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After our son was murdered, my husband and I planned to take our own lives, but then God stopped us

Twenty years ago, taxi driver Michael McGoldrick was shot dead by loyalists. Here, his mum Bridie tells Stephanie Bell why a charity set up in his name is her life's work and why she prays for peace

The day after their only son, Michael McGoldrick, was murdered by loyalist gunmen, bereft parents Bridie and Michael senior could see no way of carrying on without him and agreed a suicide pact. The pair suffered terribly, struggling to come to terms with the unfathomable loss, before deciding to help children stuck in dire poverty gave them a reason to carry on.

Over the years, in memory of their son, the couple have transformed the lives of thousands of destitute families in Romania and Moldova through a charity they set up in tribute to Michael called United Christian Aid.

Tragically, it was on one of his many mercy missions that Michael senior died suddenly in Moldova in 1996. He was rushed to hospital, but passed away from septicaemia.

In what turned out to be her last telephone conversation with her husband before he died, the pair shared the same words they shared with their son before he was murdered.

Speaking from her Craigavon home about the wonderful work of the charity and how she coped with her terrible loss, 73-year-old Bridie says: "Michael was in hospital and very ill, although I had no idea then I was going to lose him. He told me I was his rock and he told me he loved me very much, and I said, 'Love you right back'.

"Those were our last words and also the last words we said to our son. It was at his graduation ceremony, and as we were leaving Michael said to us, 'I love you both', and we said, 'Love you right back, son'."

Bridie felt lost again without her loving husband by her side, but with support from the people around her she bravely decided to carry on the vitally important work of the organisation they founded together.

The charity gave both her and Michael senior a reason to live after their son's murder in 1996.

Michael was working as a taxi driver in his hometown of Lurgan when he was lured to a lonely spot by loyalist gunmen and shot in the back of the head five times during the height of the Drumcree crisis.

Terrorist Clifford McKeown was later convicted of his murder. It was claimed the killing was carried out as a "birthday present" for notorious LVF leader Billy Wright.

About two weeks ago, a banner glorifying Wright, a known killer who was shot dead in prison by the INLA, was erected in a loyalist area of Dungannon. While Mrs McGoldrick has read about the controversial banner, she declines to comment directly on it.

"I don't care who is in power or what they do or don't do," she says. "I will keep doing what God has asked me to do - working to feed and clothe the hungry and poor.

"That is my living memorial to my son, and I won't let anything distract me. I will keep doing this as long as possible.

"I keep everyone in my prayers for peace every night, and I pray that no more people are left in the situation that we have been left in, and that people will accept true peace.

"The only arms that we need are those that God gave us, and we should hold them out to each other in peace".

Bridie's son was 31 when he was killed, and a devoted dad to his seven-year-old daughter, Emma, and husband to Sadie, who was at that time six months' pregnant with their son, Andrew, who is now 19 and is "the image of his father".

Two days before he was murdered, Michael graduated with a degree in English and politics, and was hoping to become a teacher.

Bridie and her husband were so devastated by his killing that they felt their lives were over.

"We decided to take our own lives," she explains. "I had a lot of medication in the house because I have arthritis, and we had it all planned to take the tablets.

"We hadn't eaten in two days when Michael went into the kitchen to get a sandwich because he thought it would make it easier for the tablets to go down if he didn't have an empty stomach.

"We had a kitchen full of food everyone had brought, but there was no butter. He put some ham between two pieces of bread, but because there was no butter it kept sticking to the roof of his mouth and he couldn't eat it.

"Suddenly he said to me, 'Bridie we are a pair of fools', and he knelt down and asked the Lord to help us. As he prayed the thought of suicide left us."

It was also prayer that led Michael to set up the charity in memory of his son, which was to be a lifeline to the heartbroken couple over the years.

In the immediate aftermath of the shocking murder, the bereaved father prayed every night that he would see his son again soon.

"Every night he went to bed and prayed and would say 'night, night, son, hope to see you tomorrow'," Bridie says.

"I said one night that I really wished he wouldn't say that anymore, as I didn't understand why he was saying it.

"He explained that God might call him home, and if he did he might see his son, and then I understood. He was such a big softie.

"Michael then said to me that while our child didn't need us anymore, thousands of kids did need help, and that was when the charity started.

"People were so good, and within no time there were so many donations I couldn't move in my own house. We were also offered premises in Portadown free of charge."

The charity took off from day one and the money needed to carry out its good work has come in ever since.

Michael made the long journey to Romania every eight weeks to deliver the aid in person, ensuring that every single penny got to those who needed it.

The couple learned very quickly that people with no homes and no washing machines to wash clothes in or ovens to cook food in needed desperately needed their help.

United Christian Aid provides funding direct to families to build homes and communities, so that they can be self-sufficient. Once a village is on its feet, the charity moves to another one. To date, it has helped around 60 villages become self-sufficient.

"We spend two years sponsoring a village," Bridie explains. "The first year allows them to grow their own food to see themselves through the season, and in the second year the money allows them to put a roof and doors and floors onto their homes.

"We also sponsor one community project, which could be providing electricity, putting in a new road or a bridge, whatever is most needed."

Her husband's devotion to the people he met out in Romania was absolute and he dedicated his life to helping them. Such was his drive to help that after saving for 10 years for a first family holiday in Scotland, he could not bear to spend any money.

"I remember one night I was praying and thanking God for my husband, who was the most kind and generous man I had ever met," Bridie says.

"Just after I had prayed, Michael started to talk about a family who were living in a shed, and I just knew then it was bye-bye holiday.

"He wanted to use our money to build them a house. That was the kind of man he was."

Bridie now lives for the charity and for her grandson, Andrew, who has just finished his A-levels, and her granddaughter, Emma (27), who has a degree in medical science, as well as her daughter-in-law Sadie.

"Andrew is the image of his father," she says. "Michael and Sadie had been told after Emma that they couldn't have any more children, and so when Sadie was pregnant they were over the moon. I can still picture Michael standing in the shop wheeling the new pram they were buying him and asking me, 'How do I look?'

"He has missed so much, and so have the children. He was no angel, but he was a good, good fella.

"It is the wee things you think about and remember. Michael had a laugh that would lift the roof off, and I can still hear him laughing.

"You have to get up in the morning and put a smile on your face and get on with life.

"I don't always get it right, and I make mistakes, but the charity and the support of the volunteers give me a reason to get up.

"Every single penny we get goes to the poor, and every single thing that is donated is put to good use. Nothing is wasted. It is my living memorial to my son, and it is what God has asked me to do."

  • United Christian Aid has a charity shop based at 100 Hill Street in Lurgan. You can help sponsor a family or make a donation by ringing Bridie on 028 3834 1386

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