A priest called the British Army to plead for help to protect Catholics in Ballymurphy from attacks from their Protestant neighbours, just half an hour before he was shot dead, the inquest into the Ballymurphy Massacre has heard.
A number of witnesses have been recalling the events of August 9 1971, when Fr Hugh Mullan was shot “while performing his spiritual duties as a priest”. He was going to the aid of a parishioner lying injured by gunfire in open ground when he was shot.
It emerged that shortly before his death, Fr Mullan had called a British Army unit to ask for help as parishioners fled their Springfield Park homes amid violence from the neighbouring loyalist Springmartin estate.
Terence Curran, who lived in a house on the interface with his wife and eight-week-old son, told the inquest how they were driven from their home by a crowd “throwing stones from Springmartin to Springfield Park”.
“A brick narrowly avoided hitting my wife (and) I decided to get my wife and infant out as a crowd had gathered,” he said.
The family sheltered in a friend’s home from where someone took him to Fr Mullan’s house at around 9pm to see whether he had been able to get help from the authorities.
“(A man) said the priest was trying to get something organised for us to get some protection,” Mr Curran said.
“When he [Fr Mullan] came off the phone he was in a state of shock. He said `We’re going to get no help. There’s no help. We’re on our own’.”
Within an hour, the curate had been shot on nearby waste ground which he had entered waving a white cloth in an attempt to deliver the Last Rites to another man Bobby Clarke, who would survive his gunshot wound.
Mr Clarke, now aged 85, told the inquest that he holds himself responsible for the death of the priest and a second young man who went to his aid. He was hit by a bullet in the back near Springfield Park as he tried to move a number of children out of the area.
He had taken a baby from the area and was returning across the field to take more children away when he was hit in the back by a bullet.
He said he saw two British soldiers on the roof of flats on the Springmartin Road “tracking” him with their rifles as he crossed the field first with the child and then as he returned.
But Mr Clarke said he believes he was shot by soldiers who were at ground level on Springfield Park, and that they were members of the Parachute Regiment.
Father Mullan crawled over the field to tend to him, waving a white cloth. After judging Mr Clarke was not seriously injured, he turned to leave and at this point was fatally shot, the inquest heard.
Another man, Frank Quinn, was then shot dead as he attempted to reach Fr Mullan. Mr Clarke told the inquest he has had 47 years of “living this” and holds himself responsible for the deaths of the two men.
“Two people lost their lives coming to help me while I was trying to help those who could not help themselves,” he told the inquest.