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Father James Chesney

Claudy bombings: Father Chesney, the 'Provo Priest'

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Father James Chesney

Read more - Church, police covered up priest's role in IRA gang that killed nine in 1972 bombing

Father James Chesney , today named as the priest IRA bomber who led an IRA operation that killed nine civilians in Claudy, County Derry, was a charismatic figure who was deeply affected by Bloody Sunday in Derry when14 nationalist were killed.

Chesney was fingered in the IRA killings by a fellow priest who in 2002 under the name ‘Father Liam’ wrote to the Northern Irish authorities saying Chesney had confessed the crime to him  said he had met Chesney at a house in Malin Head, County Donegal.

"We talked long into the evenings about the situation in the north and then, one evening, [James] broke down in a flood of tears and said he had a terrible story to tell," one of the anonymous letters revealed.

"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."

Chesney was ordered by the IRA to place bombs in Claudy to remove pressure on the IRA brigade in Derry after  the breakdown of the 1972 ceasefire.

According to Father Liam , Chesney wanted to give advance warnings of the Claudy bombs so that the town could be cleared.

But when they stopped at the nearby town of  Dungiven the IRA men could not find a telephone box in working order. "This horrible affair has been with me now for 30 years and it has been hanging over me like a black cloud," Chesney allegedly told Father Liam. "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."

When suspicions about his role first emerged publicly, back in 2002.

The former local MP  Ivan Cooper also recalled his first meeting with the charismatic priest who, was accompanied by his wealthy aunt and uncle, Willie and Betty Noon.

It was the early 1970s, before the Claudy bombings. "They arrived at my house in a bright red Mercedes," Cooper remembered. "She was dripping with furs and waving a long cigarette holder. Later, I was invited to their house for what they called 'soirees'. There was always a fair sprinkling of priests, including their nephew, Father Jim Chesney, who was a curate nearby.

"The Noons had no children; Father Chesney was like a son to them. He was in his late 30s, 6ft tall, dark and strikingly handsome, an extremely magnetic and engaging man. He was a familiar sight, haring along the country roads in his sportscar, and always managed to look sophisticated, even though he always wore his clerical garb.

"He was polite and articulate and I was not aware his political views were very different from his aunt and uncle's until some time later when I went to a meeting of his parishioners where he asked some pointedly republican questions but in a subtle and courteous way.

"At the time, many priests were very active in running large social events, but Father Chesney was in a different league. He organised big dances and massive bingo events, where all the little towns and villages round about could join in by radio link for what were huge prizes in those days."

Some suspicions were aroused before he was disciplined and moved across the border. Father Chesney's raffle proceeds were often robbed and people suspected it was a set up with the IRA.

Cooper was convinced of Chesney's republican sympathies. "It became obvious that Father Chesney was Derry's answer to Bonnie and Clyde," he said.

Chesney died of cancer in March 1980, aged 46. The "Provo Priest" was questioned three times by  bishops of Derry about his role but always denied he took part.

Read more - Church, police covered up priest's role in IRA gang that killed nine in 1972 bombing

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