Great survivor was passionate advocate for victims

Obituary: Billy McConville; born October 11th, 1966; died July 23rd, 2017

Billy McConville, who has died after a short illness, was a survivor of two of the North's greatest horrors. When he was aged six, the IRA abducted his widowed mother, Jean McConville, murdered her, and secretly buried her body. After the murder, he entered a new horror of sexual and physical abuse at the notorious Rubane House children's home in Kircubbin, Co Down. Those horrors left him suffering depression, and wrestling with demons. They also made him a passionate advocate for survivors and victims of abuse. Four weeks before he died, he left his deathbed to join a vigil in support of survivors. Frail from illness, he used his walking frame to stand.

William (Billy) McConville was born in Belfast in October 1966. With his twin Jim, he was youngest of 10 children to Archie McConville, a British soldier, and his wife Jean (née Murray), a Protestant who converted to Catholicism. The family lived in east Belfast, but intimidation forced them to leave. They moved to Divis Flats in west Belfast. Archie McConville, who had left the army, died in January 1972. Jean's health deteriorated, and she fell under IRA suspicion.

An armed gang abducted her about three weeks before Christmas 1972. She was driven to Co Louth, shot in the head, and her body buried beside a beach. The IRA denied murdering her, spreading a scurrilous rumour she had run off with a soldier. Police did not investigate the abduction for 20 years, dismissing reports as a hoax. It was 31 years until the IRA issued an apology.


His early sufferings left it difficult for him to make his way in life. In recent years, he was a volunteer with the Wave Trauma Centre. During those years he showed courage and determination as one of the strongest voices seeking justice for his fellow survivors of institutional abuse. A sign of how early experiences blighted his life is that he was 50 when he had his first birthday party.


Always open and honest, a friend remembered: “When he was on form, he was one of the nicest guys you could meet.” He always encouraged other survivors. One of his proudest achievements was becoming manager of the Wave Trauma Centre’s football team.

Recently it had seemed that, at last, he would receive some limited monetary compensation for his abuse in care. However, failure to re-establish the Executive meant he died before the compensation scheme was finalised.

He is survived by his daughters Aime and Nicole-Ann; sons Matthew and Craig; sisters Helen, Agnes and Suzanne; and brothers Robert, Archie, Michael, Tucker and Jim. He was predeceased by his sister Ann, mother Jean, and father Archie.