Human remains found in County Louth, near a site where the IRA claimed to have buried a mother-of-ten, have been identified as belonging to a woman.
Garda officers accompany a coffin being removed from the beach
Jean McConville was abducted from her west Belfast home in 1972, after she went to the aid of a fatally wounded British soldier outside her front door.
The 37-year-old was one of the so-called Disappeared who were murdered by the IRA and secretly buried during the 1970s.
On Wednesday, the gardai said bones had been found by a man out walking with his children at Shelling Hill beach, near Carlingford.
They have now confirmed that the remains belonged to a woman. A post mortem examination will take place on Thursday and DNA tests are expected to take several days to complete.
A garda spokesman said: "We believe that the body may be that of a female based on some items of clothing found there.
"We can confirm the remains were found in a shallow grave.
"The body is now going to Dundalk for a post mortem examination."
Jean McConville was a mother of 10
The area where the discovery has been made is about a quarter of a mile from Templetown Beach, where previous searches for Mrs McConville's body have taken place.
Relatives of Mrs McConville went to the scene.
One of her sons, Michael, who was just 11 when his mother went missing, said: "We've been told nothing officially yet, but there are an awful lot of coincidences here".
"We hope it may be the end this time."
Carlingford parish priest Father McParland was leading
prayers at the scene with family members.
Mrs McConville's daughter Helen McKendry said she was praying that this was the news she had waited for years to hear, but was waiting for official confirmation about what exactly had been found.
"All these years waiting and not knowing anything, but we have always had the
feeling the body was there," she said.
"I'm just hoping and praying it is, so we can have an end to all this. But our
hopes have been raised so many times."
In 1999, the IRA offered to help locate the bodies of the nine so-called Disappeared but Mrs McConville's remains were not found, despite extensive excavations.
Two searches of Templetown beach, one lasting 50 days, were carried out during the summer of 1999 and May last year.
In 1999, gardai recovered the bodies of Eamon Molloy, left in a coffin in a graveyard in County Louth as well as the remains of John McClory and Brian McKinney, whose remains were found after weeks of digging in a bog in County Monaghan.
However, the IRA was unable to give precise enough information to locate the other bodies.