Feile a credit to its organisers
Feile a credit to its organisers

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

Belfast, Ballymurphy, August 9 to 11 1971:

* Fr Hugh Mullan (38), shot dead by British Paras while he administered the last rites to injured local man Bobby Clarke, shot by Paras

* Frank Quinn (19), window cleaner, father of one child, wife expecting another, shot dead while helping Fr Mullan

* Noel Phillips (19), shot dead

* Joan Connolly (45), mother-of-eight, shot dead while helping Noel Phillips

* Danny Taggart, father-of-13, window cleaner, shot 14 times, died where he lay

* Joseph Murphy, father-of-12, died two weeks after being shot - Phillips, Connolly, Taggart and Murphy were shot together in a cluster of a few yards facing the British army base Henry Taggart in the mid-evening sun, chatting to friends

* Joseph Corr (43), father-of-seven, shot walking with his son, died two weeks later

* Eddie Doherty, father-of-four, bin man, shot dead on the Whiterock Road

* John Laverty (19), last seen alive leaving his Dermott Hill home, found shot dead close by

* John McKerr (49), father, shot dead in the grounds of Corpus Christi church

* Pat McCarthy (44), suffered a heart attack and died when Paras pointed a rifle into his face and threatened to kill him.

A vicious massacre of defenceless people, written out of history, is now being written back in by the relatives of those so cruelly cut down. They told their agonising story at last week’s Feile an Phobail in west Belfast.

No-one in authority said sorry or listened to the families’ pleas of innocence for their loved ones. The official record written by the killers, the British army, shows ‘gunmen and woman’ shot dead.

Sunny Jacobs spent 17 years in prison in Florida including five on death row in solitary confinement in a silence regime. Speaking was forbidden.

Jointly charged with her husband Jesse for killing two policemen, they were sentenced to death. Fifteen years into their sentence Jesse was executed. Two years later Sunny was released, her conviction quashed. It was too late for her husband.

For the first six years Sunny’s parents raised her two children, then tragedy struck. Her parents were killed in a plane crash while on holiday. Her children were put into care. Her daughter tried to take her own life.

Sunny survived “for my children”, she told several hundred people in St Mary’s College on Belfast’s Falls Road at Feile an Phobail’s annual PJ McGrory human rights lecture.

On the day she was released, a guard said: “Have a nice life.”

No-one in authority said sorry or listened to her and her husband’s pleas of innocence. She received no compensation for the years behind bars.

Her compensation is ‘her life’, she said, which she uses to campaign around the world against the death penalty.

Derry republican and Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney introduced Sunny. He too spent 17 years behind bars in the H-blocks of Long Kesh. He too was wrongly accused of a killing.

He was convicted solely on a fabricated statement beaten out of him by detectives. On the basis of the statement, the judge sentenced him to life. Earlier this year 30 years after his arrest, his conviction was overturned.

No-one in authority said sorry or listened to his pleas of innocence.

Justice was a prominent theme in this year’s feile. It surfaced in different ways.

It dominated the debate at West Belfast Talks Back, with panellists challenged to explain why the relatives of those killed by British forces should not be told the truth.

It was also on display in the discussion that accompanied the launch of Gerry Adams’s new book An Irish Eye and at the debate with veteran British journalist Peter Taylor, who emphasised the importance of ‘objectivity’ when reporting a conflict situation such as Ireland’s or al-Qaida. It was in the artist’s eye, the lens and the paint brush.

A photographic exhibition recorded the decaying Long Kesh prison as it loses its battle with nature.

And Raymond Watson, former political prisoner, again drew inspiration from his captivity with his second feile exhibition. His paintings imaginatively capture mundane prison items - a cell, a po, a bible, a water jar, a shot lock.

Feile an Phobail’s 20th year reflects our changing times. It is a credit to its organisers.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News