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Women scarred by Northern Ireland Troubles tell anguished stories

By Donna Deeney

Women who suffered during the Troubles have told their stories in a new book.

Softly Spoken was inspired by a chance conversation between Catherine Cooke of Foyle Women's Information Network in Londonderry and a woman who had been tarred and feathered.

Public humiliation befell many women from the nationalist community who dated British soldiers.

For many of those who contributed to Softly Spoken, the fear felt then is still so real that they spoke anonymously.

One, the wife of a former member of the B Specials and UDR, wrote: "When we got married in 1967 my husband was in the B Specials, then they were disbanded and he joined the UDR, and then he was in the Royal Irish.

"My husband said it was either go into the UDR or go into a paramilitary organisation.

"The first UDR man to lose his life was Winston Donnell, whom we knew very well. The more people who were killed, the more you wondered who was going to be next.

"In Castlederg there is a cemetery with 28 or 29 UDR and RUC graves. My husband and I knew them all.

"They were dark days, very dark. Some people say to forget about the past but they have not got a clue about the heartache that is out there within the families who lost their loved ones, some of whom were tortured before they were brutally murdered, and most of these murders go unsolved to this day."

Rosemary McCormick Lawlor lost her brother aged 17 after he was shot by a soldier.

She wrote: "I grew up in Ballymurphy in Belfast - a community that was totally and utterly brutalised during the Troubles.

"My brother Eamon was shot by the British Army and that impacted on all of us for years and years, it still does.

"The life that I had planned with my husband in our own home that we bought in Seaforde Street bringing up our own family ended after Eamon died, because my daddy begged us to move back to Ballymurphy, because my mother just could not cope."

Rosemary agreed to take part in the book as she felt it important for women from across the divide to share their stories.

But the woman who inspired the book didn't feel able to contribute due to her fear and shame at being tied to a lamppost and tarred and feathered.

Ms Cooke said: "This experience left her deeply traumatised and ashamed. Unfortunately, this particular story has eluded us. But thanks to the Executive Office who funded the project, the stories of women that may never otherwise have been heard have been documented."

  • A limited number of copies of Softly Spoken are available free of charge at the Holywell Trust, Bishop Street, Derry

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