By Cate McCurry, Rebecca Black and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The family of a Northern Ireland teenager who was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA said finding his remains would bring an end to their daily torment.
Columba McVeigh, 19, from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, was last seen in November 1975.
Forensic archaeologists and excavators have begun a fresh attempt to locate his remains at a site at Bragan Bog, near Emyvale in Co Monaghan.
It will be the sixth search to find Columba in the area since 1999.
The latest search was confirmed by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) has announced.
Actor Jimmy Nesbitt with Oliver McVeigh, brother of missing Co Tyrone teenager Columba McVeigh, at the search site of Bragan Bog in Co Monaghan. Columba was murdered and secretly buried by the IRA. He was last seen in November 1975. pic.twitter.com/M2PSitH0IE
— Cate McCurry (@CateMcCurry) October 3, 2022
Columba is one of the “Disappeared” victims of the Troubles whose bodies have still to be found.
His brother, Oliver, said Columba was buried and left to die “like a dog”.
Oliver McVeigh, who was aged 14 when his older brother disappeared, said the family want to give him a Christian burial.
Mr McVeigh was joined at the search site on Monday by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, a patron of the Wave Trauma Centre and supporter of the families of the “disappeared”.
Mr McVeigh told PA News agency: “It’s a bit deja vu, we’ve been here before but hopefully this time we will find him and have the ending we want.
“We’ve had days like this before and disappointment before. It’s a bleak area.
“Just imagine taking a 19-year-old out here, walking him out and shooting him like a dog, burying him like a dog and leaving him there, to be never found again. Horrific.
“It’s strange. It’s been four years since the last one (search) but they very fact we are back digging and looking for him, yes that’s good but we want to find him and not waste people’s time and give him a Christian burial.
“It’s important to tell the IRA people, we want to find his body, we are not going away, we want answers, we want people to come and tell us where he is and get the exact spot and bury him.
“We don’t want any incriminations or any investigations.
“We just want the result that will lead to bury him in Donaghmore.
“I am fairly confident he is in this area.
“We will never know and the proof in the pudding is that he has not been found. While we are optimistic, it has been dashed before.”
He added: “Columba and my mother always had a great relationship and he was always bubbly and up to tricks.
“He was happy and funny and liked football.
“It would mean everything to find him.
“We could put him in a grave with my mother and father and we wouldn’t have to keep tormenting ourselves to find his body.
“It would mean the world and my one legacy in life is to find his body.”
Mr Nesbitt said the “disappeared” families have been made to suffer for decades.
“There’s a terrible cruelty about the disappeared.
“For Columba the pain ended when the bullet was put in his head,” he added.
“For the families it still goes on.
“They don’t want revenge, they don’t want an investigation, they just want their loved ones home.
“I spoke to Columba’s sister, Dympna, she went to mass this morning and lit a candle for him.
“She burst into tears at the thought of it happening again.
“It’s such a bleak place and it should be bleak.
“Could you imagine how bleak it was for him when he walked up here, taking his last steps, crying for his mummy.”
The Cold Feet actor said that as Northern Ireland cannot fully move on while still dealing with the “terrible legacy” of the disappeared.
Jon Hill, senior investigator with the ICLVR, will take operational control of the search.
The intricate work involves two digger drivers, two staff assisting the drivers, two forensic archaeologists and Jon.
He would not confirm whether the search has come from new information.
He said: “It’s a progression from the last search in 2018.
“We continually assess situations and information and it feels justified that we should extend the previous search.
“Overall we have about two acres of ground that we want to search.
“I don’t expect to get it all done this year.
“Ideally we would have started earlier in the year.
“I expect we will continue for another month if the weather closes in and then we will come back in spring.
“I don’t intend in going into any details on any information we receive, all of that is confidential.
“But the situation is monitored throughout and there is often information that comes in but I am not going to say that is what has led to us undertaking this search.
“The Commissioners are happy that this search needs to be conducted.
“It’s imperative that all information is given to us.
“There may be people who think we already have enough information and that we can continue with our search, but it’s imperative that every single detail is given to us.
“It’s completely confidential.”
Geoff Knupfer, the ICLVR’s lead forensic investigator, said: “I’ll repeat what I said when we commenced the last search four years ago: we remain convinced that Columba was buried in Bragan Bog.
“The fact that we have not found his remains after a number of searches is deeply disappointing and frustrating, especially for the McVeigh family.
“But in this work that is not in itself unusual.
“Back in 2014 we found Brendan Megraw’s remains 15 years after the first search on Oristown Bog, Co Meath.
“We constantly review information and refine it.
“While we never discuss the information we are working from, suffice it to say we would not be searching unless we believed that there was a credible reason for doing so.”
Mr Knupfer reiterated his appeal for information in four outstanding Disappeared cases, Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh, Robert Nairac and Seamus Maguire.
The ICLVR can be contacted by telephone on 00800 5558 5500, international +353 1 602 8655 or by email at Secretary@iclvr.ie
Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee called on those with information on the Disappeared to provide it to the ICLVR.
“My thoughts are with the family of Columba McVeigh at this difficult time.
“We all hope that this latest search at Bragan Bog in County Monaghan will be successful,” she said in a statement.