There was relief, joy and and feelings of utter vindication on the streets of Ballymurphy Tuesday evening
By Anthony Neeson
It has taken half a century but the families of ten people shot dead during the Ballymurphy Massacre listened on Tuesday as a Belfast Coroner told them that their loved ones were "entirely innocent."
In August 1971 internment without trial was introduced with Catholics being rounded up in dawn raids throughout Northern Ireland. The episode was particularly bloody in Belfast.
Over a 36-hour period between August 9-11, 11 people – one a priest and another a mother of eight – lay dead in the Ballymurphy area of West Belfast at the hands of the British army’s Parachute Regiment - the same unit that five months later would go on to shoot dead 13 people in Derry during what became known as Bloody Sunday, with another victim dying four months later.
In the aftermath of the Ballymurphy killings the British army branded those who died as gunmen and a gunwoman. On Tuesday, after a lengthy inquest which began back in November 2018, and ended just before lockdown began last year, Justice Siobhan Keegan delivered her findings over the course of two hours.
All ten people shot dead during the Ballymurphy Massacre were innocent and killed without justification, the coroner ruled.
Those who died were Father Hugh Mullan (38), Francis Quinn (19), Daniel Teggart (44), Joan Connolly (44), Noel Phillips (19), Joseph Murphy (41), John Laverty (20), Joseph Corr (43), Edward Doherty (31) and John McKerr (49).
An eleventh victim of the Ballymurphy Massacre was Paddy McCarthy, a youth worker from England, who died from a heart attack after Paratroopers placed a gun in his mouth and threatened to shoot. Soldiers prevented locals from coming to his aid. His death is not included in the current inquest.
John Teggart, whose father Daniel Teggart was amongst the victims, recounted the families’ long and arduous fight for justice.
“After fifty years they have finally had their names cleared and their innocence proved beyond doubt,” he said.
“During the inquest we had to sit through a hundred days of evidence. Each day we relived the horror of what happened to our loved ones in August 1971. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was awful, but what gave us the strength to get through was the knowledge that every day of the evidence was another blow to the MoD and their web of lies.
“We remained determined and united as the truth was finally recognized by the court. The lies of the British government were laid bare for the world to see. It has taken us fifty years to get to this point. We are just ordinary families from Ballymurphy but we have held the British Government and the Ministry of Defence to account.”
Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly – a mother of eight –was shot dead during the Ballymurphy Massacre and falsely branded a "gunwoman," called for the regiment's disbandment.
"The British army told a lie fifty years ago, a lie that was retold time and time again," she said.
"The British government covered up the lie and brought shame on themselves. My mother was no gunwoman. The coroner's findings are clear; she was innocent. Her only crime was love. Love for her family as she went out to make sure that we were all safe. Love for a stranger who she tried to help as he cried out in pain after being shot by the army.
"Unlike mummy, the Parachute Regiment only had hate in their hearts when they gunned down her and the others. They were not peacemakers. They were not great soldiers. They were nothing but cowards. They shot my mummy, an unarmed mother of eight, from the safety of their barracks. They were cowards then, they were cowards now.”
On Tuesday night, during emotional scenes, the families took part in a cavalcade through the streets of Ballymurphy as residents poured onto the streets to celebrate the inquiry's findings. You can watch on https://belfastmedia.com/west-belfast-community-rejoices-at-ballymurphy-verdict