Lost Lives…People I Knew

Last night, I was talking to my sister on the phone. She has lived in London for forty one years and we talked about my visit to Milltown Cemetery on Good Friday and the old neighbourhood in Greater Ballymurphy/Upper Springfield..

She mentioned Fr Martin Magill and Lyra McKees funeral. We talked about how grateful we are that no relative was killed during the Troubles, even though we lived in West Belfast to 1979 (1978 in her case).

My sister (almost three years younger) is my only sibling. My mother’s family were all based in County Armagh and County Tyrone. They had no “republican” family history and my cousins were mostly a lot older than me and out of the most dangerous ages to be in the Troubles.

Meanwhile back in West Belfast, my father had a married brother but they had no children. And he had a married sister. Also no children.

So in Belfast, I had no cousins.

From 1957-1970, I lived in the Lower Falls. But the 11plus in 1963 meant that I lost a lot of contact with boys my own age and from just about the poorest part of the city, I was never fully integrated into the grammar school life of the boys from better areas of the city.

From 1970, we lived in Greater Ballymurphy/Upper Springfield and as the Troubles had just started, it was too late to make new friends.

Besides, I was basically a coward. I had no great desire to leave the safety and comfort of my own fireside. Just too dangerous out there. I am not a risk taker.

I was invited to talk to some post-grad students in Texas, USA in February 2013. I made a list of people I knew who had died between 1969-1998. None were family but when you hear bad news that “a body has been found at…”, it is compounded when you hear the words “has been identified as…”

As I wrote last week, I had met Lyra McKee on a handful of occasions. So maybe if I am back in Texas, a new name can be added to the list. But Ms McKee is the first person that I know who has been killed since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

On all the previous occasions, there is a struggle to remember the last time that I spoke with Fr Mullan or Fr Fitzpatrick.

Two priests from our parish were shot dead. The last time I saw or spoke to Fr Hugh Mullan was after the last Mass on 8th August 1971. Within 36 hours, he would be shot dead by British Paratroopers in what was the Ballymurphy Massacre.

Fr Noel Fitzpatrick was shot a couple of years later. Also by the Brits as he went to assist someone during a gun battle. The last night I spoke to him was maybe a few weeks before when he signed my passport application.

Three boys from my O level class from 1968 would die in The Troubles. I had not seen “A” from 1970. He was killed in a premature explosion. Unknown to his parents, he joined the IRA. He was buried privately without the usual paramilitary trappings.

“B” I actually saw about the Falls Road for a while after 1970. He was another IRA volunteer who, unknown to me at school was from a republican family background. After all in the 1960s, nobody could really foresee that all Hell would break lose in 1969. He was physically a very unlikely sniper.

Actually quite a few of the lads from the grammar school would join the IRA. I suppose post-1966 (the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising) , Christian Brothers sympathy and the whole heroic poets thing influenced many and they were just caught in the right age group….19 or 20 at Internment (1971) and Bloody Sunday (1972). After that first wave of youthful idealism and the increasing brutality of it all, that grammar school conveyor belt seemed to dry up.

“C” had been seriously injured as a child and was partly disabled. He was with his friend when they were victims of a drive-by shooting in North Belfast. As I recall, he was shot once and died from his wound. His friend was hit several times and survived.

“D” was from the Lower Falls, a small boy who was a great footballer. I guess the last time I saw him, we were with a bunch of other lads in the Falls Park in the summer of 1969. He had an apprenticeship in a factory. As he came out of work, he was gunned down by loyalists who escaped into a nearby loyalist estate. His work mates pointed him out to the gunmen.

“E” was unfortunate. I think about him a lot. He lived a few doors from us in Greater Ballymurphy. Circa 1970 in the whole new beginnings after the disbandment of the B Specials, he joined the Ulster Defence Regiment, one of a number of Catholics who did. When another neighbour (who I did not know) who had made the same choice, was shot dead in front of his family….”E” went to live with his family to live in unionist East Belfast. He was tortured and beaten to death by loyalists.

Necessarily my list is mostly Catholic. It is after all people I knew. But “F” was a retired Protestant. He was blown to pieces when a bomb exploded in central Belfast.

“G” was a young woman who was a friend of my sister. Shot dead. I actually heard the shots. I went to her funeral. Unknown to me then, another young woman attended the same funeral. And that young woman was a cousin of the victim. A few years later, I would meet her…and marry her.

“H” was a prominent republican woman. Same school as my sister.

“I” was just 15 years old. He worked Sunday mornings in his parents newspaper shop. Standing outside it one day, he was shot dead by loyalists in a drive-by shooting.

I have of course mentioned Paddy Wilson of SDLP many times in this Blog. Murdered…throat cut and mutilated on Cavehill

Yet in the weeks after Lyra McKees murder, I am haunted by memories of a young woman called Rosemary McCartney. She was abducted from a car with a young man called Patrick O’Neill. They were beaten and tortured by loyalists. She was a singer and the loyalists said she could save their lives by singing for them. Of course, it as a lie. Just perverted “fun”. They were found at Glencairn…shot several times in the face.

Actually the torture and death of women was not uncommon. Jean McConville obviously by IRA. But two Protestant women were murdered by loyalists in the Village area of South Belfast…one in the mistaken belief that she was Catholic. Another Catholic woman from Armagh was invited to a party in East Belfast…and beaten to death by loyalists.

Of course all 3,600 killings during the Troubles were horrible but deaths were people in some way knew the risks that they were taking…the gun battles, the premature bombs, security force or paramilitary make up a considerable proportion.

It is the norm for apologists for RUC and British Army to claim that their deaths (on the side of law and order) are more honourable than the deaths of people that they call “terrorists”. Equally, it is the norm for Sinn Féin to say that there is no hierarchy of Victims.

Both are seductive thoughts to their own followers.

But a decade ago, the Eames-Bradley report on victims was killed by the suggestion that a £30,000 lump sum be paid to the families of all victims.

The Troubles were so we are told…POLITICAL VIOLENCE. But was that true for all 3,600 deaths.

Can we……or should we differentiate between Political Violence (arguably the gun battles and the land-mines between combatants), wanton murder of the drive by shootings and bomb attacks….many of these such as the republican attack on Darkley Mission Hall and the Kingsmills workers cross the line into Sectarian Violence and obviously attacks by loyalists on Loughinisland and Greysteel are also sectarian in nature.

Some would say there are grey areas…republican apologists will say that IRA shot uniforms and loyalists claim that their attacks on innocent Catholics were a reaction to IRA violence. And there is of course the whole question of British collusion with loyalists and republicans to further an agenda. Not to mention Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy.

But to me, abduction, torture and murder is beyond mere Political and Sectarian Violence. Being face to face with your killer is a Hate Crime and to be in that situation for often hours cannot be dismissed as just another statistic. If a 14 year old boy can be abducted in Andersonstown and be taken in a car to be beaten and shot dead at Shaws Bridge, it de- humanises us all to call it Political Violence.

As we used to whisper in the 1970s, he/she had a “bad death”.

You may read this and think that I am specifically referring to Davey Payne and Lenny Murphy and the Shankill Butchers and their “any taig will do” murder campaigns…and actually there were a number of charges that could be made against republicans (some sectarian) including their kangaroo courts.

But it IS true that the worst murders of The Troubles tended to be by sectarian loyalists.

It is not a matter of treating the Victims the same. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that we should recognise that the nature of the Violence itself was different.

 

 

 

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20 Responses to Lost Lives…People I Knew

  1. benmadigan says:

    The late Andrew Boyd, who was originally from East belfast and brought up in the Unionist tradition, once remarked that IRA violence was motivated by a political agenda while Loyalist killings and violence were motivated by hatred of Catholics – but that fact was never to be mentioned

  2. benmadigan says:

    Boyd’s remark was made in a private setting and was never publicized.

    • Interesting man. There was a time when BBC NI did not tolerate nationalist commentators and somehow accepted people like Andrew Boyd. Then they seemed to drop him as he was anti unionist.

  3. benmadigan says:

    Boyd was accepted by the BBC (which does what it says on the tin) because he spoke from an English left (Labour/Socialist/Fabian/) point of view. He was very good friends with Benn and Foot.

    That position was anti-NI Unionism as it manifested from the 1920s onwards but not necessarily against the Union. I think he would have been happy for equal rights for everybody within the UK although Boyd, as engineer and economist, did argue in favour of a UI from the economic and pratical points of view.

    This nuanced position was not accepted by the UK Conservative govts of the late 1970s and 1980s. Hence fewer appearances on UTV and the BBC

  4. Political Tourist says:

    Those stories would frighten the Devil.
    RIP to all those victims.

  5. Political Tourist says:

    Lost Lives was another book i’d recommend.
    You could never buy the local knowledge the Admin on here has given us.
    Respect

    • Thanks for that.
      We “live” a few years beyond our physical deaths. I will remember my grandparents, childless aunts and uncles etc. I had my 11 year old grandson with me in Milltown. I thought he would be bored but actually he was fascinated.
      My grandchildren who are 16, 11 and 6 will remember me when they are 66 and the boy who is 2…well he is maybe too young.
      If I become a great grandfather in say ten years time….then maybe I will be remembered when I am 66.
      But I suppose with many of the Troubles deaths, there eventually comes a point when nobody remembers and nobody says a “wee prayer”.
      No direct descendents maybe and their parents die.
      “Lost Lives” only goes so far. We should attribute blame and responsibility.
      My local knowledge as you put it only extends to at most 20 people. If I read my post again, I will recall another name or two.
      I just think it is wrong to think all the violence was the same. Its too easy.
      And I am actually angry at the bunch of spoofers and bluffers who filled a cathedral last week to elevate one victim above others.

  6. Political Tourist says:

    Oral history or maybe online genealogy sheds a light on those before us, long long before us.
    Also terrible stories in some cases i never met or even knew the person’s name.
    Like the young girl in the chemist shop on the Falls Rd shot by a chap on the back of a motorcycle, same thing in that chip shop in Armagh of the schoolboy playing the slot machine at lunch time.
    Or the gravestone in Armagh Cathedral, “shot by Orangemen” in the 19th Century.
    And of course the small world scenario, a Scotsman having a cold beer in a quiet cafe chatting away to an Irishman, both in mainland Europe for a “soccer” game. We’re roughly the same age and politics in general gets mentioned, as you do.
    And our Admin gets mentioned in passing.
    I’ve never met you but i’ll sure won’t forget this wee blog this side of death or dementia.
    We shall remember

    • Thanx for this. I have been thinking a lot about this blog recently. I was surprised a few years ago when the British Library asked me if they could add it to some kinda “approved” list. It concentrates the mind.
      I might print it all out and leave it as some kinda legacy to my sons. Not to over-state it but it might be the only meaningful thing I have done in my life, outside family of course.
      I have become more reflective rrcently. I am 67 next week and a certain fear sets it. Equally dreading that at some point my wife or sons will have the pain of visiting a man who cant recognise them. Or put them thru the pain of visiting an unconscious man “waiting” as he is getting morphine shots.
      There is really a third fear. The fear of losing relevance. When I went to Queens in 2005 aged 53 and sitting at tutorials, I felt “useful” appreciated by tutors like Sidney Elliott, Paul Bew, Brian Walker (the other one) a nd also by the students.
      I firmly believe that History and Politics are entwined…that there is nothing really new…there is a precedent for most things and increasingly people see or want to see things as waking up every morning without any knowledge of previous day

    • Wolfe tone says:

      There were two school boys shot in that incident in Armagh. Alas the story under the surface isn’t touched upon by journalists I.e the belief is/was that that shooting was linked to the ‘UDR 4’ case. The person manning the desk(it was a taxi rank not a chip shop) was the child of a major eye witness in the udr4 case and thus it was widely believed to be a threat to the eye witness to withdraw their statement or else. The gunman shot the two lads on the way out the door after pointing the gun at the workers at the desk. Btw, prior to the shooting the place was swarming with UDR foot patrols but vanished in time for the gunmen to go to work. Just saying.

      • When people die…eg Jimmy Savile…they cannot be libelled. There should be some kinda “Oral History” or other Project where fact, perceived fact, rumour, can be collated and published (with health warning) as to who killed the “Lost Lives”. Published of course after the deaths of the killers.
        It is certainly the case with Davey Payne (and I found it obscene that a politician/trade unionist mentioned him in a context about trade unionism without mentioning his other life. Likewise Lenny Murphy cant be libelled.
        I am always a bit wary of the conflict resolutionists being on first name terms with people who would happily have cut my throat.
        Its like the “middle” ground …letsgetalongerists …are exempt from being murdered.

  7. Political Tourist says:

    Wolfe Tone, thank you, i was told the story a couple of years later and memory has blurred the page. I’d been staying in a nearby hotel i’d say about 1994. Taxi depot with arcade machines in the waiting room. One lad killed on the spot and the other lad dying next day. May 18th 1996. Both aged 17 plus a taxi driver who was wounded. The building across the road (at the time) had an entry (opening) which at the time led down on a main road. The gunman came and went through that entry.

  8. Political Tourist says:

    Wolfe Tone, thank you, i was told the story a couple of years later and memory has blurred the page. I’d been staying in a nearby hotel i’d say about 1996. Taxi depot with arcade machines in the waiting room. One lad killed on the spot and the other lad dying next day. May 18th 1994. Both aged 17 plus a taxi driver who was wounded. The building across the road (at the time) had an entry (opening) which at the time led down on a main road. The gunman came and went through that entry.

    • Wolfe tone says:

      Yes, the talk initially at the time was that the gun jammed I.e they shot at the taxi man and aimed the gun at the female manning the desk. However, considering they shot the two lads on the way out the door, it’s highly unlikely the gun jammed. Also considering that the female was the daughter of a key eye witness in the UDR4 case it wouldn’t be a stretch to imply there was a method to the ‘random sectarian attack’.
      I recall a similar ‘random sectarian attack’ on a taxi depot in Belfast(early ’90’s) whereby a 15yr old lad was shot dead. Unbeknownst to most people the young lad was the brother of an alleged IRA man, who was on the run as he was wanted for a shooting around that time. Coming from a real tight family, it was obvious the IRA man would attempt to attend the wake or funeral. Despite being advised not to cross the border he was determined to be with his clan. Alas the police were waiting patiently for him and he was arrested and eventually incarcerated. One wonders how ‘random’ that attack was too?

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