” he told the BBC.

“We’re hopeful that this time we can find Columba’s body and give him a Christian burial in a Christian grave like everybody else, but we just have to wait and see.

“We’ve had five false dawns before so we just have to leave it up to the people that are doing the work, and hopefully come up with a result.”

He urged anyone with any information that may help to find his brother to come forward.

“Any piece of information could be the one that they need to get this thing over the line,” he said.

“I’m always hopeful and this time for some reason gave me some added hope. I know it’s (the search) close to where it was before, but this time gives me a wee bit of added hope.

“But I’ve had this before five times with five disappointments but I’m not going to go away. I’m like a dog with a bone. I’m going to keep fighting and keep scrapping and keep at these people till I find my brother’s body.

“It’s not for me, it’s more for my mother who always wanted this to happen and made me promise when she knew she wasn’t going to live, to get this to happen. She always said she would go to her grave happy if Columba was in the grave with her and her husband.”

In a statement this afternoon, Justice Minister Helen McEntee also called on those with information on The Disappeared to make it available to the ICLVR.

She said her thoughts were with the McVeigh family and expressed her hope that the latest search would be successful.

“At this time we think also of the other families who still await the return of their loved ones’ remains,” McEntee said.

“The commission’s investigations are complicated and difficult, and information from the public is crucial to its work. Someone out there may know something that might help.

“I would call on anyone with information that could help recover the remains of those still missing to pass that information to the Commission without delay, safe in the knowledge that it will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

Contains reporting from Press Association.

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