Spaghetti Bolognese – with no apologies to Dolmio!!

I know, I know, I know. Spag Bol…Jesus, Wilkins what are ya doing!! Probably the most abused ‘Italian’ dish on the face of the planet. I deliberately ‘bracketed’ Italian there. Marco Roccasalvo, Chef Patron and owner of what is reputedly Ireland’s most authentic Italian restaurant, “Campo de’ Fiori” here in Bray, is horrified by what recipes have been murdered and called ‘bolognese’. Apparently what we’ve all been making for decades are bastardised versions of a traditional Italian dish called ‘Ragu’. And even then there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations depending on where you’re from in Italy.

I must’ve tried 7 or 8 different recipes at least, including my own sauce that has about 15 ingredients. But I’ll soldier on and give you a take on this really tasty version that I found on the Weight Watchers Ireland website. Again, diet or no diet dozens of great recipes are on there worth having a go at, and tinkering with as I am want to do.This is a really simple recipe. There’s no reason to ever buy jars of pre-made sauce, like Dolmio or Ragu.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 sprays Cooking Spray. I used a couple of glugs of olive oil.
  • 400 g round steak mince.
  • 1 medium Onion finely chopped.
  • 1 medium Courgette, grated, top and tail, but don’t bother peeling.
  • 250 g Carrots finely chopped.
  • 1 medium Yellow Pepper, deseeded and chopped.
  • 200 g Mushrooms, sliced. I didn’t use any, someone in our house isn’t a fan…<ehem>.
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped or crushed. Again I used the pre puree’d garlic, so easy.
  • 800 g tinned Tomatoes – see Top Tip on tomatoes below.
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Purèe.
  • 1 tbsp Mixed Herbs.
  • 1 Stock Cube made up with 200ml boiling water.
  • 1 pinch each Salt & Pepper.
  • 240 g Pasta. Use spaghetti or whatever pasta you like. I used wholewheat spaghetti.
  • Fresh basil leaves to garnish
  • Grated Parmesan cheese. Not in the WW recipe.

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Method

I’ve modified the WW method somewhat. For those who must know the unabridged WW version is 9 ProPoints. Main difference is they brown the mince then add in the veg and other ingredients. Unless I can see a reason not to, I always sweat the onions over a low heat, lid on, for 8-10 mins first.

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Heat a large saucepan and spray with calorie-controlled cooking spray / olive oil. Add the mince and brown it well all over. Usually 10 minutes will do. Set aside the browned mince, and the juices, in a bowl or dish, and add a little more oil to the pan. Sweat the onions over an initial medium heat, then a low heat for 8-10 minutes, with the lid on, stirring a few times. Add a tablespoon of water if they look like they’re drying. Add courgette, carrots, pepper, mushrooms, and garlic, stir and cook for another few minutes. Add back in the browned mince incl. any juices, tomatoes, stock and herbs. Mixed together well and bring to a high heat.

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The recipe says bring to the boil, but I’m a firm believer that boiling sauces in cooking kills flavour. Yes, heat it to a very high heat, but try and avoid actually boiling the sauce for long. Similarly when reheating sauces, do it gently over a medium heat and then simmer. It really does help the flavours. Reduce to a simmer and half cover with the lid, and cook for 50 to 60 minutes stirring a few times. Serve with whatever pasta you like, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. Leftovers can be used to make lasagne.

This is one of those dishes that tastes even better the following day. This sauce is suitable for freezing.

Top tip on tinned tomatoes from the aforementioned Marco Roccasalvo. Never ever buy tinned chopped tomatoes. Always buy good quality plum tomatoes. With chopped tomatoes your getting bits of possibly not great quality mixed in. With plum tomatoes you can see you’re getting the whole thing. Usually 5 per tin. I completely agree, and usually blitz them with a hand blender before cooking. You can hand chop them if you wish.

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Original recipe © Weight Watchers International. Link here: http://bit.ly/1lZCzm6

Blogpost © David Wilkins – June 2014

Chicken Badami by Gordon Ramsey

Alan gave me this book of Indian recipes by Gordon Ramsay, “Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape”, some time ago for either Christmas or a birthday. I’ve tried a few of them, and decided to give this one a go as I hadn’t tried it before. Badami means almond apparently, in which of India’s 22 official languages I’m not sure. It has a lot of ingredients but it’s really not difficult as most of them are flavours or spices and mostly go in all together.

This recipe serves 4, though I only made it with two chicken breasts.

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Ingredients

  • 500g boneless chicken cut into chunks. (Thighs or breasts)
  • 4 Garlic cloves (I use ready crushed garlic)
  • 2 cm root ginger peeled and finely grated (I use ready grated ginger)
  • I tbsp lemon juice (absolutely no more)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 25g slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp ghee, or melted unsalted butter
  • 2 onions peeled and finely chopped (I used one very large spanish onion)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamon pods slightly crushed
  • 3 cloves (I didn’t use any as I really don’t like them)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 300ml natural yoghurt

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Toast the slivered almonds over a medium heat in a dry pan. This takes only a couple of minutes. Keep an eye, they’ll burn faster than you might think. Tip onto a plate or ramekin and leave to cool.

Return pan to heat and add the melted butter and onions, and cook for 8-10m minutes stirring occasionally. (recipe says 6-8 mins)

Add cinnamon, cardamon and cloves – fry for 3-4 more minutes. (recipe says 2-3 mins)

Add all remaining spices and ground almonds. Stir in briefly.

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Increase the heat slightly and add the chicken and stir, covering with the spice mix, until the chicken starts to whiten.

Reduce the heat to low, add in the yoghurt, stir until well mixed, cover and cook on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s a mild flavoursome dish. It was really nice, though I used too much lemon and it really sang. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamon pods before serving.

I served with basmati rice, sprinkling the toasted almonds over the sauce.

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Recipe © Gordon Ramsay from his book “Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape” published by Harper & Collins UK – 2010.

Blogpost © David Wilkins – June 2014

Home made Oven Chips

A friend passed a comment related to homemade chips subsequent to a photo I recently posted on Facebook. I had never thought to make homemade oven chips. So today I gave it a whirl. It is stupendously simple to do and only adds 5 to 7 minutes extra than cooking from a bag from the freezer.

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I used a spud I had to hand, a rooster. But the given wisdom seems to be to use Maris Piper, King Edward or Desirée varieties. I’d recommend one large per person minimum, but what ever you want. Pre heat the oven to 220-230 degrees centigrade. Peel the potatoes, and either use a sharp knife to cut them into chips, or use a potato chipper gadget. These have been around for decades, my mum had one when we were little kids.

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Rinse the chips well with cold water and cook them in a pan of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Quickest is to boil a kettle of water while your preparing the chips and power that into the pan, on the hob. Drain them fully and leave to rest for a few minutes. This allows the surface to dry out and fluff up ever so slightly.

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You can use ordinary oil to grease an oven tray. I’d use groundnut oil if you have it, rather than olive oil, which burns quicker. I personally decided to try the olive oil spray as it was handy. I’d probably use groundnut in future. Arrange the chips on the oven tray, and drizzle oil across them, use your fingers to make sure they get well covered, but not too much oil. Again I sprayed them after I arranged them on the tray. You can sprinkle them with herbs of your choosing, thyme or rosemary but I just made them plain.

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Season well and bake for 30 minutes at the top of the oven, turning once after 15-20 minutes. These really turned out delicious. Light and fluffy inside and crispy on the outside. And much more healthy than supermarket bought chips, which typically have a dozen ingredients besides the chips.

You can also use sweet potatoes for something a little different.

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Parmesan Breadcrumb Chicken with light Cream Cheese and Chives

I’m on a bit of a food buzz on my blog recently for some reason. I’ll get back to writing about politics and moaning about the woes of the world soon enough!

This is a makey-uppy recipe…I didn’t get it from anywhere in particular, but it’s a kind of an obvious selection of ingredients. They really were incredibly tasty, albeit I grilled them a little too close to the heat and the crumb slightly burned in spots.

Serves 2 – Adjust accordingly for more people.

Ingredients

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  • 2 medium to large chicken breasts
  • 125g of breadcrumbs (again, I always keep a bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer)
  • 40g of Parmesan finely grated
  • Light Cream Cheese with Chives…or Cream Cheese of your choice
  • 1 Egg
  • Salt and Pepper

Method

  • With a rolling pin gently beat the thickest parts of the chicken breasts to flatten a little
  • With a sharp knife cut a slit along the side of the breast to create a pocket. Be careful not to cut right through.
  • Spread a large teaspoon of Cream Cheese into each pocket

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  • Place the Breadcrumbs, Parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper into a freezer bag and shake well
  • Spread the crumb mix out on a large plate
  • Break the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork

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  • Gently lift each chicken breast and roll it first in the egg, and then in the crumb mix, press down firmly to get as much crumb to stick as you can
  • Place the breasts on a plate, and pour over the remaining egg evenly, and cover the breasts with the remaining crumb, pressing down firmly.

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  • Wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours
  • Grill on a medium to high heat for 18-20 minutes turning occasionally. Don’t have the chicken too close to the heat as the crumb will burn
  • I served these with a baked potato and salad

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Next time I might try putting them on an oven tray with a couple of spritz’s of cooking spray and bake in a preheated oven at 180 C for 20-25 minutes turning twice.

To get a really good coating on breaded chicken, you should first dip the breast in flour and then egg and bread crumb. I just didn’t have any white flour in the larder.

Recipe and blogpost © David Wilkins – June 2014

Chicken, Rosemary and Parmesan burgers

A bemused Alan asked me recently how could I spend so much time on my laptop? Aside from a couple of hours job hunting daily, which has proven to be painfully slow, I’m a complete news junkie and wander around all the major news agencies during the day.

And there’s the photography thing, social media, movies, reading assorted business & marketing articles, and of course constantly looking for recipes that are worth a try.

I came across this gem on the Irish Weight Watchers website – http://www.weightwatchers.ie
They really are incredibly tasty and simple to make. As long as the chicken mince / meat hasn’t already been frozen and thawed, these will keep nicely in the freezer.

Serves 4

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Ingredients

  • 400g chicken mince
  • 6 spring onions
  • Couple sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 25g Parmesan, grated finely
  • 25g fresh white breadcrumbs. I always keep a bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer.

To serve:

  • 4 rolls of your choice, I like the Irish Pride Slimster squares
  • Lettuce or rocket (arugula), tomato and mature cheddar (Cheese not in the WW recipe)
  • Mayo, brown sauce or relish – whichever you like

Method

  • Chicken mince is not the easiest thing to find, whereas Turkey mince is ubiquitous. I got 400g of chicken thigh fillets and blitzed them in the blender. You can use chicken breast fillets for the mince if you prefer. You can of course use turkey mince but I really wanted to use chicken.
  • Finely chop the spring onion and rosemary leaves, and combine all the ingredients in a bowl, season well, and get stuck in with your hands, until everything is evenly distributed.
  • Divide into 4 equal amounts and mould into patties with your hands, or as I like to, make into patties with a burger press, great gadget.

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  • Line the grill tray with foil, and cook under a pre heated grill for 15 minutes or more, turning occasionally. As with all chicken dishes, make sure the juices run clear. As I used thigh fillets, the meat will look slightly pink when cooked.
  • Assemble your burger, and tuck in!

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Recipe © Weight Watchers International

Blogpost © David Wilkins – May 2014

Spicy Tomato and Butternut Squash Soup

I usually make a sambo for lunch, or if there’s a leftover portion of something we had for dinner in the fridge. But now and again I’ll make soup, and have it with home made brown bread if I’d been moved by the muses.

This vegetable soup is again courtesy of the WeightWatchers folk and is fat free…or as they might say in Eurovision – ‘Nul points’. I’ve tweaked the method a little.

Obviously it’s vegetarian / vegan friendly if that floats your boat.

Ingredients:

6 large tomatoes

1 large Butternut Squash

2 large red onions

1 medium red pepper

1 stick celery (I hate celery so didn’t use any)

1 large carrot

4 cloves garlic

1 red chilli

Salt and pepper

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Pre heat the oven to 190 degrees celcius.

Peel and chop all ingredients into chunks, and spread out on a large roasting tray. I peeled and flattened the garlic cloves with the flat of the knife. Season well.

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Roast for 45 minutes. I tossed the veg with a couple of spoons halfway through

If the veg isn’t soft enough after 45 minutes…the carrots will be the test…add the 500 mls of water, boiling, to the tray and roast for another 10 minutes.

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If all the veg is fully cooked, again the carrots will be the last to be done, add the 500 mls of boiling water into the tray and stir in the veg thoroughly. This will help deglaze the pan a little.

I personally find 500 mls of water is not nearly enough, so I added another 500 mls when blending, but it depends on what kind of consistency you like.

Blend thoroughly in batches if needs. Be careful the mix may be very hot.

Press through a sieve for a lovely smooth soup, make sure to scrape the outside of the sieve to get everything.

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When cold this will keep in a jug or container in the fridge for a number of days.

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I’d soak the roasting tray ASAP as some bits will have burned on a little.

Recipe © WeightWatchers International

Blog post © David Wilkins – May 2014

 

Movie Review: ‘Frank’

It’s a fair statement that Physics’ loss was the movie industry’s gain. After graduating with a first in Physics from Trinity College, Lenny Abrahamson also took a detour around Philosophy, after he studied for a short while as a PhD candidate at Stanford University. And I think Physics and Philosophy may well have contributed to make him the artist he is today.

Abrahamson has form in exploring characters on the brittle edge of society. In ‘Adam & Paul’ (2004) and ‘Garage’ (2007) he drills into the psyche’s of apparently nondescript, ordinary people through a comedic lens, usually sobering us up in sharp fashion as he reveals his characters Achilles heels, the often tragic tears of a clown. His latest offering ‘Frank’ has no intention of allowing us to laugh uninterrupted until the end either.

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Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bored office worker who dreams of being a musician and songwriter. He has a dull daily routine, in a dull English seaside town, struggling for inspiration as he makes dull attempts at song writing. Jon desperately wishes there had been some childhood abuse, or current mental anguish, from which he could source creative genius. Wandering aimlessly along the seafront on what is just another grey day, he happens across police officers trying to save a man from drowning himself. Standing next to him on the beach, watching the scene, are an odd-looking rag bag of individuals that turn out to be a band of musicians with the unpronounceable name: The Soronprfbs. The man attempting suicide is their keyboard player, and Jon’s chance encounter with The Soronprfbs would lead him down a rabbit hole from which he will emerge a very different man.

Joining the band as their replacement keyboard player, it quickly becomes apparent the band members are all deeply flawed individuals, none more so than lead singer, Frank. Superbly played by Michael Fassbender, Frank is loosely based on the British musician and comedian Frank Sidebottom. He lives his entire life wearing a giant papier mâché head, with grossly exaggerated features painted on, never ever taking it off.

Ill-tempered band member, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the band’s number two, with an ability to control Frank’s darker idiosyncrasies to keep him moving forward in the search for his musical expression. As the band head off to Ireland to write and record, she is wary of Jon’s presence, seeing him as a threat to her position, and some of the funnier moments come from the exaggerated, sparky chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Gleeson.

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Unbeknownst to the band, Jon is tracking their progress in music making, as well as their bizarre daily lives, on social media and in an unlikely turn of events, The Soronprfbs unwittingly go viral. Out of the blue the band is offered a coveted invitation to play at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. What happens in Texas becomes a calamity of near slapstick proportions, tinged with the ultimate revelation of the tragedy underpinning the movie’s plot.

The movie is not without some problems. There are elements that add little or nothing to the story. The unexpected arrival of a German family to the house they’re renting in the middle of Ireland and their bizarre interaction with Frank is unnecessary and has little to do with the underlying plot. Half way through the movie they run out of money and Jon has to use personal funds to support them. That element really adds nothing as we are never asked to question where they got money to survive in the first place. There are also a couple of character issues that bugged me a little. Domhnall Gleeson is a fine actor and delivers his role extremely well, however Abrahamson’s direction occasionally makes the character come across as overly childish, reminding me of Harry Potter’s sidekick Ron Granger.

But overall, ‘Frank’ is a wonderful film. It is extremely well acted and well written and on the whole Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is difficult to fault. Whereas in ‘What Richard Did’  (2012) he used light to wonderful effect, in Frank he uses music as well as ambient sound, and sometimes silence, to accentuate the storytelling. His signature use of shallow depth of field cinematography, delivers a very character-driven experience, as body language and facial expressions are examined in great detail. Moving along at just the right pace, Frank is hilariously funny in places, and quietly melancholic in others.

Lenny Abrahamson is clearly a very capable movie director, and there are similarities in style and communication in his films that hallmark the work as his. But he’s relatively young and I think his best work is yet to come. Maybe something about philosophy or physics.

An edited version of this review was first published on GCN / theoutmost.com May 2014

Review: Frank

© David Wilkins – May 2014

Running time:95 minutes

Rated:15A

Release Date:May 9th 2014

‘WeightWatchers American Burger’

I enjoy cooking, but I’m not one for trying particularly adventurous or weird stuff. I’m usually trying to find the really best recipes for common or garden everyday meals. The best curry, the best shepherds pie or the best Italian dishes I can find, and I’ve tried recipes from a range of sources, usually Irish, like Avoca, Donal Skehan, Neville Maguire, Domini Kemp or any number of the members of the Allen family. There’s also the usual collection of British chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and others, and recipes from the weekend supplements. Burgers are a dish we’ve always enjoyed and I’ve tried a range I’ve come across over the years. Surprisingly, probably the tastiest one I’ve ever made came from one of the two WeightWatchers cook books we have in the collection of almost 30 books. It’s not that I’m trying to loose weight or anything but they have a terrific collection of really healthy recipes and I’d recommend you give them a lookup if you like cooking. We use them all the time.

This recipe is really simple to make, takes very little effort and is well worth giving a shot. I have added a couple of minor amends to the methodology rather than following the recipe to the letter that I find work well. Let me know if you give this a go and what you thought.

For those who like to know it’s 8 ProPoints per serving. Not including a couple of slices of mature cheddar I like to add, or chips that you might serve with dinner.

Ingredients for two burgers

220g extra lean mince beef

½ a small to medium red onion

2 garlic cloves

½ tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

Few drops of tabasco

2 egg whites beaten lightly

Pinch of salt and pepper

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Very finely chop the onion…as finely as you can. A really sharp knife is important.

Peel and mince the garlic, don’t chop, it does make a difference.

Lightly whisk the egg whites. Don’t be tempted to use the whole egg, it adds nothing but does increase the calorie count. I use a fork and beat them by hand.

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Pile all the ingredients into a large bowl. The recipe says to dig in with your hands but I prefer to use a spoon or a fork to mix the lot up well.

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Spread a sheet of kitchen foil across the counter and place two stainless steel cooking rings close together, and spoon the mix evenly across the two, pressing gently down as you go.

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Wrap the foil across the ring filled mix, place on a flat board or large plate, and place in the fridge for an hour or more. Again, the recipe doesn’t call for them to rest in the fridge, but I think it gives the ingredients time to blend together better. Up to yourself.

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Preheat the grill on full, and place the foil wrapped burgers on the grill pan, and open up the foil spreading it out fully. Spread the steel rings a little apart and gently lift the steel rings off pressing down a little to flatten the burgers out. Just a little.

Grill the burgers on a high heat for 8 minutes each side. The recipe isn’t really suitable for the frying pan or BBQ, and don’t be tempted to turn them more than once before the 8 minutes is up, they will fall apart if you try. Once one side is really well browned gently turn them over using a spatula. I also usually use a dessert spoon to help support turning them.

Serve on burger buns, or try other bun types. Suitably sized ciabatta rolls are lovely. Add a little shredded lettuce, a couple of slices of tomato and a couple of slices of mature cheddar.

 

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ENJOY!!

Recipe © WeightWatchers International and is from their book “Cook Smart easy everyday” published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd 2011.

Blogpost © David Wilkins 2014

Gerry Adams and the Millstones of Justice

Reflections on Gerry Adams and Jean McConville – Well written blog post from Donal O’Keefe.

140 characters is usually enough

“Millstones of Justice turn exceedingly slow, but grind exceedingly fine.”                         – John Bannister Gibson (1780-1853)

Martyn Turner's take on Gerry Adams' denial of IRA membership and his bizarre tendency to tweet about his teddy bears. Martyn Turner’s take on Gerry Adams’ denial of IRA membership and his bizarre tendency to tweet about his teddy bears.

As I write this, Gerry Adams, the most popular political party leader in Ireland, is enjoying his second night at the pleasure of Her Majesty. It’s hard not to wish that the murdered widow and mother of ten small children, Jean McConville, had enjoyed such due process before she was snatched from her home and shot in the back of the head in 1972.

It was heart-breaking to hear Michael McConville today talking of his and his young siblings’ distress as the IRA, some of them masked strangers, some of them known neighbours, tore those little kids away from their mother and bundled her into the back of a van. They never…

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