A priest has spoken about God’s “perfect timing” after he officiated at the joint funeral mass of a man murdered by British soldiers and the wife who campaigned in his memory, despite them dying exactly 45 years apart.
Joseph Murphy, who was buried with his wife Mary on Thursday, was one of the 11 victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre which happened during the introduction of internment without trial in August 1971.
Ten people, including Mr Murphy, a priest who had gone to the aid of one of victims and a 50-year-old mother of eight children were shot dead by British soldiers in west Belfast. Inquests have yet to be concluded into the killings.
An eleventh victim, who does not come under the terms of the inquest, Paddy McCarthy, died from a heart attack after a soldier allegedly put an empty gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
It is believed that most if not all of the killings were carried out by members of the British Parachute Regiment. The incident took place months before the same regiment was involved in the Bloody Sunday killings, which resulted in the deaths of 14 innocent civilians.
Last October, as part of the Ballymurphy inquests, the coroner ordered that Mr Murphy’s body be exhumed so that an investigation could be carried out into his family’s belief that he was shot on two occasions by the British army.
In hospital before his death, Mr Murphy told his family he was first shot in the upper thigh on the streets of Ballymurphy, but soldiers then brought him into the nearby Henry Taggart barracks and shot him again through his open wound.
A suspected bullet fragment found among his remains after his exhumation supported his dying comments, and this will be a factor in the inquests into his killing.
With other members of the Ballymurphy families, his widow Mary campaigned for decades to establish the truth behind the killings. It had been her hope that a second funeral Mass could be heard for her husband before he was re-interred.
However, Mrs Murphy died from cancer on August 22nd, the same date that Mr Murphy died from his injuries in 1971.
“Little did she think that he would be buried 45 years to the day when he was first buried,” said officiating priest Fr Darach Mac Giolla Cathain.
“More than that, that she would have the grace when she died that they would be side by side in the church and be laid to rest together,” he added. “God’s timing really is perfect.”
Their daughter has spoken of her mixed emotions that her beloved parents were laid to rest together.
Janet Donnelly, said that the family had found out only the day before her mother’s funeral that the Coroner’s Office were releasing their father’s remains to them.
“The original plan was to have daddy buried and for our mummy to be there. Our mother was a woman of great faith. When our daddy’s body was exhumed in October she insisted that there was a priest present and that there were prayers at the graveside. She wanted him to have a proper funeral when the time came for him to be reburied. Little did we know that he would be waiting for her in the chapel 45 years from the day of his original funeral.”
After her husband’s death Mary Ellen Murphy was left to raise nine children alone - three of her children have already passed away. She remained in the same house in Ballymurphy Parade until her own death.
“After daddy passed away our mummy raised us on her own. She did what a lot of women back then had to do: she just got on with it, she worked non-stop. She had a house shop, she sold candy apples and she took any work she could get, that’s what people did back then. Her faith carried her through those hard years, she said her Rosary every day.
“It is bittersweet.. we’re happy because she always wanted to see him buried again and we promised her it would happen.”
Janet says all the Ballymurphy families know the truth about their loved ones, but it’s vital that the truth is put on record.
“We want an inquiry, we need for the rest of the world to know what happened to the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre. It’s about justice. In years to come when people look back on history we want it stated clearly in black and white that our loved ones were innocent victims.
“Now that mummy has passed away it’s even more important for the inquests to be heard as our witnesses are dying... there’s money sitting there for inquests, it needs to be released.”