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Families demand British tell the truth about Belfast's Bloody Sunday

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday World)

Joan Connolly's injuries were so horrific that at first her husband couldn't identify her in the morgue. Half her face was blown away by the gunfire.

But when he looked closely, Denis could see the red hair of which his wife has been so proud. Joan, a 45-year-old mother of eight, was shot dead by the Paras in Ballymurphy as she helped a wounded man.

She wasn't the only innocent victim. Over three days in August 1971, soldiers killed 11 unarmed civilians, including a Catholic priest. It was Belfast's Bloody Sunday.

Later this month, on the 40th anniversary of the 'Ballymurphy Massacre', the families will present a dossier of new evidence on the killings to the British and Irish governments. "It will include forensic and ballistic reports and autopsies," says Joan's daughter Briege Voyle.

"We want an independent international investigation into the massacre, a statement from the British government declaring the innocence of our loved ones, and a public apology." The SDLP and Sinn Féin support the families' campaign.

It was Para 1 – the same regiment which would murder 14 people in Derry six months later – which went on the rampage in Ballymurphy. As with the Bogside horror, an official cover-up followed. The MOD initially claimed those killed were armed. The soldiers' shooting spree left 54 children without parents.

But unlike the massacre in Derry, Ballymurphy never made world headlines. The media weren't present to film the slaughter. The bereaved and injured were ignored. There has been no £200m inquiry.

Bloody Sunday has been the subject of countless award-winning documentaries and films. Not even local broadcasters have made a programme about Ballymurphy. "We're determined the truth will be told and Ballymurphy wont be the forgotten massacre," says Briege.

"Our lawyers have already sent a report to the North's attorney general, John Larkin. We're confident that inquests into most of the 11 deaths will be re-opened."

After internment was introduced on 9 August 1971, 1,000 soldiers entered Ballymurphy, raiding homes and rounding up men. Loyalists began attacking Catholic homes. Those IRA members not in hiding waged gun battles with the British.

"Young lads were stoning the Henry Taggart army base on the Springfield Road," says Briege who was then 14. "My sister and I went to see what was happening. My mother came to order us home.

"The paras just started shooting. Mummy saw Noel Phillips being hit. He was crawling along the field beside the barracks before he died. 'Don't worry son, I'll help you,' she shouted.

"The soldiers shot her in the face. She screamed 'I cant see, I'm blind!' They shot her again. Then, they used the bodies on the ground for target practice."

Hours later, Briege and her four sisters were evacuated to a refugee camp in Cork: "We watched my mother's funeral on TV. My youngest sister was three years old. She cried her eyes out. All I could say to comfort her was 'Mummy's gone to heaven to get you sweets.'"

Briege claims the army harassed the family for years afterwards: "They played the Last Post outside our house.. But it was their lies which hurt most. One soldier said my mother had fired on him with a Browning machine gun. She wouldn't even have known what that was. Bingo was her only vice."

On the wall of Briege's living room hangs a painting of her mother in a bright yellow hat, suit and pearls. "I miss her as much as ever," says Briege.

It was a culture shock when Fr Hugh Mullan (38), from the quiet Co Down fishing village of Portaferry, was transferred to bustling Ballymurphy. But he grew to love his congregation and they loved him.

As trouble broke out on 9 August 1971, he heard that one parishioner, Bobby Clarke, was lying injured in the field beside the army base. He phoned the barracks to say he was going to help Bobby. Fr Mullan waved a babygro as a makeshift white flag.

He anointed Bobby in the field and then went to phone an ambulance. He was shot in the back. "When I heard on the radio that a priest had been shot, I knew it was my brother," says Patsy Mullan.

"He had no fear and he'd never abandon his parishioners. He lived and breathed for them. There was a lot of poverty in Ballymurphy. Whatever money he had, he gave to those in need. Other priests told him not to be so generous, but that was his way."

Danny Teggart (44), a Catholic who had married a Protestant, was shot 14 times outside the Henry Taggart base after leaving his brother's house. "When he didn't' come home, we were frantic with worry," says his daughter Alice Harper.

"I went to the barracks to ask if they knew where daddy was. The soldiers laughed and sang a song which was in the charts then, 'Where's your papa gone. .. chirpy, chirpy, cheep cheep.'

"I went back later and they did the same thing. When I went a third time, I was crying. I told the soldiers a man had seen the army shoot daddy. One soldier said, 'There's a f***ing body in the morgue, go and look there.' And they all started singing again.

"At daddy's inquest, the army claimed bullets were found in his donkey jacket. It was a lie. He didn't have a donkey jacket and they never produced the bullets."

Danny Teggart had 13 children. After his death, his wife couldn't cope. "I tried to help my mother but I was pregnant," says Alice. "I didn't take enough care of myself. My baby son died two days after he was born."

John Laverty (20) was shot in the back in Dermot Hill. Terry Laverty (18) heard the gunfire but didn't know it was his brother being killed. Minutes later, he was himself stopped by soldiers who ordered him to remove his socks and shoes and lie on the ground.

"One pointed his gun at Terry and said, 'I've just shot one Irish bastard, another one wont matter,'" says his sister Carmel Quinn. "It was the same soldier who had killed John. He pulled the trigger to shoot Terry but the gun jammed.

"Terry was never the same again. He tried to get on with life. He got married and had kids but he never really grew up. He stayed 18. They call it survivor's guilt."

Despite everything, Carmel says her mother wasn't bitter: "The next year, a British soldier was shot in our street. My mother put a cardigan under his head and he died in her arms. She said she showed mercy because he was somebody's son."

Pat McCarthy (44) was an English Quaker who had moved to Ballymurphy to work with young people there. As the army continued shooting, Pat tried to negotiate a ceasefire with them. He walked the streets with a red cross flag tied to a brush. It was shot out of his hand. He was unperturbed.

A curfew was imposed with bread and milk vans prevented from entering the area. Pat loaded milk onto a trolley and walked through the streets shouting, 'Milk for babies!' He was stopped by two soldiers and beaten. One placed a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Pat didn't know it wasn't loaded. He died from a heart attack.

Pat's partner Jan and his two daughters are coming to Ballymurphy for the 40th anniversary. They will attend a play about the massacre which opens as part of the West Belfast festival this week. It was written by Brenda Murphy whose uncle, Joseph Murray, was one of the dead.

"We know that having apologised for Bloody Sunday, it will be an uphill battle to force the British to say sorry for another atrocity," says Briege Voyle. "But we wont give up until they do."

August 8, 2011

This article appeared in the August 7, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.

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