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Say Nothing

A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

By Patrick Keefe
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Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe

Say Nothing (2018) explores a shocking true story of murder during the Northern Ireland Conflict. These blinks are a compelling meditation on one of the darkest chapters of Irish history, and shine a light on some of the key figures in the conflict as well as the period’s most notorious atrocities.

Key idea 1 of 7

In the midst of the Northern Ireland Conflict, Jean McConville disappeared without a trace.

At 38 years old, Jean McConville had already given birth to 14 children, four of whom had since died. Her husband, Arthur, had died of lung cancer the year before, and now she was raising her ten children alone and with little money. The family lived in an ugly housing estate, in a damp flat where black mold crawled up the walls. Needless to say, life wasn’t easy for Jean.

But on that cold December night, things were about to get much worse.

When Jean heard the doorbell ring she was in the bath after a long day. Assuming it was her daughter Helen returning from the local fish and chip shop with supper, her other children opened the door.

But it wasn’t Helen.

Instead, a group of men and women entered the McConville home. Some wore balaclavas, but others didn’t, and the children recognized them as their neighbors. The group told Jean that she needed to get dressed and accompany them downstairs, to a van waiting outside.

As she left her children behind, Jean told them not to worry – she would be back soon.

She was never seen again, and her children would spend the next three decades wondering what had happened to their mother.

But how could a seemingly ordinary Northern Irish woman disappear without a trace?

The answer, it turned out, lay in the dreadful conflict that had engulfed Belfast and the whole of Northern Ireland three years earlier. Jean McConville was a victim of the Troubles.

This is what people often call the Northern Ireland Conflict, which began in the late 1960s. At that time, the region’s Catholic inhabitants had long been the victims of discrimination and institutional racism at the hands of their Protestant neighbors. Even though Catholics made up around 50 percent of the region’s population, they were routinely excluded from good jobs, decent housing, the police force and political power.

Indeed, the situation was so dire for Northern Ireland’s Catholics, that thousands had already chosen to emigrate in search of a better life, leaving for places such as America, Australia and the Republic of Ireland itself.

But not everyone was ready to give up and get out. In the late 1960s, many young Catholics in Northern Ireland were looking to improve their situation, and violence seemed like the only answer.

It was this violence that would eventually take Jean McConville’s life.

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