Belfast Telegraph

Insult added to injury by bid to tarnish Ballymurphy victims’ names after death, coroner is told

Janet Donnelly, daughter of Joseph Murphy; Marianne Phillips, niece of Noel Phillips, and Briege Voyle, daughter of Joan Connolly, who gave statements in court
Janet Donnelly, daughter of Joseph Murphy; Marianne Phillips, niece of Noel Phillips, and Briege Voyle, daughter of Joan Connolly, who gave statements in court
Michael Mansfield QC
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

The twin sons of a man shot dead in the Ballymurphy Massacre on their birthday threw their cards into a fire and never celebrated the occasion again, an inquest has heard.

Yesterday, the third day of the inquests heard emotional testimony from relatives of the 10 civilians shot dead by the Army in the west Belfast 47 years ago.

Janet Donnelly paused on numerous occasions to wipe away tears as she recalled the many happy memories of her father Joseph 'Josie' Murphy (42) before her childhood was shattered on August 9, 1971.

She also recalled the heartbreaking final embrace with her father who told her he was going out on "a wee message" and never came home.

"I asked him to give me a kiss and stuck my head through the bannister of our stairs and he kissed me," Ms Donnelly said.

A short time later a black van pulled up at the house as the eight-year-old sat on the doorstep.

"The men took my daddy's coffin out of the back," she added.

"My mummy was on the chair crying; my aunt Bridget and aunt Kathleen were sitting beside her on the floor and they were crying.

Ms Donnelly told the inquests into the killings how her dad, the son of a British soldier, would often bring stray animals home, including her first pet kitten Daisy.

She also recalled how he would have helped anyone, even though "he didn't have much" himself.

Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Soldiers frisking passengers and driver of a car on the Springfield Road, near Ballymurphy. (14/01/1971)
Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Soldiers frisking passengers and driver of a car on the Springfield Road, near Ballymurphy. (14/01/1971)
Riots : Belfast. August 1970. Troops shelter behind their riot shields during rioting at Ballymurphy. (04/08/70)
Riots : Belfast. August 1970. The common sight in the Roman Catholic estate at Ballymurphy, Belfast, as young rioters attack the army with missiles during the troubles. (04/08/70)
Riots : Belfast. September 1970. Ballymurphy Disturbance: troops stand by at the junction of Springfield and Whiterock Roads, after a crowd had thrown stones at them and two police cars. (20/09/1970)
Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Catholic housing estate, Ballymurphy. (15/01/1971)
Mourners file past the coffin of Father Hugh Mullan, one of the 10 people killed (PA Archive)
Father Hugh Mullan. Shot at Moyard Park. 9/8/1971 THE FUNERAL HEARSE CARRYING THE BODY OF FATHER HUGH MULLAN TRAVELS ALONG THE ROAD IN BALLYMURPHY ESTATE. 12/8/1971
Joseph Murphy was one of 10 people shot dead by British soldiers in West Belfast in 1971
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 John McKerr who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Fr Hugh Mullan who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Joseph Corr who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Danny Teggart who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Paddy McCarthy who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 John Laverty who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 25th January 2012 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. Ballymurphy massacre relatives call for a meeting with the Prime Minister, David Cameron. 10 people were shot dead by soldiers in west Belfast in August 1971. The victims, which included a priest and a mother-of-eight, were killed over the course of three days in August 1971 by members of the Parachute Regiment during Operation Demetrius, when people suspected of paramilitary activity were interned. Relatives Rita Bonner, John Teggart and Briege Voyle pictured at the top of the Whiterock Road in west Belfast beside a mural depicting the shootings.

The father-of-12 was shot in the right leg. He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he had the limb amputated 11 days later.

He died on Sunday, August 22 while his wife Mary attended Mass with their children.

Her twin brothers had turned 16 that same day. "I remember my brothers Jim and Thomas walking over to the settee and sitting down. They both lifted their birthday cards and threw them into the fire, it was as if it was in slow motion," she recalled.

"This was the first time I ever saw my brothers cry; they never celebrated another birthday since that day."

Ms Donnelly also recalled standing in the garden with her sister wearing a black dress on the day of her father's funeral when an Army patrol drove by and stopped at the gate to sing 'Where's Your Papa Gone', which was in the charts at the time.

It was only in recent years that she realised why she had no recollection of the service.

"We were not allowed to go as my mummy was afraid of trouble starting," she said.

Mary passed away on August 22, 2016, exactly 45 years after her husband.

"They were reunited when they were buried together," their daughter, who wants to know why her father was "killed in cold blood", concluded.

A witness statement by Kevin Phillips, the younger brother of Noel Phillips, was read out by his daughter Marianne.

The inquest was told that "no one could say a bad word" about the 19-year-old window cleaner and fashion "fanatic" who did what any teenager would do when trouble broke out on August 9, 1971.

"He went for a nosey, that's all he was doing," Kevin's statement read.

In it he also described how his brother had run into the field in front of the Henry Taggart Army base when the shooting broke out.

He said that when his sister Marion went looking for him the next day, soldiers began "shouting abuse" at her and told her to check the morgue.

Kevin said "nothing was ever the same" after their older brother Robert did just that and ended up having to identify Noel's body.

"Nobody came to tell us Noel was dead, we just had to find out for ourselves," he added.

He said the subsequent "big, black, heavy curtain" which descended on the entire family "blew us apart".

The coroner was told that Kevin's late brother Robert, who was 27 at the time, never spoke about that terrible night but campaigned to prove his brother's innocence right up until his own death.

Kevin vowed to carry on the fight to correct "lies" which have been told about everyone who died that day and seek justice on their behalf.

"Bad enough they killed them, but in death they tried to tarnish their reputations," he added.

"I often wonder what the soldiers told their families afterwards; did they portray themselves as heroes to their children after they came over here and killed our loved ones?"

There were more emotional scenes when Briege Voyle described how her family have struggled for nearly half-a-century to come to terms with the loss of her mother Joan Connolly (44), whom the Army accused of being armed.

"To the media she was a gunwoman, to the world another casualty - but she was just our wee mammy, our world, our hero," she said.

Ms Voyle described how her mum used to make sandwiches and tea for British soldiers, who would often visit her "for a yarn" until the atmosphere in Ballymurphy turned toxic.

The mother-of-eight, whose eldest daughter married a soldier she had met at a local dance, went out to find Briege and her other daughter Joan to bring them home, fearing something was wrong.

"When the Army fired gas, in the confusion I got separated from my mother," Briege told the inquest. "I believe that she would have continued to look for me even in the confusion as she believed the Army wouldn't hurt a woman - that was the last time any of the family saw her alive."

She recalled how her "petrified" family frantically searched for her mum before her father Denis went to a friend's house to phone the hospital.

"When he came back into the house he was badly shaken and said there was only one woman in the hospital with red hair and she was in the morgue.

"When my daddy came back he was literally carried in, he was a broken man."

Briege said her sister Philomena, aged only 15 at the time, had been on a youth club trip when she was woken by nuns and told her mother had been in a fire. She was left at St John's Chapel only to discover that the funeral service which was under way inside was for her mother.

Briege and her sister Denise learned of their mum's death watching an RTE News report.

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