BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: UK: N Ireland  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 12:53 GMT
Who was Father James Chesney?
Who was the Catholic priest believed to be behind the 1972 Claudy bombing?

There are many scars on the collective memory of Northern Ireland's troubled history.

But the Claudy bombing in 1972 remains one of the most visible because there were repeated allegations that a Catholic priest may have been involved in the atrocity.

CHESNEY QUESTIONED:
He denied that utterly, unequivocally, vehemently - he did say that he has republican sympathies, very strong republican sympathies

Bishop Edward Daly, Bishop of Derry
Father James Chesney is no longer alive to talk about 31 July 1972 when three bombs tore apart the small village in the Sperrin Mountains, a few miles from Londonderry.

But when he died in 1980, he did so knowing that his name had been spoken of time and time again in relation to the bombing that killed nine people of both traditions, including a nine-year-old girl.

Rural curate

Father Chesney was the curate in Cullion, one of the smallest parishes in County Londonderry, near to the village of Desertmartin.

It is an area of rural natural beauty, seemingly a world away from the violence of Belfast and Derry.

In the wake of the bombing, allegations began to surface that suggested Chesney was an active member of the IRA's South Derry brigade.

It was claimed that he had joined the republican movement in anger over the deaths at the Bloody Sunday civil rights march in January that year.

The then local Stormont SDLP MP and organiser of that march, Ivan Cooper, was among the first to hear the claims but did not have enough evidence to prove the suspicions.

Church questioning

Eventually rumours reached Father Chesney's superiors within the church and he was called in for questioning by the then Bishop of Derry Neil Farren.

Ivan Cooper
Ivan Cooper: Suspected Chesney
In an interview with the BBC's Sunday programme this September, Bishop Farren's successor, Edward Daly, told for the first time what happened.

"We spoke to him for a very long time certainly over an hour and we quizzed him very carefully about his position and was there any involvement with the IRA," he told the BBC.

"He denied that utterly, unequivocally, vehemently.

"He did say that he has republican sympathies, very strong republican sympathies.

"We decided that we'd appoint him as a curate in Malin Head [in the Irish Republic] in this diocese.

"I suppose nobody can say for certain whether he was involved or not except those who were involved and I often wonder whether he was or he wasn't."

The mystery letter

Father Chesney died in obscurity in 1980 - but perhaps not before he made a confession to another priest.

He said that he was horrified at the injustices done to the Catholic people and decided to do something - he became a member of the IRA and was soon in charge of volunteers

"Father Liam"
Earlier this year, a letter by a "Father Liam" arrived on several doormats in Northern Ireland.

It told of how a "Father John Chesney" from Northern Ireland had confessed his involvement in the IRA during a meeting with Father Liam in Malin Head, County Donegal in 1972.

The discrepancy in the name has led some to question the authenticity of the letter.

Father Liam, who has not been identified, said Chesney gave him names of other IRA volunteers and details of the incidents in which he had taken part.

"We talked long into the evenings about the situation in the North and then, one evening, John broke down in a flood of tears and said he had a terrible story to tell," he reportedly wrote.

"He said that he was horrified at the injustices done to the Catholic people and decided to do something for the people. He became a member of the IRA and was soon in charge of a small number of volunteers."

According to Father Liam's letter, Chesney was ordered to place bombs in Claudy to take the heat off the IRA Derry brigade which was suffering a new and sustained assault following the breakdown of the 1972 ceasefire.

Chesney reportedly said they had wanted to leave phone warnings at nearby Dungiven, but could not find a telephone box in order.

"This horrible affair has been with me now for 30 years and it has been hanging over me like a black cloud," Father Liam wrote.

"I must talk to someone in authority before I die. I am an old man now and I must meet my maker with a clear conscience.

"The souls of the deceased are crying out not for vengeance but for justice."

The reinvestigation of an atrocity

Key stories

Profiles

TALKING POINT
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more N Ireland stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes