By Ardoyne Republican (ardoynerepublican.blogspot.com)
At the time of his death, Anthony McDowell (13), lived with his family in Duneden Park, Ardoyne. He was shot dead on 19th April 1973, by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. The same regiment who were responsible for the Bloody Sunday murders in Derry and the Ballymurphy Massacre in Belfast two years before.
Anthony was the oldest in a family with four children. He attended Holy Cross Primary School, Ardoyne, and St Gabriel’s School on the Crumlin Road.
He was brought up by with his grandmother. One of his aunt’s said Anthony ‘was a good child and everyone that knew him loved him. He was a big collie and ran in whenever any British troops where about. He had a chopper bike which he loved and would run anywhere for a neighbour without hesitation. He was just a good kid with a heart of gold and a kind word for all.’
On April 19th 1972, Anthony was returning home travelling in his uncle’s car after spending a few days with relatives in Craigavon, Co. Armagh. The vehicle entered the Ardoyne area from the Crumlin Road pass the old bus depot, before turning right into Alliance Avenue. There was no signs of trouble in Ardoyne when the car entered the area. However, there had been a number of heavy and ongoing, exchanges of gunfire between the IRA and British army posts throughout the day.
Anthony was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car as it was driven down Alliance Avenue. When the car approached the junction of Alliance Avenue with Etna Drive the vehicle slowed to turn right into Etna Drive. On the left hand side of Alliance, directly facing Etna Drive was a British army observation post. As the car turned into Etna Drive there was a burst of gunfire and Anthony’s uncle said he heard his nephew shout; ‘I am hit I am hit,’ and then slump on the front seat. The car travelled a short distance before stalling and Anthony asked his uncle; ‘Get me home to my Mummy’.
He had been shot in the back; the bullet responsible piercing the rear door of the car on the passenger’s side before going through the back of the front passenger seat and into the child’s back.
His uncle immediately jumped out of the car and ran for help, shouting out the situation to residents in the street. A British army foot-patrol arrived minutes later and responded to the man’s pleas for an ambulance by searching and harassing him. After several minutes did they relent and call an ambulance.
When the ambulance arrived and left the scene with the dying boy aboard it was stopped at a British army checkpoint in Flax Street. The soldiers insisted on entering the ambulance to check who was inside. Two of the boy’s uncle’s who were in a car travelling directly behind the ambulance were also stopped and arrested. Sadly, the teenager died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
A short time after the shooting paratroopers tried to force their way into the McDowell home to carry out a search operation. Angry relatives of the boy blocked their entrance. The paratroopers called for reinforcements, who arrived in the street in armoured vehicles. The commander of the soldiers gave the order to clear the area in 10 seconds. Another attempt was then made to enter the house. Again the relatives of the boy resisted, and the paratroopers fired rubber bullets at point blank range at them and other people outside the house. Serious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, and one of Anthony’s uncles was struck by a rubber bullet. Fortunately his wristwatch deflected the bullet before it struck him on the abdomen, saving him from death or serious injury.
A local Catholic Priest tried to intercede on behalf of the McDowell family but the Paras persisted in their aim until they got into the house. Later priests from the Holy Cross Church on the Crumlin Road issued a statement about the Brits behaviour stating; ‘the blatant disregard for the grief of the family of the deceased seems to characterised the action of the military authorities at present in Ardoyne.’
The British army Press Office issued a statement claiming they; ‘were certain it was not one of their bullets that hit the boy’.
Relatives and local residents were adamant that the Brits operating from an observation post called ‘The Ring,’ situated at the junction of Alliance Avenue and Alliance Road fired the fatal shot. They also pointed out that it was normal practice whenever there was shooting in the Ardoyne area for the British Army to set up check-points warning people entering the area of the risk. No such checkpoints were in place before the boy was shot.
An inquest into Anthony’s killing was held in April 1975. None of the British soldiers involved in the shooting attended the hearing. A military representative read out the statements, identifying each soldier by a letter of the alphabet. Statements from the soldiers post were read out. All of them said; ‘they were fired on and they returned fire.’ Only one, known as soldier D said he; ‘noticed the car’. He also said; ‘there appeared to be only one person in the car as it turned into Etna Drive and then into Stratford Gardens.’
A representative for the British army admitted; ‘the vehicle should have been stopped before it entered the Ardoyne area’. He also admitted; ‘the bullet that killed the boy was similar to the calibre used by the army’ but he added; ‘it was not known what calibre the terrorist’s were using. The bullet that killed the boy had fragmented making it difficult to be certain which of the four soldiers in fired the fatal shot’. Despite the evidence, the jury returned an open verdict. No British soldiers were ever charged in connection with the murder of Anthony. None of his clothes were returned to the McDowell family.
Anthony McDowell was the youngest victim in Ardoyne killed by the British State, he is still fondly remembered by the Ardoyne community.