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.