Belfast Telegraph

'I believe God was telling me to forgive IRA killers who shot my husband' - wife of Maze deputy governor reveals journey

Beryl Quigley reveals spiritual path after death of Maze's deputy governor

Beryl Quigley, whose husband Bill McConnell was killed by the IRA
Beryl Quigley, whose husband Bill McConnell was killed by the IRA
William McConnell
Police and Army at the scene of William McConnell's death in 1984
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A woman whose husband was murdered by the IRA has told how she felt a spiritual compulsion to forgive his killers as he lay dying on the front doorstep of the family home.

Beryl Quigley was saying goodbye to her 35-year-old husband, William McConnell, the deputy governor of the Maze prison, when two gunmen appeared and opened fire at close range on March 6, 1984.

Mr McConnell, who was in charge of security at the jail, was checking underneath his car for booby traps when he was shot dead in front of his wife and three-year-old daughter, Gail.

One man was later convicted of the Belfast man's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Casting her mind back to the dreadful day she lost the father of their only child, Beryl revealed how "a conversation that I felt God was having with me" gave her comfort and told her what to do as William's life ebbed away.

"The conversation was, 'Beryl what are you going to do about this'?," she recalled on the BBC's Talkback radio show yesterday.

"And I was saying to God, 'Well, I actually don't know who these guys were - there were two gunmen - I didn't know which side they were from or where they were from, so I couldn't give them a name, I couldn't give them a title, I just had to deal with terrorists..."

She explained that is when she asked God for guidance.

"He reminded me of the Lord's Prayer and that part that talks about forgiving others," she said.

"And I said, 'Well Lord, I'm going to choose to forgive because that's what you're asking me to do, but you're going to have to help me every single day.

"And I can say that the Lord has helped me from March 6, 1984 until today, when I still keep walking in that place of forgiveness."

Beryl's powerful story of forgiveness is one of three being aired in a new film entitled Guardians of The Flame that explores the religious roots of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The compelling documentary also features Alan McBride, whose wife, Sharon (29), from Belfast, was killed in the 1993 Shankill bomb, and Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were killed in the Whitecross shooting in 1976.

Beryl told Talkback yesterday that forgiveness "brings about a sense of peace within your being and allows you to live life to the full".

"I'm aware that there's a lot of people in Northern Ireland who are broken, broken-hearted, lost loved ones," she said.

"They haven't been able somehow to get over it and live life and enjoy some of the good things that there are in families and in life in general.

"And so I would keep on saying, try to find a place to forgive and if you are on the faith journey at all, God will help you."

Eugene Reavey's three brothers - John Martin (24), Brian (22) and Anthony (17) - were watching TV when they were slain by three masked UVF gunmen who entered their Co Armagh home on January 4, 1976.

He spoke of his parents' heroic response to their sons' murders - and he also told how he faced down many obstacles on his personal path to forgiveness.

"My dad, William, was the first person in Northern Ireland who ever called for no retaliation," he told Talkback.

"Immediately after the shooting, he was interviewed and he said he didn't want any retaliation for the murder of his sons. And if his sons' deaths prevented any more killings, then they would not have died in vain."

But the next evening, the IRA stopped a minibus carrying factory workers at Kingsmill in south Armagh and shot dead 10 innocent Protestants, as Eugene acknowledged: "Shortly after that, however, we drove over the road into the Kingsmill massacre, so somebody wasn't listening, somebody wasn't hearing."

He added: "Later on, my mum (Sadie) used to always say to me, 'Eugene, I don't blame the people who shot my sons, I blame the people who sent them out'.

"She prayed for the people who murdered her sons every day of her life.

"I didn't learn my truth and reconciliation out of a textbook. I learned from the example of my mother. And it wasn't something she was shouting down your throat, but it was just by her actions... if she could forgive, I could forgive."

Eugene said that he initially found forgiveness difficult amid accusations that his family was affiliated with the IRA.

"The thing that was holding me back was the kickings and the beatings from the police and the soldiers afterwards," he told the BBC.

"They tried to say that the Reavey family were in the IRA. The Reavey family was in nothing. We were footballers, we were nationalists, we were proud of our Irish dancing, we were proud of our Gaelic football, but we were not, and never were, supporters of the IRA."

He also recalled how the 'Big Man' Ian Paisley Snr "took a shot at me in the House of Commons and accused me of being involved in the Kingsmill massacre".

"We were the first car at Kingsmill coming from the Whitecross side, there is no doubt about that...(but) I was wasn't shooting anybody," he said.

Describing himself as "a unionist", Mr McBride, a victims' campaigner, called for "the remaining Paisleys" to retract what he described as "absolute, utter nonsense". He added that Ian Paisley Jr and his twin brother, Kyle, should "do the honourable thing and retract it now".

Guardians of The Flame is described as being "about three individuals who have displayed inspirational courage and compassion despite great personal loss, and who continue to pursue their desire for peace and reconciliation". It premieres at the Black Box in Belfast on December 17.

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