Ballymurphy horror relived at inquest

britsballymurphy.jpg

There were emotional scenes in a Belfast court this week as families of the Ballymurphy massacre victims described their grief and loss after British soldiers killed eleven civilians in 1971.

Briege Voyle told of how the death of her mother in Ballymurphy almost 50 years ago “destroyed” her family.

Her mother Joan Connolly was one of ten shot dead during a 36 hour rampage by British paratroopers in west Belfast in August 1971.

At the Ballymurphy massacre inquest, sitting before Mrs Justice Keegan, Ms Voyle took the stand to speak about her mother, who was killed when she went to look for two of her daughters.

Ms Voyle said her mother, who lived on Ballymurphy Road, had initially welcomed British soldiers into the area, making them sandwiches and tea.

She said her mother, who was shot on August 9 1971, believed “the army would not hurt a woman”.

Ms Voyle revealed that the family only found out their mother had died when their father went out looking for her and visited the morgue.

“When daddy came back, he was literally carried in, he was a broken man because it was my mammy in the morgue,”she said.

“We were all screaming and crying and everybody was yelling and neighbours started coming in.”

Ms Voyle added: “My mother was very dearly loved and has been very dearly missed. Losing her destroyed our family”.

She also slammed rumours that her mother had been armed.

“I believe this to be untrue. My mother was not out trying to shoot anyone when she was killed,” she said.

“I would like this inquest to help my mother to be remembered as the person that she was and not what she was reported to be back then.”

JOSEPH MURPHY

Janet Donnelly, whose father Joseph Murphy was killed on August 9 1971, also took to the stand, describing him as “a character” who would make “time for people”.

“The [British] army opened fire on my daddy and he was shot in the right leg,” she said.

“He had his right leg amputated on the Friday August 20 and died on Sunday August 22.”

She said her mother was later diagnosed with cancer and died in August 2016 - 45 years after the death of her husband.

“They were reunited, when they were buried together,” she said.

“Over 47 years later we finally begin a process to which we hope will finally bring about the truth as to how our daddy, husband, grandad was killed in cold blood by the British Army.”

NOEL PHILLIPS

Marianne Phillips read a statement on behalf of her father, Kevin Phillips, who is the brother of Noel Phillips, who was also killed on August 9 1971.

She described him as “so quiet and sedate, really easy going and got on with everybody”.

The family only found out Noel had been killed when they checked the morgue.

“It was as if a big, black, heavy curtain just came down on top of everyone, the atmosphere in the house just changed,” said Mr Phillips’ statement.

“Before Noel died we were all a big close family there was never a dull moment, after his death everything just went black everything changed for us there was no laughing or messing about, the normal things six brothers would get up to, that all changed.

“We’ve listened to the lies told about Noel in the media, how all the victims were gunmen and women.

“I don’t want an apology, I’m not interested, it’s too little, too late. I want justice.

“I want their names cleared, that’s what all the Ballymurphy Massacre families want, their names cleared and declared innocent”.

HUGH MULLAN

Patsy Mullan, a brother of Fr Hugh Mullan who was killed as he was trying to help a wounded man, described him as “very helpful and kind”.

In a video statement played to court, Mr Mullan described the moment he discovered his 38-year-old brother had been killed.

He said: “I listened to all the news reports and later that night I heard a priest had been shot in Ballymurphy. I knew it would be him. So I went to my mother’s and told her he had been shot but that he was ok. I wasn’t sure if he was dead.

“When I was later told that he was dead, I phoned our doctor and asked him to come to be with my mother as I didn’t know how she would cope with this news.

“She was in a terrible state and had to be sedated.”

Fr Mullan’s niece, Geraldine McGrattan said: “When he died, it was so unbelievable that another human being could take the life of this special person who would never have hurt anyone, who would happily help friends and strangers alike. I have seen people come to his door and leave much happier and comforted with his help.

“My grandmother was devastated, my own mother was in shock, neither woman ever fully recovered from his untimely and cruel death and both would talk of him and cry for him right to the end of their lives.

“As a family we want this inquest to prove that my uncle was not a gunman as was stated in some of the newspapers at the time. That he was an innocent priest going about his pastoral duties.

“We want to know the truth about what happened.”

FRANK QUINN

The brother of 19-year-old Frank Quinn, who was shot dead after trying to help a wounded man, said he was watching the news when they heard a priest and a young man had been shot dead in the Ballymurphy area.

Pat Quinn, who was accompanied by another brother, Liam, in court said: “My mother said ‘someone is going to have a sore heart tomorrow’. She didn’t know the tragedy was coming to our door.

“The next morning, I was lying in bed. I was off on school holidays, my daddy was away to work and my mummy was working in the Monarch laundry part-time.

“I heard banging on the front door and as I came down the stairs I could see my daddy through the glass door. I opened the door and I saw my daddy crying. He was distraught.

“I said ‘daddy, what’s wrong?’. He walked past me and sat on the stairs and said ‘Frank’s been shot’. I said ‘was he wounded? Was he wounded?’ and he said “no, he’s dead’.

“Those three words changed me and my family’s lives forever. My mother was brought home from work. She was like a ghost. It was like hell on earth that this was happening to our family.”

Angela Nolan, the daughter of Frank Quinn said: “So many memories that we didn’t get to make because someone decided that it was ok to take him from us, because he was a kind human being he went to help others. I have always been proud of his bravery. Many a man would have walked away.

“Our loss was heartbreaking.

“Growing up I could see how my friends had the protection of their daddy being at home. I was jealous of the daddy’s girls and who knows how many more siblings we may have had.”

DANNY TEGGART

The inquest also heard how Danny Teggart had found out he was going to become a grandfather again, just hours before he was shot dead on August 9.

His daughter Alice Harper said he had been “all delighted” after she told him she was expecting a baby, when he called round “to see if we were all right” amid the tumult unleashed by the introduction of internment that day.

After taking her infant son to give her “some rest”, Mr Teggart asked her to give him a haircut.

“I cut his tiny black curls and brushed the hair up and put it into a wee horse and cart ornament.

“Little did I know that I would later identify him in the morgue by those same black curls. He left my house that day and that was the last time I seen my father alive.”

Aged just 23, Mrs Harper told how, after going house-to-house the next morning asking neighbours if they had seen him, she went to the army post at Henry Taggart Memorial Hall.

“I asked `Did you arrest my father?’... and they just said no we hadn’t time for arrests we only had time for killing.”

Mr Teggart’s family also suffered financially after his death.

The father-of-13 would break up sticks and sell them around the streets, also working as a `rag and bone’ man and cleaning windows for “all the big stores” in the city centre to bring in extra money.

EDDIE DOHERTY

Father-of-four, Eddie Doherty “just lived for (wife) Marie and their kids”, his sister Kathleen McCarry told the coroner.

“He was content with what he had and he was in his own wee orbit that he owned his house, and provided for his kids. He was just happy to be a husband and a daddy.

“On payday he would give Marie his unopened pay packet, she would then buy him his cigarettes for the week. Not too many men did that in those days.”

She recalled seeing him the day after internment started “in an awful state about Father Mullan and Mrs Connolly and the others being shot”.

Mr Doherty left his sister Theresa’s house at 4.35pm.

The family heard on the 10pm news bulletin “a gunman who had been operating in Ardoyne the night before and his body had been dumped in Whiterock. He said he had been named as Eamon Doherty”.

“My mummy went to pieces, we all went to pieces, it was like a nightmare you were never wakening from.

“There were times we couldn’t find her and would have to go out looking for her, we would find her at the grave washing it down.”

After a nervous breakdown and spending time in Purdysburn psychiatric hospital, his mother “died of a broken heart seven years after Eddie”.

“For seven years we just watched her deteriorate. She went from this strong woman who washed the dead, delivered babies, did amazing things, to a woman who was lost.”

Mrs McCarry described a family “torn apart with grief... not only did we lose Eddie we lost Marie too”, his widow dying nine years later of a heart attack aged just 40, leaving their children orphans.

JOE CORR

Father-of-seven Joe Corr “lived for his family, he even took on part-time jobs window cleaning and that to bring in a bit of extra money”.

They were preparing to emigrate to Australia when he was killed.

He and his son Joe had been the top of their street “when the soldiers started shooting... everybody scattered running everywhere”, his daughter Eileen McKeown told the coroner.

“My daddy didn’t get a chance to run when he was shot. Joe returned home unaware of what had happened to daddy.”

Her brother was devastated to discover the body he had stepped over to help someone else “was his daddy”.

“He had this thing in his head that if he had let the other person go that he could’ve helped his daddy... It haunted him for the rest of his life.”

After his death, the family received hate mail from Mr Corr’s former workplace, Shorts, after news reports he had been a gunman.

“I want my daddy’s name cleared,” Mrs McCarry said.

Meanwhile, the coroner has referred a comment discouraging former soldiers from giving evidence to the attorney general. Former soldier Alan Barry, who is involved in the campaign group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV), advised soldiers involved not to cooperate with requests to attend the inquests. He told them that if they are subpoenaed by the Ballymurphy inquest to say they “suffer from a total loss of memory”.

* Two relatives brought the subject of the Ballymurphy families’ campaign for justice for their loved ones to a wider audience: Brian McKerr, the grandson of massacre victim John McKerr, addressed a rally in Melbourne this week, while Carmel Quinn, sister of victim John Laverty, addressed a meeting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the USA.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2018 Irish Republican News