In December 1972, as the bloodiest year of the conflict in Northern Ireland drew to its close, Jean McConville, a thirty-seven-year-old widowed mother of ten, was taken from her home in Belfast. A gang of men and women had entered the family home in the Divis Flats area of the city, and dragged Jean from her bath. In front of her terrified children, they bundled her into a van and took her away. Her family never saw her again. Her body was buried, some sixty odd miles from where she was taken, and for almost thirty years, the IRA denied having anything to do with her disappearance. After Jean’s remains were officially identified, her family laid their mother’s body to rest with that of her husband in Lisburn (October 2003). Our Lady of the Goldfinches emerges from Jane McNulty’s friendship with Jean’s daughter, Helen, who cannot find peace of mind, even now. Jane writes of Helen, “She needs to know details: when did her mother die, the night of her abduction, or some time later? Where did she spend those last hours and moments, and how? Who killed Jean McConville and who ordered her killing? And why?” This essay combines a critique of contemporary documentary theatre practice with an account of the creation of a play which explores these events and the questions to which they give rise.
Jean McConville; Verbatim Theatre; Disappeared; Northern Irish Drama