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My RUC uncle's 1975 killing so raw, it feels just like yesterday

By Rebecca Black

Published 26/11/2015

Ernie Clarke, nephew of reserve constable Sam Clarke
Ernie Clarke, nephew of reserve constable Sam Clarke
Constable Sam Clarke
Sergeant Patrick Maxwell

The nephew of an RUC officer killed by the IRA 40 years ago says his pain is still so raw, it feels like the murder happened only yesterday.

Reserve constable Samuel Clarke (53), of Tempo, Co Fermanagh, was shot dead along with friend and colleague Sergeant Patrick Maxwell (36), from Dungannon, as they called at a farmhouse in Clonavaddy near Pomeroy on November 25, 1975.

A third officer was injured in the attack, which took place as they travelled to the farm at the request of the Garda to inform the family living there that their sister had died across the border.

The officers were travelling in an unmarked Ford Cortina.

It later emerged that the original call to the Garda was bogus, and was to lure RUC officers to the area.

Mr Clarke's nephew Ernie said Mr Maxwell had finished his shift when the call came through, but decided to go with his friend anyway on the last duty of the day.

As they made their way to the remote address they had been given, Mr Clarke was driving with Mr Maxwell in the passenger seat. They reached a gate in a laneway and as they tried to turn, IRA gunmen opened fire.

Mr Maxwell died instantly while Mr Clarke, a war veteran, survived for a short time after emergency workers were called by their colleague who had been in the back seat of thepolice car.

The IRA claimed in a statement that the killings were "in retaliation for police harassment".

The last family member Mr Clarke saw was his teenage daughter Shirley, who he had earlier given a lift home from Dungannon. He waved at her on his way to work as he drove through Castlecaulfield, where the family lived.

Ernie Clarke said the attack still feels like it happened yesterday.

He was 20 years old and newly married at the time.

"I had always been close with Uncle Sam and have good memories," he said. "He was strict with us when we were youngsters - strict but very fair, that's how I remember him.

"It is 40 years ago but feels like yesterday to me. I was in my flat in Enniskillen when we got the word. I went down with my grandfather and two of my uncles to the police barracks in Dungannon.

"Every day doesn't help, because those that carried out murders like this seem to be glorified, not those who gave their lives.

"It was difficult being down there with my grandad. I'll never forget what he said to me - 'You should never have to walk after one of your own'. Things like that live with you for the rest of your days."

Just two years before his death, Mr Clarke was injured when the police car he was driving was ambushed by gunmen on the main Ballygawley to Dungannon Road.

An act of remembrance for the two officers took place last night during a monthly meeting of the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) based in Lisnaskea.

SEFF director of services Kenny Donaldson said the officers, a Protestant and a Catholic, represented the whole community.

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