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Family waits in hope for identification of remains

August 3, 2010


By Brónagh Murphy

It could be up to a month before the human remains found at Inniskeen on Thursday are formally identified as those of missing Crossmaglen man, Charlie Armstrong.  

Indications strongly suggest that it is the body of the father-of five – who has been missing for 29 years – that was discovered by a forensic search team working for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR).

The team had been searching for Mr Armstrong in the area of bogland just across the border following information given anonymously to the Commission.  A map pin-pointing the site was handed over to Commission officials last July and contained information described at the time as ‘a major breakthrough’.

Mr Armstrong’s 80-year-old widow Kathleen has spoken of her ‘deep relief’ at the discovery and said her family’s torment was finally coming to an end.

“Charlie was a good Christian man and now we can finally lay him to rest with dignity,” Mrs Armstrong said.

“I’m delighted, not for me but for my children, it’s been torture.  Unless you’ve been through it you couldn’t possibly understand what it’s been like.”

Mrs Armstrong thanked the Commissioners for their work.

“They are wonderful men.  Words can’t express how grateful we are to them,” she said.

‘Almost There’

The remains were removed to Dublin on Friday and a spokesperson for ICLVR said the formal identification process would take some time.

Awaiting confirmation, Charlie Armstrong’s son, Terry, said finding their father has always been ‘the most important thing’ in their lives.

“After all this time a few more weeks aren’t really going to make that much difference,” he said.

“We’ve spent almost thirty years waiting and thankfully now we’re almost there.”

Community shares in family’s relief

By Brónagh Murphy

Community and political representatives in Crossmaglen and across the north have expressed their shared sense of relief with the Armstrong family at the discovery of the remains of Charlie Armstrong.

Prayers were said at Mass in Crossmaglen and in neighbouring parishes while people in the town have offered their sympathy and  support to the family.

Sandra Peake of the Wave Trauma Centre in Belfast, which works closely with the families of the ‘Disappeared’, said she had spoken to Mr Armstrong’s family and said they were “trying to take in the news”.

“They are overwhelmed and in a state of shock, they’ve waited a long time for this,” she said.

MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, said he hoped the discovery will bring a sense of closure to the Armstrong family.

“The Armstrong family have endured an unimaginable suffering over the past thirty years.  While nothing can compensate for the loss of a loved one, I hope that the discovery of these remains will ultimately bring the family a sense of peace,” he said.

Sinn Féin councillor in Crossmaglen, Terry Hearty, visited the Armstrong family.

“On speaking with members of the family they expressed their relief that finally the wait was over.  They will now be able to have a funeral and visit a grave and this means so much to them.  I am happy that there has been a resolution to this case and the family can move on, they will remain in my thoughts over the next weeks and months,” Mr Hearty said.

He also appealed to anyone with information which could help other families in the search for their loved ones to come forward.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley, who recently brought a motion to the Assembly calling on those with information on the Disappeared to bring it forward, said the torment endured by the Armstrong family cannot be underestimated.

“The family have maintained their patient campaign with dignity, asking only that the remains  of their loved ones be returned to them for burial to help them to bring to an end what has been for them a lifetime of suffering and waiting.  As well as a time of relief for them it is without doubt a time of great sadness,” he said.

“At this time one cannot help but think of those who are still awaiting news of their loved ones.  Those who have information must now do what is necessary to help put right the wrongs which have been visited on these families.  I would appeal once again for any one who has any information on the Disappeared to give it to the relevant agencies and help bring closure to the families,” Mr Bradley added.

Councillor Geraldine Donnelly said the family can be assured of the support of the community.

“I know that there will be great relief mixed with deep sadness but I am sure that their strong faith will strengthen them over the coming difficult weeks.  It will no doubt be a support to them to know that they have the support and prayers of their friends and neighbours,” Councillor Donnelly said.

Tireless campaign spans three decades

By Brónagh Murphy

A tireless campaign that has spanned three decades is finally drawing to a close for the Armstrong family from Crossmaglen.

Since the disappearance of her husband Charlie on August 16th 1981, Kathleen Armstrong has never given up hope that one day she would have the opportunity to finally give him a Christian burial.

A deeply religious woman, she prays daily for those who were involved in her husband’s disappearance and murder and always hoped that one day someone would come forward with enough information to lead to the recovery of his body.  Now that day has come.

Mrs Armstrong says it is with ‘relief and sadness’ that she and her family welcomed the news from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains that it had uncovered human remains during its search of bogland outside Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan on Thursday.

The search had concentrated on a previously unsearched area which had been depicted on a map handed anonymously to the Commission last year.  At the time, the information was described as ‘a major breakthrough’.

Frank Murray from the ICLVR said the formal identification process of the remains found on Thursday could take up to four weeks.

“We can’t be absolutely confident it is him but we have for some time being conducting a focused search on the site for Charlie Armstrong and nobody else.  We did find skeletal remains, but it will require DNA examination to establish the precise identity,” he said.

Mr Murray confirmed searches were continuing in Counties Monaghan, Meath and Louth for the remains of other people murdered and buried at secret locations.

The Republic’s Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, thanked the commission for its work in the last number of years.

“Their work is very valuable in bringing closure for the families of the Disappeared,” he said.

“It allows families the opportunity to say a final farewell by burying their loved ones with dignity and at family graveyards which they can visit and pay their respects.”

Although it may take several weeks for the remains to be formally identified, the examination is expected to confirm that it is the body of the Crossmaglen father-of-five.

This confirmation will hopefully bring to an end the long torment endured by this family and allow them to grieve for the father missing from their lives for 29 years.

Disappeared

57-year-old Charlie Armstrong was on his way to Mass in Crossmaglen when he disappeared. Days later his car was found abandoned outside the Adelphi cinema in Dundalk.

One of the ‘Disappeared’, it is widely believed that the IRA was responsible for murdering and secretly burying Mr Armstrong, however the group has always denied any involvement in his disappearance.

Appealing for information on his whereabouts over the years, the Armstrong family has always stated they bore no animosity towards those involved in Charlie’s disappearance.  Their overriding desire was just to have him returned to them for a Christian burial.  It would seem, at last, their wish will finally be realised.


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