On the 35th anniversary of Aidan McAnespie’s murder, in the weeks after his killer was allowed to walk free after a court conviction, an interview by journalist John Scally with Eilish McCabe, Mr McAnespie’s sister, before she lost her brave battle with illness (for the Independent).
“Aidan was the youngest member of the family — the only one living at home,” said Ms McCabe. “He had gone through a lot of harassment at the border checkpoint from the British soldiers.
“He had got a job in Monaghan as a poultry processor in the chicken factory and he travelled up and down every morning and evening. We were aware that he was getting harassment every day.
“He had made complaints to the army, his trade union, parish priest, to anybody who would listen and through his own solicitor.
“In fact, one national newspaper had featured an article on Aidan a year before his death. The headline asked the question, ‘Is this the most harassed man in Ireland?’.
“Aidan had gone to the media at the time in the hope of embarrassing the security forces for a while, and it would have worked to some extent in the short term.”
The harassment directed at her brother was multi-layered.
“As he drove to work, they might just pull him over to the side of the road and keep him there for five minutes,” said Ms McCabe.
“On other occasions, they might come over and search his car — maybe take out his lunchbox and search it with their bare hands and say, ‘Enjoy your lunch today, Mac’.
“On his way back they, might keep him back 15 or 20 minutes in the side of the road, or they might pull him into the big shed and take his car apart.
“The biggest problem was the fear of the unknown — he was never sure of what was coming next. The only thing they were certain of was that they were going to hassle him.
“He was never going to be in a car that was waved through.”
A death in the family saw them gather together after a Sunday morning funeral.
“We all went back to my aunt’s house for a meal and afterwards Aidan got up from the table and said to me, ‘I’m away to see the football match’.
“He had gone back to the family home and lit the solid fuel cooker so the house would be warm when my mum and dad returned home.
“He walked 269 yards through the checkpoint when a single shot rang out and Aidan died instantly.
“We were still at my aunt’s house and I was chatting away with cousins I hadn’t seen for a long time. Then my husband came inside and said to me, ‘Eilish, I need to speak to you immediately’.
“When I went out he said, ‘There’s been an accident at the checkpoint and I think Aidan’s been involved and it’s serious’.
“We got into the car and drove down. As we approached the football field, I could see an ambulance in the background and I thought to myself, ‘I’m on time and I’m going to make it with Aidan to the hospital’.
“I still wasn’t sure what had taken place but I could see a body lying on the ground with a blanket over it. I didn’t believe it was Aidan because the body looked small, but I went over towards it.
“I pulled back the blanket and it was Aidan and he was dead. I immediately held his hand. His hands were very, very warm. I hugged him and embraced him.
“The crowd all stood in complete silence and I heard my parents coming through. An anger went through my body but it had gone again as the grief came back. When I saw my parents going to witness Aidan on the roadside, that was just unbearable.”
The family’s trauma was compounded by rumours about the circumstances of Aidan’s death.
“On the Monday, we heard that the soldier who shot him claimed he was cleaning his gun and his finger slipped.
“That evening we decided we weren’t happy with the explanation and nobody from the security forces had come to our door with any comment, so I contacted our solicitor.”
The Irish government made a statement on the Monday evening that they were going to carry out an investigation. “We decided then that we would go ahead with the funeral on the Tuesday morning knowing that there would probably have to be an exhumation of Aidan’s body.”
The funeral was particularly difficult. The family’s grief was worsened by the strong possibility that Mr McAnespie would be exhumed. Shortly afterwards, the Irish government granted permission.
“For my mother in particular, it was unbearable. On the Wednesday of that week, a soldier was charged with the unlawful killing of Aidan. But we had no confidence that he was going to be convicted so the onus was on us to get an investigation.”
Last November, former soldier David Holden was found guilty of Mr McAnespie’s manslaughter. Earlier this month, he was given a three-year prison sentence, which was suspended for three years.
The passing of the years has done little to heal the family’s pain. “You don’t ever forget him. While everybody else gets older, Aidan will always be 23 to us.”