Belfast Telegraph

Emotional return to Fermanagh for widow of murdered soldier James Houston

Shirley and son Daniel (fourth from right) with the plaque
Shirley and son Daniel (fourth from right) with the plaque
James and Shirley on their wedding day
Daniel as a baby with dad James

By David Young

A woman whose soldier husband was killed by the IRA 30 years ago has made a poignant return to the scene.

Shirley Houston was 24 when her husband James died during an attack on an Army post at Derryard, Co Fermanagh.

She and her son Daniel - a toddler when his father was murdered - travelled to Co Fermanagh on the 30th anniversary.

They laid flowers at a memorial in Lisnaskea, and a plaque was unveiled in memory of those who died in the attack.

James, a Private in the King's Own Scottish Borderers, was just 22 when he was killed on December 13, 1989.

His comrade Lance Corporal Michael Paterson from Edinburgh was also killed. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Houston said of her visit: "It was very emotional, very moving. We met a lot of people from the area who remembered the incident from 30 years ago."

She recalled fondly the last few days she had shared with her young husband before he returned to his regiment on the border.

"We were staying with my parents when it happened," she added. My husband had just been home with us on R&R for six days.

"He flew back to Northern Ireland on the Monday, and was murdered on the Wednesday. Me and my son went through hell at the time.

"My son was just a month off two years old, so he doesn't really remember his dad. That's a sad thing. The only godsend was that we had those six days together..."

The 30th anniversary visit was the fourth time Mrs Houston, who lives in east Anglia, had visited Northern Ireland. On an earlier trip she went to the scene of the attack.

"I went for the sake of my son. I'm not getting any younger, and I needed to do it," she added. "We needed to go there."

The Derryard checkpoint was dismantled in 1991, two years after the attack. "No one has been brought to justice for the attack. No one," Shirley added.

"I don't know how many were involved, but I think there was a few of them. They drove in with a huge lorry to try to wipe all the soldiers out.

"Like a lot of murderers, they got away with it." Victims' support organisation the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) organised the commemoration and remembrance event at which the events of December 13, 1989 were recalled.

Prayers were said for the lives of L/Cpl Michael Paterson and Pte James Houston. Kenny Donaldson, SEFF's director of services, said: "Over 300,000 regular Army soldiers served in Northern Ireland over the years of the Troubles.

"That is a huge number of people, complete with their families who were impacted by the difficulties of this place.

"Several hundred paid with their lives, hundreds of others lost their limbs and thousands lost their wits, whether temporarily or more permanently."

SEFF is the first Northern Ireland-based group to open an office based in London to support those based in Britain who were impacted by the Troubles.

Mr Donaldson added: "A key theme of our work has been the facilitating of former military and policing personnel and civilians to return to Northern Ireland and to re-engage with the very place which forever changed their lives.

"We have been involved in bringing back people for six or seven years now and the results have been very positive.

"It is important for ex-soldiers and their families to hear that they have never been forgotten, that their sacrifices are acknowledged but also to provide these families and individuals with opportunities to meet people connected with the events that changed their lives."

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