Belfast Telegraph

My little sister will always be eight, the age she was when I saw her murdered in Claudy

By Mark Eakin

There was just the two of us, brother and sister, and we were close. Kathryn was a bit of a tomboy, always wanting to hang out with me and my mates. She’d tag along with us on fishing trips, even when we really didn’t want her to. She was mad about animals.

She liked to knock about on her bicycle. And sometimes she’d go next door to a neighbour’s house where a woman we called Granny Duffy lived and she’d spend hours helping her bake scones and pancakes. That was her idea of a great day, footering about at the baking.

Ironically — when I think about it now — the month before she was killed in 1972 had been one of the best the pair of us had together. Our dad Billy and mum Merle had a caravan in Castlerock and we’d gone up there at the start of July.

Since mum and dad also had the shop, they couldn’t stay up there during the week, so we’d normally only get a few days away at a time. But family friends the Arthurs also had a caravan on the same site. They said Kathryn and I could stay with them and initially mum agreed to us staying on for two or three days. In the end, however, we got to stay for the whole month. We had a ball.

And then on Sunday, July 30 mum came up, took us to church and then afterwards said that she had some bad news for us: we were going home to Claudy with her so the Arthurs could get a bit of a break on their own.

Of course that was a blow in more ways that one. Those were the days when you had to earn your pocket money and so Kathryn and I knew we’d both have to do some work — and having the shop meant there was always plenty of that.

It was a busy store, the sort of place that sold everything from a needle to an anchor, and did funerals as well.

That Monday morning I set about brushing up the yard while Kathryn was told she had to clean the window. So, she got a cloth and Windolene and the kitchen steps — like a small stepladder — and made a start.

I came up out of the yard and as I walked past her I saw she had set the Windolene on the ledge. The pair of us were always fooling around, and I reached for the Windolene and squirted some on a bit of the window that she had already cleaned.

She went mad at me ... and next thing, boom. I just remember being jettisoned through the air and, as odd as it seems, I landed on my feet again. It was as if I had been lifted up and set down again.

And then when I looked around Kathryn was lying on the footpath. She had been blown off the steps.

My father had been on his way out of the yard when the bomb went off — he saw all the tiles starting to cascade off the back of the main building as if in slow motion — and threw himself into a corner.

And then he came flying out of the yard to find us. I was standing there, shaking. I don’t think I really knew what had happened. I saw dad down on the ground with Kathryn, and then my grandfather — dad’s father — came running too.

My granda knew a wee bit of first aid and they carried her into the shop and worked on her there for a while. Then they carried her up to the health centre. She was unconscious.

There were still no ambulances but the local factory, Desmond’s, had minibuses which were used to bring women from the country into work, and the manager immediately ordered that they were all driven to the health centre to start bringing the injured to hospital.

My granda went in the minibus with Kathryn to Altnagelvin Hospital. I don’t think that at that point my father had any inkling how bad it was, he was just so dazed himself.

And all around us was total devastation. Our shop was wrecked and open and vulnerable and dad needed to see to that, too. In the post office across the street people with cuts and bruises were being given tea.

Dad went into our house and came out with a bottle of brandy and we sat down on the bonnet of a car outside the post office. Dad had a swig of brandy — he was badly shaken.

And then this man who had been working on dry rot on our house came out of our front door and all I remember is him roaring across the street at my father: “Look at the numberplates.”

And I can see it all yet. I looked down and it was like tights or sacking round the numberplate, and suddenly my father was taking a look in the back of the car and then he was shouting at me: “Run, son, run.”

Now, prior to this, dad had always told Kathryn and me that if we were ever caught up in a bomb we were to stay near to where it went off because there was always a risk of running into the mouth of another one. So I raced back to where the bomb had gone off, and then some relatives told me to head for the fields.

That’s where I was when the second and third bombs went off.

Eventually we went back to the village and if it had been bad before, then this was a hell of a lot worse. This was total carnage.

I stood at the crossroads and no matter what direction I looked, everything was in bits. It was unreal.

I saw a lot of things I couldn’t really talk about; people were walking about with blood pouring out of them and still trying to help other people.

I saw Artie Hone lying outside McElhatton’s shop, and I don’t want to describe in detail what I witnessed then out of respect to his family. His son Paul, who was younger than me, was standing beside him, just staring at his father, whose head was hanging open.

That poor man survived for a week or so, but one day would have been too long for him in that state. And his wife was such a lady — she did not deserve to have that visited upon her, none of us did.

Later that day my granda arrived back from the hospital. My mother and father already knew ... but I will never forget my granda came towards me saying: “It’s all over.” Kathryn was dead.

Our family was devastated, totally devastated. My mother talked about nothing else, my father never mentioned it. He just bottled it up. If someone brought up the subject, he’d change it or just dodge out of the way.

Only once do I remember him talking about Kathryn — I think it was to a reporter — and he just collapsed into a ball of tears. He simply could not go there.

The hurt was too great.

As for me? I couldn’t even cry about it, and for years I didn’t cry. It was as if some kind of paralysis came over me.

This was 1972, mind, and there was no talk of counselling then. You wonder how you didn’t go mad, but perhaps in a way I did go a bit crazy.

I rebelled at school, I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to be back at the shop.

And for years after the bomb the shop was essentially just a makeshift building; what compensation my father did get took years to come through.

Four years on from the blast he had a visit from a man from the NIO, who were desperate to see the village rebuilt again, move the whole thing on.

This man was dressed to the nines, with an English accent, mouthful of marbles.

He looked at my father and said: “Well, William, when are you going to clear this mess up?” And my father looked back at him and replied: “Well, when you get the suede coat and the kid-gloves off, sure we can make a start.”

In 1984 we moved to Castlerock, but we couldn’t really ever leave Claudy behind. My mother died two years ago in August and my father died six months after that.

They were both 77 and their birthdays were three days apart.

They were angry about the bomb until their dying days. They felt it was never properly investigated and that is why I am speaking out so loudly now.

The role of Father Chesney in planting the bomb had been widely known for a long time, though I wasn’t told about it until I was 17, maybe 18. Before that I remember I’d walk into a room and all the adults would fall silent, it was obvious what they were talking about.

Now, if suddenly a British Government minister and a Cardinal are accusing you of something, and you had not done it, would you just agree to shift to Donegal? You would not, you would be outraged. And if you are a man of God and someone accused you of that?

I belong to the Church of Ireland, which is not that different from the Catholic Church, and I’d hate to think what would happen if I accused a bishop of something like that.

They would sue the pants of me.

Personally I can’t believe that two educated men, Willie Whitelaw and Cardinal Conway, came to such a decision without other people being involved, too. They’d have had to have been off their rockers. And to shift this boy to Donegal? That is where people go for their summer holidays, not for penance.

That day the bombers killed Catholics and Protestants, and in that room on Tuesday for the Police Ombudsman’s report, when the first hard bits of information came out, I could hear people crying.

For the Catholics, it was even worse. One of their clerics had killed their loved ones. I understand fully why some of the Catholic families did not want to go in front of the cameras afterwards. They wouldn’t be the sort of people comfortable in the limelight anyway, and they’d just been hit with that insult. But there was anger, real anger.

I call myself British/Irish, and I felt so hurt from my side that my Government, to whom I pay taxes to protect me and my family, had let us down so badly. And even today they are still saying there is not much more we can do.

Except there is. Fr Chesney may be dead, but there were other bombers in Claudy that day. I’ve lived in England and if something like this had happened in Henley-on-Thames or some other well-to-do area, there’d be calls for resignations and demands for official inquiries and it would dominate the headlines for weeks.

I want answers from David Cameron, the Prime Minister. The onus is on him. He can start with an apology in the House of Commons and then he can set about properly investigating this.

Apparently the RUC files on Claudy have been lost — which I’m taking with an ‘Aye, right, mate’ — but there must still be files on this in Westminster.

Indeed, there are still staff in Westminster today who would have been working there in 1972. There will be records of phone calls and correspondence. Let us see them.

I’m not asking for a hugely expensive inquiry so that high falutin’ lawyers can make more money — if there were inquiries into all the atrocities here, Downing Street would go bust. I just want to see the means established whereby we can get the facts out into the open.

I’ll settle for naming and shaming the bombers. Let them go through part of the hell the relatives have been going through for 38 years. There’s no point sending a 70-year-old man to prison; letting people know that he’s a murderer of men, women and children will do me. Their consciences must be pricking them; let them clear them.

We must find a way to resolve these matters and to give people some form of justice. As I like to say, the Ulster carpet is a damn good carpet because it has been down for 38 years and has never needed lifted.

This week has left me wrung out. I sat in that room and I looked around at the families and the 38 years fell away and it was as if I was looking at them back in 1972. You see, they’re stuck there.

There was the McLaughlin girls sitting across from me, good Catholic girls; they didn’t deserve that. I can rhyme off the names, one by one: Kathryn, Joseph McCloskey; David Miller; James McClelland; young William Temple; Elizabeth McElhinney; Rose McLaughlin; Patrick Connolly, Arthur Hone.

I feel no bitterness to ordinary Catholics. I wasn’t brought up that way, in fact most of my friends are Catholics.

At my mother’s funeral it was a Catholic friend who drove my father around all day, lifted and laid him. When I offered to pay him, at least for the petrol, he said: “Don’t insult me.”

And Claudy was a good place; there was always a few troublemakers on both sides out to wreck things for everyone else — you get that everywhere — but most of the people got on the best. Protestants shopped in Catholic shops, and vice-versa.

I’m not just speaking out for Kathryn Eakin, I’m doing it for all the innocent people slain in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the house.

I’ve two daughters myself now, and in a way that was hard on my mother. My eldest Samantha Kathryn (13) was named for Kathryn, and Rebecca is 11.

My mother was so protective of them. “Don’t let them in the water, don’t let them on the road, don’t let them out.” Samantha’s eighth birthday was a whole ding-dong; mum took that so badly. “My God, she is eight,” she would say to me.

I can’t help but think, too, how they have outlived Kathryn. And I can’t picture what Kathryn would look like now or begin to imagine the life she might have had.

Kathryn is always eight years old.

Mark Eakin was in conversation with Gail Walker, Deputy Editor

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