Dec. 6 was the 20th anniversary of the Irish National Liberation Army’s bombing of the Droppin’ Well Inn in Ballykelly, which killed 17 people. Dec. 7 was the 30th anniversary of the disappearance (and murder) of mother of 10 Jean McConville at the hands of the IRA. Dec. 12 will be the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Seamus Grew and Rodney Carroll at the hands of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Northern conflict has, of course, left behind many such painful anniversaries, most of them now meaningful only to the loved ones of the victims. But in the post-conflict situation, some loom larger than others. These three are a case in point. In terms of sheer loss of life, the bombing was the most gruesome. Eleven of the dead were young, off-duty soldiers, while six were ordinary customers, all but one of them young women.
Yet it is the McConville case and that of Grew and Carroll that remain controversial. McConville’s disappearance left 10 children without their mother within days of Christmas. Her body was never recovered. The shooting of Grew and Carroll, both INLA activists, provoked claims that the police were pursuing a shoot-to-kill policy and became part of the John Stalker probe.
But the 17 dead of Ballykelly caused no such controversy, and apart from existing as memories in the minds of their nearest and dearest, have vanished into oblivion.
This, in the end, is the fate of most victims of wars, whether combatants or noncombatants. It is the cruelest of injustices and one that should strengthen our resolve to make sure that in Ireland at least it will never be repeated.