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A “slum clearance” program had razed a neighborhood of narrow, overcrowded nineteenth-century dwellings, replacing them with a hulking complex of eight hundred and fifty units. had disabled the elevators at Divis to hamper British patrols, so the masked gang hustled Jean and Archie Mc Conville down a stairwell.To Michael Mc Conville, Divis’s warren of balconies and ramps seemed like “a maze for rats.” By 1972, it had become a stronghold for the Irish Republican Army, which was waging an escalating guerrilla battle against the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and loyalist paramilitary groups. It was one of the tallest buildings in Belfast, and the British Army had established an operational post on the top two floors. Michael and his siblings had grown accustomed to the reverberation of bombs and the percussion of gun battles. When they reached the bottom, one of the men pointed a gun at Archie’s face, so close that he could feel the cold barrel on his skin, and said, “Fuck off.” Archie was just a boy, outnumbered and unarmed. On the second level, one of the walls was perforated with a series of vertical slats.Fergus adopts the name "Jimmy" and gets a job as a day laborer.

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An unlikely kind of friendship develops between Fergus, an Irish Republican Army volunteer, and Jody, a kidnapped British soldier lured into an IRA trap by Jude, another IRA member.

When the hostage-taking ends up going horribly wrong, Fergus escapes and heads to London, where he seeks out Jody's lover, a hairdresser named Dil.

“Don’t be stopping for a sneaky smoke,” Jean told her. My mother was crying.” Billy and Jim, six-year-old twins, threw their arms around Jean’s legs and wailed.

It was December, 1972, and already dark at When the children heard the knock, they assumed that it was Helen with the food. She trembled violently as they tried to pull her out of the apartment. ” she shrieked.“I can remember trying to grab my mother,” her son Michael told me recently. The intruders tried to calm the children by saying that they would bring their mother back: they just needed to talk to her, and she would be gone for only “a few hours.” Archie, who, at sixteen, was the oldest child at home, asked if he could accompany his mother, and the members of the gang agreed.

The family continued to live in Divis Flats—a housing complex just off the Falls Road, in the heart of Catholic West Belfast—but had recently moved to a slightly larger apartment.

The stove was not connected yet, so Jean’s daughter Helen, who was fifteen, had gone to a nearby chip shop to bring back dinner.

Four men and four women burst in; some wore balaclavas, others had covered their faces with nylon stockings that ghoulishly distorted their features. Jean Mc Conville put on a tweed overcoat and a head scarf as the younger children were herded into one of the bedrooms. A couple of the men were not wearing masks, and Michael realized, to his horror, that the people taking his mother away were not strangers—they were his neighbors.

Divis Flats had been constructed in the late nineteen-sixties, in one of those fits of architectural utopianism that yield dystopian results.

I was born in Belfast, bang in the Troubles, and I saw what was going on around me, so I didn’t really have a choice but to write about it.

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