Springhill/Westrock massacre remembered, 50 years on


Relatives and friends gathered this week for a memorial march to remember five Catholic people shot dead by the British army 50 years ago.

The victims, including three teenagers and a Catholic priest, died during the Springhill/Westrock Massacre on July 9, 1972.

The dead included Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, Paddy Butler 13-year-old Margaret Gargan, 16-year-old John Dougal and 15-year-old David McCafferty.

The British Army had broken its ceasefire without warning and its snipers opened fire on the area. In less than an hour, five civilians lay dead and two were critically wounded.

One eyewitness described residents as being “pinned down everywhere. If there was a target, they [British snipers] shot at it; if not, they just shot into the houses.”

Jacqueline Butler, who grew up hearing about that bloody day, told how a man named Martin Dudley was injured in the initial hail of fire. Brian Petticrew and John Dougal had crawled to rescue Martin as the firing continued. The former was injured, while the latter was shot dead.

Patrick Butler was at home when the shooting began. He was not a republican, or even particularly political, as Jacqueline recalls. But as warden of the local church he was someone that the community would turn to in times of trouble.

“When the chapel was being built he was one of the ones who protected the grounds,” Jacqueline explained.

“Fr Fitzpatrick was new to the area and didn’t know his way about, but the nuns knew my daddy well so our house was the one they went to for help.”

Patrick Butler left with Fr Fitzpatrick and the local nuns to help the injured and dying. His wife Margaret was visiting her sister in Ballymurphy, so their eldest children – then in their teens – were asked to look after the wee ones. None of them saw him alive again.

Mr Butler and Fr Fitzpatrick were forced to take cover behind a row of houses. Their reflections were thought to be visible in the windows of the homes opposite. As they tried to reach John Dougal, who was by then dying from his injuries, the pair were targeted and shot.

“As soon as Fr Fitzpatrick went out with his white hankie, my daddy went to pull him back in and the two of them were shot by the same bullet,” Jacqueline said.

“Every time somebody went to try to pull them back in they were shot. David McCafferty went to try to pull the priest in and he was shot dead. They were able to pull Fr Fitzpatrick’s body in and try to give him first aid in the Donnelly household, but it was too late. My daddy’s body lay for hours because every time they tried to get his body back shots were fired.”

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said it is “disgraceful that five decades later the families of those killed still do not have answers about what happened to their loved ones,”.

“The courage and dignity of the families is in stark contrast to the shameful behaviour of successive British governments that has for decades resisted, covered-up and sought to thwart the families at every turn to ensure the truth is never told.”

Mr Finucane was critical of the British government legacy plans.

“Their courage outshines the shameful actions of the Tory government that seeks to provide amnesty to the British soldiers that carried-out the atrocities in Springhill and all state forces who killed Irish citizens,” he said.

“The British government should listen to the voices of victims, families, political parties and the Irish government who are all opposed to these plans and want them scrapped.

“An agreement which included mechanisms to give victims and families access to truth and justice was reached in 2014 by the political parties and both governments at Stormont House, it should be implemented in full, in a human rights compliant manner.”

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