A prayer before dying: IRA took priest to Disappeared victim before murder
The brother of a man who was killed by the IRA in 1975 has described how a Catholic priest prayed with the victim as a gang waited nearby to carry out the execution.
Martin Molloy's brother, Eamon, was one of the Disappeared - people who were murdered and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
He was 22 years old when he was kidnapped and shot dead due to claims he was a police informer.
Martin Molloy has been speaking about his brother's final moments as part of a new BBC documentary on the Disappeared.
Eamon Molloy was a Catholic from north Belfast who was abducted from the city by the IRA in May 1975.
From that point on he was officially missing for almost 25 years, until his body was discovered in a cemetery near Dundalk, County Louth, in 1999.
His remains had been placed in a coffin and left above ground in Faughart cemetery, on the instructions of the IRA.
It followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the setting up of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains by the British and Irish governments.
Eamon Molloy was the first of the Disappeared whose body was recovered and returned to his family for burial. Seven more bodies have yet to be located.
Speaking to the documentary team, Martin Molloy said that shortly after his brother's funeral in 1999, they were contacted by a priest who told them he had been with Eamon on the night of the murder.
He said Fr Eugene McCoy had heard a news report about the discovery of a body in Faughart and recognised the name Eamon Molloy.
The priest told the family that in 1975 he was based in a parish in north County Louth and one night in May he answered a knock at his door.
A number of men were standing in the doorway, telling him there had been a road accident nearby and the victim needed a priest.
He went with them, but a short time later the men told Fr McCoy that they were holding a prisoner who they believed was an informer.
They were going to execute him, but he had asked for a priest to hear his confession before his death.
The priest told the Molloy family that he was then taken to a mobile home in a rural part of County Louth and led into a bedroom where a young man was lying, tied up on a bed.
Both his hands and feet were bound. Two or three gang members were inside the mobile home, while up to 10 others were outside, playing football.
The priest said he refused speak to the prisoner unless he was untied.
The young man was distraught, and could barely say his own name audibly, but asked the priest to ensure his wife and his mother received two letters he had written during his abduction.
He also asked Fr McCoy to tell his family that he was not an informer.
At this point the priest spoke to one of the men who appeared to be in charge and demanded that they release their prisoner.
"He actually confronted the men and it got a bit heated," Martin Molloy said, but added that the priest had told him that the gang would not listen and his pleas for mercy "fell on deaf ears".
Fr McCoy heard the prisoner's confession, but told the gang that he did not have his rosary beads with him to pray with the condemned man.
"The man who seemed to be in command, or in charge, pulled out a pair of rosary beads and said, 'there's a pair of rosary beads, use mine'," Mr Molloy said.
The family believe that Eamon Molloy was murdered and secretly buried a short time after the priest's failed intervention.
His brother said that, despite the circumstances of Eamon's death, they took some comfort from the priest's account and from the knowledge that someone had tried to help their loved one in his final moments.
"I did feel Eamon's pain, being there alone, being on his own and obviously knowing he was going to be killed.
"He was hopeless, he was powerless, there were 12 to 13 men there and I did feel consoled, slightly consoled, that he had the priest with him at the end, before he died, that he could make his peace with God."
Mr Molloy said when his brother's remains were discovered almost a quarter of a century later he was found to be clutching a small cross in his right hand.
"Obviously he had been holding that when he had been killed. He was holding on, he had his faith."
Mr Molloy added that the question of why Fr McCoy did not contact the police had "crossed his mind" but added that the situation was "not easy" for the priest.
The clergyman was being asked to hear the last confession of a man who was about to be executed by the IRA, because they believed he was a police informer.
Informing the police of such an incident would bring its own risks.
"I'm sure, even in Fr McCoy's own mind and even after this happened in his own life, that he went through his own turmoil and his own struggle of being suddenly in a situation that wasn't of his making.
Part of the interview Mr Molloy gave to the documentary team was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme.
The Molloy family's own parish priest in north Belfast, Fr Paddy McCafferty, told Sunday Sequence that reporting the matter to police could have had consequences for other victims.
"Indeed the question has been raised," Fr McCafferty said. "The answer perhaps is that if he had gone to the police, other people in this position like Eamon at that time would have been denied.
"The IRA might have decided 'well, we're not getting a priest ever again for any person' and they would have had to face into eternity alone."
Fr McCafferty added that Fr McCoy's account of the night had given consolation to the dead man's mother, who had spent almost 25 years without any answers about his death.
He said the discovery of his body "certainly brought some closure at that time, but it brought further consolation to know that his last moments on earth were not devoid of comfort."
Fr McCafferty said that a "dilemma of course existed" for the priest over reporting the matter to police but added that Fr McCoy "would have had no control over what was going on".
"His main focus, for any priest, would have been to care for this young person who was being threatened with death and to minister to him, that was the crucial matter."
He agreed that the IRA's gang's offer of the rosary beads to the dying man was "grotesque".
"It's very hard to reconcile what they were going to do with the fact of a relationship with God, with prayer."
Fr McCafferty, who as a young Belfast curate had ministered to the Molloy family in the aftermath of Eamon's disappearance, led the murdered man's funeral Mass in 1999.
Fr McCoy, who later left the priesthood to get married, died about 10 years ago.
The Disappeared will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland at 22:35 on Monday.