Tonight - Monday - there will be a Special Mass in Memory of the 40th Anniversary of the Springhill Westrock Massacre in Corpus Christi Chapel on Monday 9th July at 6pm.
This will be followed by a presentation in the hall at the back of the chapel about the Historical Enquiries Team examinations into Royal Military Police by Dr Patricia Lundy of University of Ulster. There will also be a panel discussion.
Afterwards there will be a candle light vigil to the Westrock Garden of Remembrance.
There have been many dark days arising out of the conflict. Most families in the north have been touched by these. One such was Bloody Sunday. 14 civilians were killed by the British Paras when they attacked a civil rights march in Derry on January 30th 1972.
Two years ago, and following a lengthy public inquiry the Saville Commission, exonerated all of those killed and the British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for what happened, describing the killing of the marchers as ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’.
Saville took 12 years to publish its report. Among its conclusions were:
• No warning was given to any civilians before the soldiers opened fire
• None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers
• Some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying
• None of the casualties was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting
• Many of the soldiers lied about their actions
Last Friday the PSNI announced that it is to hold a murder investigation into the events on Bloody Sunday.
Regrettably, Bloody Sunday was not the exception to the rule in the history of British Army’s actions in the north. Two other military operations against civilians by the Paras fit the same pattern of Bloody Sunday and one is 40 years old today.
On July 9th 1972 five citizens from the Springhill estate in west Belfast were shot and killed by British snipers from the parachute regiment hiding in Corry’s timber yard on the Springfield Road.
Among the dead was the second Catholic priest to be killed in greater Ballymurphy area; Fr Noel Fitzpatrick. He was shot in the neck while administering the Last Rites. Of the four others to die three were teenagers - Margaret Gargan was 13, David McCafferty was 14 and John Dougall was 16 - and the fourth, Paddy Butler (38), was a father of six children.
Margaret Gargan, from Westrock Drive was killed by a single bullet wound to the head. She was thirteen years old. John Dougal from Springhill Avenue died after being shot in the chest. He was sixteen years old. David McCafferty from Ballymurphy Drive was also killed when he was shot in the chest. He was fifteen years old. Patrick Butler from Westrock Drive was killed by a single shot to the head.
All were shot by British Paras operating from Corry’s, all were civilians, and according to local eye witnesses, there was no IRA activity in the area at that time.
Immediately adjacent to the Springhill estate lies Ballymurphy. 11 months earlier, following the introduction of internment in August 1971, the Parachute Regiment was sent into the Ballymurphy estate. In the subsequent 48 hours 11 were civilians were shot dead, one was the parish priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, who like Fr Fitzpatrick was giving the last rites to victims, and another was Joan Connolly, the mother of eight children.
In the same period the paras killed another two people in Belfast; Desmond Healey, aged 14, in Lenadoon and John Beattie, who was 17, was killed in the Clonard area.
On January 30th 1972 it the Paras who went into Derry and in a matter of minutes shot dead 13 men. Another 14 men and women were injured, some seriously and a 14th man died later of his wounds.
Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan was killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre believes that:
“Had the soldiers who killed my mother been investigated properly and held to account, Bloody Sunday would never have happened.”
The following March (1973) the Parachute Regiment arrived in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast for a ‘tour of duty’. Within days Eddie Sharp (28) was shot dead and in the following weeks they had killed another four people. One of these was 12-year-old Tony McDowell. Tony was in a car being driven by his uncle when paratroopers opened fire, hitting the child in the back.
Another infamous victim of the Paras’ violence was South Armagh schoolgirl Majella O’Hare (12) who was shot dead in the churchyard at Ballymoyer, near Whitecross, on 14 August 1976.
Like Bloody Sunday the British Paras involved in the Springhill and Ballymurphy Massacres gave no warning of their intent; were under no threat from their victims; many of those who died were either fleeing or going to help others who were injured; and the soldiers lied about their actions. The victims were all civilians and many of them were teenagers.
The Springhill and Ballymurphy families have campaigned for 40 years for the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. It has been a long and difficult road for them but this blog is always amazed by their tenacity and fortitude.