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Tribute to family cruelly slain by IRA set to be unveiled

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/04/2016

Joy Bingham on her wedding day with her father William, who died alongside her mum and sister in IRA attack
Joy Bingham on her wedding day with her father William, who died alongside her mum and sister in IRA attack

A Co Down woman has revealed her haunting memory of the final time she saw her father, framed by an upstairs window surrounded by flames and unable to escape.

Joy Bingham has spoken about her father William Herron (64) who was killed along with his wife Elizabeth (58) and daughter Noeline (26) in an IRA fire bomb attack on their Dromore drapery shop ahead of the dedication of the first memorial to them.

The tribute will be unveiled in the town on Thursday, the 40th anniversary of the atrocity.

Mr Herron was closely associated with the loyal orders, and Closkelt Royal Black Preceptory's banner bears his image. Members of that lodge will gather at Dromore Orange Hall for the unveiling of the granite memorial stone set in the wall at the front of the building. A memorial service will follow.

His daughter said she will never forget the last time she saw her father.

"The shop was engulfed with flames. I saw my father at the open upstairs window - he was still alive.

"The flames were engulfing the window and my father couldn't get out.

"That was the last time I ever saw him; my last vision of him still alive."

The blaze destroyed much of the shop and the family home above it, where the three victims died from suffocation.

Mrs Bingham had been at home in bed when the phone rang.

"I asked who it was and she identified herself as the woman who owned the shop a few doors down from my parents' shop," she recalled. "I knew something was wrong so I went to fetch my husband to the phone and threw on some clothes.

"I jumped into the car and drove down to the shop, two minutes away."

Her family doctor, who owned the chemist next to the shop, was at the scene.

Mrs Bingham remembers how he threw his coat over her eyes to protect her. "He thought that I had seen enough," she said. "The fire had blocked the stairs and there was no way of escaping. My mum was found in the kitchen near the window and my youngest sister Noeline by the telephone. They had all been trying to escape, to get help."

Mrs Bingham said she felt her family were targeted because her father had a factory in Belfast that made collarettes for Orangemen and bands' uniforms.

"It was such a shock, not only for our family but for the whole area. No one could quite believe it had happened. To lose one would have been tragic," she said.

"My children kept me going, but it was very hard. I was 32 and felt like an orphan.

"Although I had my husband and was a mother myself, I still needed my own mother and father.

"My father and I were very, very close, we had a great relationship. I was left with no father to talk to, no mother to take out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, no little sister."

The local Catholic priest was the first to call at Mrs Bingham's door the morning after the fire, which she said typified the tight-knit community.

Two sisters from Portaferry and a man from Downpatrick were convicted of manslaughter over the outrage.

"Jeanette Griffith was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when she walked into the drapery shop that day. It was Marion Clegg, her elder sister, who planted the device while Jeanette bought a pair of socks," she said.

"Marion was 27 - nearly the same age as Noeline - when she was charged. She had got married two weeks after my family died and had two children when she was sent to Armagh jail."

The sisters were released early in 1985 under a Royal Prerogative.

"We were never consulted or asked about how we felt about it. To me it was a calculated insult to the memories of the members of my family who were so brutally murdered in that fire bomb attack," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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