Category: Archive

Claudy bombing kin distressed over alleged role of priest

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Detectives told a group of relatives, gathered in a Derry city hotel on Friday, that the British government, the Catholic church and senior police officers involved in the original inquiry had shielded the priest.
Although not named, the priest is known to be Fr. James Chesney, a curate in County Derry at the time of the bombings, popular with parishioners. He was transferred after the bombing to County Donegal and died of cancer at age 46 in Sligo in 1980.
The Catholic primate, Archbishop Sean Brady, expressed his sympathy to the relatives and said he was horrified by the allegations, which brought shame and distress to all Catholic priests.
There’s much speculation in Northern Ireland now about what concessions the British government was given in return for allowing the Catholic church to hide the priest’s republican activities. One theory is that the Catholic church turned a blind eye to the police and British Army bugging confessional boxes. However, informed sources are skeptical.
Nine people, including three children, were killed when three IRA no-warning car bombs exploded in the village. A unit of the south Derry brigade of the IRA carried out the bombing.
Merle Eakin, who lost her 9-year-old daughter, Kathryn, in the attack, said: “We are just hopeful that they will bring justice and the people who are still alive will be brought to justice — that is what we really want.”
Survivor Mary Hamilton, now UUP deputy mayor of Derry, said: “There seems to have been a cover-up and now they are starting to inquire into it. Why did they not do it years ago when the people were still alive?”
Assistant chief constable Sam Kinkaid said a search of 1972 papers clearly showed that a parish priest in south Derry was a “Provisional IRA member actively involved in terrorism.”
He said, “Our enquiries have revealed that a member of the public briefed the then cardinal (Cardinal William Conway, primate of the Catholic church in Ireland in 1972) and a senior police officer on the role of the priest not long after the date of the bombing.”
Police cannot find any record that the priest was ever arrested or interviewed about his alleged involvement in the Claudy bombing, or any other terrorist offence.
Police reopened the case at the beginning of October this year after an anonymous letter was sent to a prominent unionist in Derry city alleging that Chesney was involved in the bombings.
It claimed the priest broke down and confessed his part in the bombing to another clergyman shortly after the car bomb attack. The Catholic church has challenged the authenticity of the letter. One theory is that it was a forgery, written by a loyalist. But even those who accept this do not challenge the letter’s contents.
Ivan Cooper first met Chesney through the priest’s wealthy aunt and uncle, from Maghera, south Derry. “Fr. Chesney was like a son to them. He was in his late 30s, 6 feet tall, dark and strikingly handsome, an extremely magnetic and engaging man,” he said. “He was a familiar sight, haring along the country roads in his sports car, and always managed to look sophisticated, even though he always wore his clerical garb.
“He organized big dances and massive bingo events, where all the little towns and villages round about could join in by radio link for what were huge prizes in those days.”
But a disturbing pattern emerged. Cooper said some of Fr. Chesney’s parishioners began to point out the alarming regularity with which these events would be robbed and considerable takings would vanish without trace.
They suspected they were going straight to the IRA’s coffers, with the priest’s connivance. He said: “It became obvious that Father Chesney was south Derry’s answer to Bonnie and Clyde.”
The Catholic church has always admitted the priest had strong republican views but until now says he vehemently denied any involvement in the IRA or Claudy when questioned in detail on three separate occasions by two successive bishops of Derry.
The youngest victim of the bombing was 9-year-old Kathryn Eakin, who was cleaning the windows of the family grocery store when the bombs exploded. The other people killed were Joseph McCluskey 39, David Miller, 60, James McClelland, 65, William Temple, 16, Elizabeth McElhinney, 59, Rose McLaughlin, 51, Patrick Connolly, 15, and Arthur Hone, 38.

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