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Families lay out shoes of relatives murdered in Troubles in poignant protest at impasse over inquests

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 01/07/2016

Schoolgirls look at shoes belonging to victims of the Troubles left by their relatives during a protest outside court in Belfast yesterday
Schoolgirls look at shoes belonging to victims of the Troubles left by their relatives during a protest outside court in Belfast yesterday
Grace Connolly (7) with her murdered grandmother Joan Connolly’s shoes
Families of those killed during the Troubles protested with their dead relatives’ shoes over the halting of inquests into the murders
Families of those killed during the Troubles protested with their dead relatives’ shoes over the halting of inquests into the murders
Families of those killed during the Troubles protested with their dead relatives’ shoes over the halting of inquests into the murders

It is a simple way to represent the dead. Setting out their shoes makes a statement that encapsulates their humanity and the diversity of their lives and ways.

A pair of cowboy boots belonging to a man gunned down by heartless sectarian thugs tells you more than his name or a verbal description of his life could.

It tells you how he saw himself, how his imagination worked. It points to a little playfulness in him, a frivolity that the killer in all his seriousness probably wouldn’t understand.

They are crumpled and scuffed. He has worn them hundreds of times. And they are not boots you wear to work, they are only for playing in.

Boots like that are partying boots. This man has enjoyed himself.

He was one of the Miami Showband, murdered by the UVF in July 1975.

An elegant pair of high-heeled shoes, clean but showing wear in the leather. They’ve been worn for a special occasion in someone’s life, probably weddings, perhaps a funeral or a job interview. Just look at those shoes and you can tell something of the woman who wore them, that she took pride in her appearance, that she probably wasn’t wealthy, given that they are so worn; or perhaps she was just scrupulous and thrifty. They are worn yet clean and polished. This was a woman who was making the best of things.

A pair of floppy leather moccasins that belonged to a boy. They are hopelessly scuffed and worn, well beyond being restored to a proper shine. And every mark is a trace of his running through the streets, kicking a ball or scrambling over walls.

In Their Shoes was a protest outside the High Court in Belfast yesterday against the halting of inquests into killings and the delay in establishing the legacy proposals outlined in the Stormont House Agreement.

It is an evocative form of protest.

It tells you what is lost.

And how the loss continues to hurt.

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