Mum of UVF teen victim Peter Ward laid to rest after 52 years of grieving
A west Belfast mother whose son was murdered by the UVF's Gusty Spence and his killer gang to became one of the first victims of the Troubles, was buried with quiet dignity yesterday.
Mary Ward (97) was buried as some of the terror group's more recent victims condemned the 'slap on the wrist' sentence for another ruthless loyalist murderer, Gary Haggarty, elsewhere in the city.
Mrs Ward never got over the killing of her 18-year-old son Peter, who died in a sectarian shooting outside a pub in Malvern Street off the Shankill Road on June 22, 1966.
Mrs Ward, who died in her sleep on Thursday, was buried in the same cemetery - Milltown - as her son. Her Requiem Mass was held at St Paul's Church on the Falls Road, not far from where her son was murdered.
Mrs Ward's coffin was taken by horsedrawn hearse to the church from her Beechmount home with a small group of close family members walking behind.
Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison, who was a next door neighbour of the Ward family for 20 years, was among the mourners.
He revealed that he'd watched Peter Ward's funeral as a 13 year-old boy. He said that Mrs Ward's life had centred on her family and that she had been particularly close to Peter.
Relatives said the passing of nearly 52 years had done little to ease her pain over Peter's killing.
Mrs Ward, a deeply religious woman, once said there were times when she just locked herself away and cried about her son who missed home so much that she bought him out of the Army.
Another ex-soldier, Gusty Spence, and two other UVF men were jailed for life for killing Peter and attempting to murder two of his workmates from the old International Hotel.
The trio had gone to the Malvern Arms for a drink after their shifts.
Spence asked Peter Ward where he worked. His answer sealed his fate as the loyalist perception was that the hotel's employees were Catholics.
The killing is sometimes seen as the first of the Troubles, but it was in fact the second.
Just two weeks earlier another Catholic, John Scullion, was fatally wounded in the Clonard area in what the RUC claimed was a stabbing but later confirmed was a shooting after exhuming his body.
In a moving interview in 1998 with Danny Morrison for a book Green River, about people from the Beechmount area who had been killed during the Troubles, Mrs Ward said her son had no hatred for anyone, any religion or nationality.
She recalled how after a "beautiful sunny day" in June 1966 she couldn't sleep and looked out of her window because Peter wasn't home.
A priest called at her door in the early hours of the morning to say he had bad news about Peter, but he couldn't bring himself to tell her just how bad it was.
All he did say was that Peter had been shot.
After waking another son, Mrs Ward said she knelt down to pray before running down to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where large numbers of police had arrived.
A nurse confirmed Mrs Ward's worst fears.
"I squealed the place down," said Mrs Ward, who had been widowed at the age of 28.
She said she never forgot Peter, adding: "I pray to him every night. To him - not for him. He was a good lad. Eighteen years old. Everybody liked him."
Few people believed Gusty Spence, but he always denied that he'd murdered Peter Ward.
Sitting in his Groomsport home, Spence, who died in 2011, once insisted to me that he wasn't part of the UVF gang who killed the barman.
But he said he regretted what had happened to him.
Spence and his relatives contacted the Criminal Cases Review Commission in early 2011 requesting an investigation into information that a third party had passed on to the family.
I was one of a number of journalists who had also been told that a letter that had surfaced cast doubt on Spence's conviction.
However, the ageing loyalist said that he didn't want to cause any more hurt to Mrs Ward.
At one stage Spence said he wanted to meet Mrs Ward, and she told Danny Morrison that the Progressive Unionist leader had indeed offered to see her.
She said: "Gusty Spence sent a message to me that he would like to meet me. I didn't want to speak to him, then I said I would. He telephoned.
"'You are Gusty Spence?'
"'Yes,' he said. He said he was sorry about what had happened.
"I said, 'I'll forgive you on one condition - that you do everything in your power for the peace of this country. Nobody should suffer the way I have suffered, for I never forget my Peter'."
Peter's sister Isobel always said that she could never forgive Spence.
The UVF was outlawed by Stormont premier Capt Terence O'Neill two days after Peter Ward's murder. But that didn't stop it going on to murder hundreds of Catholics.
Just as Mary Ward was being remembered in church yesterday, families of other Catholics murdered by UVF killer Gary Haggarty were watching in a Belfast court just a few miles away as the supergrass had a 35 year jail term reduced to six and a half years because he helped police.
Haggarty admitted five murders among 200 charges.
"It was like a slap on the wrist for him and a slap in the face for the bereaved families," said one victims' campaigner.