AOH National vice President Danny O’Connell (fourth from left) and AOH National Secretary Jere Cole (fifth from left) In Belfast on Sunday. John Teggart is on the far left.
By Brónach Ní Thuama
Belfast --- Leading members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the U.S. visited the Ballymurphy area of Belfast on Sunday morning, September 23, to pay their respects to the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre and hear firsthand accounts of the shootings.
Upon visiting each of the spots where the eleven victims were killed, the AOH promised to take what they had learned back home to the Irish American community.
The representatives were told in great detail how the victims met their fate at the hands of the British army’s Parachute Regiment during those three fateful days in August, 1971.
National Vice-President of the AOH, Danny O’Connell, and National Secretary Jere Cole, heard how Father Hugh Mullan was shot as he waved a white handkerchief. The brothers of the late Frank Quinn, Liam and Pat, went into detail about how Frank was murdered going to the aid of Fr. Mullan and the wounded Bobby Clarke.
They listened intently as they were told how Danny Teggart was shot fourteen times with a high velocity rifle and how Joan Connolly was shot by the army and left out in the open to bleed to death.
The group visited the manse field where four of the Ballymurphy victims were shot, among them was Mrs. Connolly and Mr. Teggart.
Mrs. Connolly’s daughter, Philomena, spoke about her mother and how she was murdered on that day along with six others. They also visited the other spots where the victims had lost their lives.
John Laverty’s sister, Rita Bonner, went into detail about how her brother was shot dead along with Joseph Corr.
She spoke of her other brother, Terry, and how he had tried to make it home to safety but was stopped by the paratroopers.
Terry was sentenced to six months imprisonment on that day for riotous behavior. Some years later, this conviction was overturned.
The AOH visitors were also informed of the deaths of Pat McCarthy and John McKerr, who also lost their lives at the hands of the British paratroopers on the third day of the massacre.
The tour ended at the spot on the Whiterock Road where Eddie Doherty was killed.
John Teggart, son of Danny Teggart said: “It was some hard-lifting for the two visitors from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, but I do think that it brought home to them that this did happen.
“On that first day, on August 9th, six people were murdered. This happened on a bright summer’s night and it happened at close range. They were carefully aimed shots, direct shots, and in the end there was no forensic evidence to suggest that any of our loved ones were anywhere near rifles.
“There was no ammunition recovered, no guns recovered, and there were no security personnel shot in that proximity. This all proves that our loved ones were killed, they were shot in the back.”
Mr. Teggart said that there was a campaign of fake news happening in some newspapers and that some politicians were insisting that the Ballymurphy Massacre had already been investigated. They were calling for an amnesty for the soldiers.
“The sole people who investigated Ballymurphy were the Royal Military Police. When politicians say that Ballymurphy was investigated they are referring to the investigation done by the friends of those who were being interviewed who murdered our loved ones,” said Mr. Teggart.
“Just like the Widgery inquiry, if they had taken statements off of these soldiers and it didn’t sum up as the Royal Military Police liked, they crafted them to suit their version of events. All the RUC did was take photographs of our loved ones in the morgue and maybe statements from those who had identified them.
“Anybody who says that Ballymurphy was investigated needs to think about the brutality of the Royal Military Police over those three days in Ballymurphy. Then they can see if it was a proper investigation.”
“The Ballymurphy Massacre families would like to thank the AOH for their continued support.
Andree Murphy, Deputy Director of Relatives for Justice said: "The voices of the families today, as we visited the sites where the eleven were killed gave eloquent testimony to the horror of the killings, the absolute impunity from which the soldiers who took those lives benefitted, and most poignantly the impact that these killings had on the families in the years that followed and to this day.
“It was clear that both Mr. O’Connell and Mr. Cole were moved by this testimony to hardship, horror, strength and fortitude. The timing could not have been better as the British government attempt to sidestep their international legal obligations to these families and a rearguard action which attempts to defend impunity and disregard victims’ rights is in full swing.”
AOH National Vice-President Danny O'Connell said: "Both Jerry Cole and I have visited Ballymurphy before and were familiar with the events of the massacre, but hearing the deep pain in the voices of these family members as they spoke of the murders of their loved ones, while standing in the spots where these murders were committed, was deeply moving.
“The AOH as a leading voice of the Irish in America recognizes the upcoming Ballymurphy Massacre inquest will be a fundamental test of Britain's ability to give legacy justice.
"These families say that eleven innocent people including a priest and mother of eight children were murdered. They believe their loved ones will be vindicated by an impartial inquest hearing sworn eyewitness testimony and cross-examining any witness who claims justification for these killings.
"Today we stood shoulder to shoulder behind the campaign banner with the Ballymurphy families to pledge American support in their fight for justice and truth.
"We will report what we saw and heard today, back to our membership across the United States, and to our elected representatives. The AOH will follow this briefing by monitoring the inquest, and providing updates on the testimony to our members.
"Our Freedom for all Ireland chairman has invited Carmel Quinn, a sister of one of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims, to come to America and bring Ballymurphy's story directly to our members in a multi-state speaking tour in November.
"These families are entitled to truth about the killings of their loved ones. The AOH pledges to help them in their long battle to get that truth and justice."
AOH Freedom for All Ireland Committee chair, Martin Galvin, added: "British colonial secretary Karen Bradley has already admitted she had no understanding how elections are fought in the North.
The Ballymurphy inquest may teach her she has no understanding of how British troops fought in the North.
"The British army shooting down civilians in Ballymurphy was certainly different from the world she came from in England. If the evidence proves that the eleven killings were murders, how can Britain reject the truth or avoid shifting blame from exonerated innocent victims back onto British troops for murder and smearing the dead? What will it mean for her legacy consultation?”
AOH National Vice President O’Connell has labeled the upcoming inquest "a fundamental test of Britain's ability to give legacy justice.”