The Ballymurphy massacre
Two months ago, the British government finally came clean on the murder of fourteen innocents on Bloody Sunday in 1972. But the same regiment had already committed a massacre of eleven unarmed civilians on the streets of
“The soldier with the handgun walked up to Noel Philips, who was lying on the field wounded, and executed him, with a bullet behind each ear.”
“If your loved ones are murdered by the state it’s an uphill struggle. You have to almost prove what happened before you even get any investigation.”
“If Ballymurphy had been dealt with, Bloody Sunday could never have happened.”
August 9th 1971
Internment – indefinite imprisonment without trial – was reintroduced into the North of Ireland for the first time in ten years, on August 9th 1971 at 4am. 340 people were dragged out of their houses across the Greater Ballymurphy area of
Later that day, as the full horror of what had just taken place began to sink in, loyalists from the neighbouring Springmartin estate began to form into a crowd to taunt their nationalist neighbours across the road in Springfield Park, shouting slogans such as “where’s your daddy?”. Across the road, a nationalist crowd began to form in response. The local friar, Hugh Mullen, called both the RUC and the army to ask for their help in de-escalating the rising tensions, but his requests were ignored.
John Teggart picks up the story: “The crowd in Springmartin, as the night went on, grew into about maybe 400 loyalists. They had been stoning the houses that back onto
Friar Hugh Mullen then phoned the army and told them there was a wounded man on the field and asked their soldiers to stop shooting. He then left the house and, waving a white cloth, went out onto the field to issue the last rites to Bobby. Bobby said he wasn’t dying, so Friar Mullen went back towards his house to phone the ambulance, still waving the white cloth. That was when he was shot.
A young man named Frank Quinn then ran onto the field to help, and met a barrage of bullets. He did a heroic act helping his neighbours and he was shot in the back of the head.
At the same time as this was going on, my daddy and several other people were down the road near the army barracks.
All of a sudden the Paratoopers came out of the main gates of the barracks and started firing at anybody, anybody at all. A young man called Noel Philips was wounded in the hand and the backside. He fell and screamed out. A woman named Mrs Connolly went to help but when she got to him she was shot in the face. The whole left hand side of her face was taken off with the force of the bullet.
She walked about the field saying repeatedly ‘I can’t see, I can’t see’.
My daddy was wounded in the leg initially according to eyewitness accounts. He was then shot fourteen times whilst he lay out in the open, from a distance of less than fifty yards.
Whilst this was going on, they were still shooting in the field. There were children playing in the bottom of the field and they were shot at as well. They shot an eleven year old boy in the groin. The soldiers then came out of the barracks in a Saracen [armoured truck] and onto the field. Two soldiers got out, one with an SLR, one with a handgun. The one with the handgun walked up to Noel Philips, who was lying on the field wounded, and executed him, with a bullet behind each ear.
I can say these things with confidence because we have seen the coroners’ reports, we have seen the autopsy, and there was a 9mm bullet in him from a Browning pistol. This is from experts. And our eyewitness accounts back this up.
Then there was Joan Connolly. One of the soldiers went round the side of the house and claimed later that he found a woman who was obviously dead. But from inside the house there were three sisters who said that Mrs Connolly had been walking around repeatedly saying ‘I can’t see’. It was later found out that she wasn’t shot once, she was shot four times: in the belly, in the shoulder and the thigh, as well as in the face.
The other soldier grabbed a man called Gerald Russell from where he was injured behind a pillar and trailed him about the footpath and just started shooting him at point blank range with the rifle. He was shot four times. Then they started piling the bodies into the Saracen, both dead and wounded.
Joseph Murphy, who had been shot in the leg, was taken in and repeatedly beaten. He died a week later. Because the injuries he received during the beating were so bad, he couldn’t be operated on. He died from gangrene. The whole of his body was completely black from where he was bruised and he told his wife on his death bed that they shot rubber bullets into his wound as well.
Davy Callaghan, an ex-Navy man, was also taken out of the Saracen. There was a gauntlet of paratroopers waiting for him. He was taken out and held on the ground whilst they took it in turns to kick him severely between his legs. He ended up in hospital with a cage round his lower body.
Gerald Russell was taken into the room, where he was beaten repeatedly and hit with rifle butts. They actually put the rifle muzzle into one of his wounds and picked him up with it. They then jumped off the bed repeatedly onto him. This was a man wounded four times. He said while he was there, there was a naked man, thrown onto the floor beside him. He says this man was obviously dead or dying. We believe it was Danny Taggart, my daddy. He said what they did to him, bouncing off the beds, they did to my daddy as well exactly the same. The dead and the wounded were both beaten.
Six people in the space of around half an hour or an hour were murdered by the paratroopers.”
“But the brutality did not stop there. After internment and all that brutality - people being shot, the local priest being shot - barricades went up in every area. At one of these barricades, there was a tree that had been cut down and put in the middle of the road. One of the soldiers arrived in a digger to try to dismantle the barricade. There was rioting and people stoning him trying to stop him. A lot of eyewitness accounts all sum up that the soldier then swung open his door and shot through the barricade hitting Eddie Doherty in the back. He died almost instantly.”
“By 6am on 11th August there were 600 paratroopers in the area. People started banging bin lids to alert the area that the soldiers were coming in again. Joseph Corr came out of his home and John Laverty, one of two brothers, had also gone out. A statement we have from soldier B, 1 Para is that he shot both men. One died that night and one died in the coming weeks.
From that moment on, the soldiers just went through the whole estate kicking people’s doors down. Fifty seven people were arrested. They went from street to street shooting and brutalising people. The paratroopers were repeatedly beating people, standing on their throats, and hitting them with rifle butts. Sheer mayhem.
They were shooting repeatedly at the community centre, where a youth club was going on. Youth leader Pat McCarthy put a white flag on the end of a stick, came out of the centre, and was shot in the hand, with blood pouring from his hand.
But he had provisions, he knew where the barricades were through the area, and he knew there weren’t any provisions getting through. So he decided he would load up a crate and push it through the area, shouting ‘milk for babies’. He didn’t get very far before he met two paratroopers. One grabbed him, the other kicked his crate over. After that Pat McCarthy suffered a massive heart attack. The local people of the area said they tried to get to him to give him aid, but the paras wouldn’t let him. He died almost instantly.”
Further down the road, not 300 yards away, a joiner named John McKerr was fixing the locks in
That’s the story of the massacre but it is bigger than that. Of the whole 57 who were arrested, only Terry Laverty and with the young lad he was with were charged with riotous behaviour. That was to cover up John’s death [Terry’s brother], to make it look like a riot situation when in fact it was an invasion of 600 paratroopers into the estate of Ballymurphy two days after shooting six people.”
The deaths, as had been the case after four killings during the Falls Curfew the previous year, were never properly investigated. Military police interviewed their colleagues in the days that followed, and those statements were taken at face value by the RUC (the police) and used for their one-page reports on each of the deaths. Those killed were all said to be gunmen, killed by the paratroopers in self-defence or caught in the ‘crossfire’.
“From their interviews there are total discrepancies. My daddy’s injuries were almost all on his side. Your not shooting a gunman if he’s almost pointing the opposite way. They said that Mrs Connolly [a 45 year old mother of eight] was a superwoman: that after dropping her gun, she jumped over their heads with a submachine gun and starting firing again. They said she used at least two firearms to shoot them.”
In a pattern that was then starting to become depressingly familiar to nationalists in the North, those reports were then reported as fact in the media. Nor has the official story of events been changed to this day. “The only way it’s going to change is through the likes of what we’re doing with the campaign. Because otherwise, this is what young people will be reading as history, in the newspaper reports of the day: that my father was a gunman, that Mrs Connolly was a gunwoman, that all these victims were gunmen and women. That’s what we need to change, and we have the evidence to prove it.”
“Our goal is an independent international investigation, independent from the state. We want them to investigate all the circumstances around all the killings. And from that, we want a statement of innocence that all these people were innocent, just like Bloody Sunday. The evidence is there that this was murder, this was a war crime.
There were 14 people killed less than six months later in Bloody Sunday by the same soldiers, the same regiment – 1 para. If Ballymurphy had been dealt with, Bloody Sunday could never have happened. If any sort of investigation had been carried out in Ballymurphy five or six months previous, Bloody Sunday couldn’t have taken place.
The hierarchy of the MoD knew exactly what the paras were capable of after that. The local authorities in
So far this year has been very good for us. In May the leader of Sinn Fein sent a public letter to the families fully supporting our call for an independent investigation. He also took us to the European parliament and held events there to highlight what we were doing. We had the leader of the SDLP also writing a letter publicly supporting all our demands. The Saville Report said that the Ballymurphy massacre has to be addressed. We also spoke to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from the Dail. The support this year is snowballing. We are meeting the British Secretary of State in September and we will use that as a stepping stone to meet the British Prime Minister.
Having the Catholic church involved is another big step for us. After a series of meetings with Bishop Donald O Connor and Bishop Treanor they came up with some archives that hadn’t been seen before – including a report and witness statements. One of those reports says that you could indict the paratroopers in Springmartin for shooting dead Frank Quinn.”
The Saville Enquiry may well have encouraged the church to reveal its evidence. For years, the church had kept quiet on the grounds that saying anything could be portrayed as somehow ‘taking sides’ in the conflict. The Saville report, however, by accepting that the Paratroopers were indeed involved in the murder of innocents, broke the taboo. The Ballymurphy families hope that it will pave the way for an investigation into what happened to their loved ones also:
“You have to remember that Bloody Sunday wasn’t an isolated incident. They had already killed eleven people in Ballymurphy before going on to kill fourteen in
You would think that every murder should be investigated. But if your loved ones are murdered by the state it’s an uphill struggle. You have to almost prove what happened before you even get any investigation, and that’s the struggle we’re involved in at the moment.”
Please join the Ballymurphy families’ campaign for justice at www.ballymurphymassacre.com
* Introduction to this series:
I went to Belfast this summer because as an aspiring community activist, socialist and anti-imperialist, I am aware that there are precious few parties in the West that have successfully mobilised working class communities along these lines, and in my view, Sinn Fein is one of those precious few.
I am also painfully aware that unless we in such communities here start organising and fighting for our rights, we are shortly going to be plunged into poverty and degradation on a scale unprecedented since the Second World War. I wanted to know how Sinn Fein are responding to the crisis, and to see their form of community politics in action to learn whatever lessons could be of use to those organising in Britain.
At the same time I wanted to discuss and publicise the ongoing struggle for justice of those who lost relatives to
If we are serious about mobilising our communities for the problems ahead, we are going to need the same level of honesty and commitment I saw in
Dan Glazebrook can be contacted at: