ORn the first day of the Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971, I was at my family’s home in Riverdale, another predominantly nationalist West Belfast development. I saw a group of young people organizing materials for a barricade and stacking boxes of gasoline pumps.
The first internment raids were carried out in Belfast in the early hours of that morning, and the British Army rounded up people they suspected of being involved in the IRA without trial. There was an atmosphere of apprehension mixed with an almost carnival spirit.
We could hear distant gunshots and smell smoke in the breeze.
I walked past the men to Finaghy’s tents, and as I was returning, an army vehicle appeared on the road and they ran out to attack it. The vehicle stopped and soldiers in red berets took to the road to take positions. The first shots I heard were rubber bullets, different for their rounder and harsher sound. When I got to my house, about a hundred meters ahead, I heard two rifle shots. He had heard gunshots before. We all had it.
The soldiers had not had any missions in Riverdale. They were on their way to another place, but they accepted the men’s invitation to come fight, shot one person dead, and left. They killed Frank McGuinness, a teenager. They hadn’t needed to kill him. They could have let some bricks bounce off their vehicle and carry on.
That was the first of many murders committed by the army in the vicinity of the internment operation. The murders that we have heard about this week, in an investigation, are the 10 that are called the Ballymurphy massacre. In fact, the army shot and killed 19 people in the first four days of the week of detention, most of them in controversial circumstances.
One of the dead was a 50-year-old Protestant woman named Sarah Worthington who was standing in her living room in Velsheda Park, near the Ardoyne riots, where entire streets were on fire.
The families of the 10 people killed in Ballymurphy that week mounted a coherent campaign over many years, giving a series of atrocities a singular focus, although the rest of the bleeding that week has not received as much attention. They worked hard to bring attention to their good cause and their success was having only one investigation for that group of murders. This was a very slow and difficult process. Although everyone in Belfast knew about the murders at the time, no label was put on them in the way that Bloody Sunday was instantly named.
I have been researching what I call the “Year of Chaos” for a book to be published in the fall. At the time, there did not appear to be a campaign focused on those murders in Ballymurphy. In fact, when the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, met Prime Minister Ted Heath at a summit at Checkers the following month, he did not mention the murders.
And there can be many reasons for blindness to these and other atrocities of the Problems. It is possible that the families, not being political activists, simply did not have the inclination to organize initially. There were also no television crews or photojournalists available to document the events, as happened in Derry the following year. And there were so many other murders these 10 didn’t stand out so clearly in those terrible times.
I still shudder to remember the nights my cab home from work was tracked through rifle sights by soldiers with blackened faces squatting in front of shop doors on Falls Road.
We all knew that others had been shot and killed for not reading a soldier’s order to stop. That is what happened to William Ferris, who was in the back seat of a car, traveling home from work. This was also during the internment week. The driver saw a soldier in front of him and thought he was signaling him. Two other men were shot dead in cars that week by soldiers who distrusted the movements they were making or the flashing of their lights.
And as we know, the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries were also killing people that week, the first week of a terrible period between the summers of 1971 and 1972 in which they would be killed more than in any year since. There were two sectarian killings of Protestants by the IRA. These were William Atwell, killed by a nail bomb dropped at the Mackie factory in Belfast, and William Stronge in the Oldpark area, who was shot by a sniper while helping neighbors move from their home to safety. .
Tuesday’s verdict in the investigation into the Ballymurphy massacre stated that the 10 people shot to death during British Army operations were innocent and unarmed civilians. Victims of unjustified use of force. This is a demand finally for the families of the murdered.
Regardless of such convictions, the British government has previously signaled its intention to end prosecutions of soldiers suspected of murder in Northern Ireland ahead of the Good Friday deal. He has also recognized the need for some kind of truth retrieval process. Although the queen’s speech The details were clearly brief, Boris Johnson yesterday “apologized unreservedly on behalf of the UK government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy.” However, without a genuine effort to investigate all the unsolved murders of the riots and summarize the past in a credible way, the only recourse for the aggrieved remains separate, lengthy investigative campaigns, new investigations and justice. Many grievances, deep and valid, will be overlooked.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism