Belfast Telegraph

Ballymurphy massacre: Body of shot mother-of-eight thrown into Army vehicle like sack of potatoes, inquest told

Victim: Joan Connolly
Victim: Joan Connolly
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

An eyewitness to the Ballymurphy massacre described seeing soldiers throwing the body of a woman into an Army vehicle in an unceremonious and disrespectful way.

The comments were made at the inquest investigating the deaths of 10 people killed in disputed circumstances in west Belfast in 1971.

Agnes Keenan (82) gave evidence yesterday on events she witnessed on the evening of August 9, 1971.

That day four people were killed - Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy and Noel Phillips.

Mrs Keenan, then in her 30s, had been at her family home on the Springfield Road near to waste ground where the shootings took place.

Looking from the back window of the house, she claimed to have seen soldiers throwing the body of Mrs Connolly "like a sack of potatoes" into the back of an Army Jeep.

The court heard an extract from an interview with Mrs Keenan.

She said: "They just threw her in. They always said the dead deserve respect. That will stay with me until the day I die."

She added she saw what may have been the bodies of two men in the back of the vehicle.

Earlier that evening Mrs Keenan had left the house when a crowd - that included Mrs Connolly - gathered on the street outside. She said the 44-year-old mother-of-eight had seemed "agitated" and had been waving a stick, but did not think it could have been mistaken for a weapon.

Mrs Keenan said the crowd dispersed when soldiers arrived from the nearby Henry Taggart base. At this point she went indoors with her sister Margaret and sister-in-law Phyllis.

The family later heard gunshots hitting the gable wall of the house. By the time Mrs Keenan managed to look out the window she said she saw two soldiers lifting Mrs Connolly by an arm and a leg and throwing her head-first into the vehicle.

Speaking in court, she said: "It's hateful. They just threw her in. It's rotten to say, I'd like another way to say it.

"They just quickly bundled her up and left."

Earlier the inquest heard evidence from a former paratrooper who remained anonymous and spoke to the inquest from behind a screen.

Identified only by the cypher M1374, he said that he saw a lieutenant carrying the body of a woman over his shoulder into a medical room.

Two other men were also brought in, but he could only be sure one of them was alive at the time.

Around dusk on August 9, the soldier had been in the Henry Taggart Hall.

He said he heard the crack of high-powered rifle shots overhead, followed by a thump in the direction of the Vere Foster school, which was also being used by the Army.

The soldier said he and others pushed gym benches up against the wall to see out, but he could not see where the shots were coming from.

He then took up position outside behind sandbags, but said he did not see any soldiers fire their weapons.

At a later point the paratrooper saw an armoured vehicle leave the base with his lieutenant on board.

When the vehicle returned he saw the lieutenant carry the woman over his shoulders inside to a medical room.

Another man was brought in by stretcher to the medical room. The soldier was then told to guard a third casualty in the hall.

He said the man was groaning in pain, but did not think he was seriously hurt.

When he helped to carry him into the medical room, however, he noticed the stretcher was covered in blood.

He then noticed the body of Mrs Connolly who had been shot in the face. The second casualty was on the bed covered with a sheet but he could not tell if he was alive.

As M1374 left he made eye contact with the lieutenant.

A barrister for the Connolly family asked if this communication signalled "Oh my God, we've shot a woman... we need to get our story straight".

He denied this was the case.

The inquest continues.

Birmingham jury mulling verdicts

The jury hearing inquests into the deaths of the 21 people killed in the 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombings will resume their deliberations today.

The 11 members of the panel have sat through almost six weeks of evidence and have been tasked with completing a questionnaire, listing their narrative findings.

Two massive explosions caused what one witness described as “pure carnage”, ripping apart the packed Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs on the night of November 21, killing 21 people and injuring 220 others.

A third bomb planted at Barclays Bank in Hagley Road, a mile away, failed to go off.

Before sending the jury out, coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC directed jurors to find that the victims were “unlawfully killed”.

Evidence has included testimony from a convicted ex-IRA bomber, the police on duty that night, rescuers, and survivors.

There was a dramatic twist towards the end of evidence at the hearings when a former IRA member named four of the men he claimed were involved in the bombings . The man, identified in court only as ‘Witness O’, said he had been authorised to give those names by the current head of the IRA in Dublin.

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