Belfast Telegraph

Prison officer’s widow who forgave his IRA killers tells of dismay that we still haven’t found a way to deal with past

Beryl Quigley
Beryl Quigley
William McConnell
Beryl and documentary maker Jonny Clark
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A woman who saw her prison officer husband killed by the IRA has spoken of her sadness that acts of violence are still part of life in Northern Ireland today.

Beryl Quigley watched in horror with her daughter as Bill McConnell (35), deputy governor of the Maze Prison, was gunned down in 1984.

She features in a new documentary telling the story of how she displayed inspirational courage and compassion despite such great personal loss during the Troubles.

Moments after her husband was left bleeding to death in the driveway of their Belfast home - while the two gunmen were still fleeing the scene - Mrs Quigley said she received a message from God compelling her to forgive the killers.

She said that while she tries not to think about the men who murdered her husband, she does hope they are able to enjoy a life of love with their families.

Her story features in the documentary Guardians Of The Flame, produced by Jonny Clark.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Quigley said: "At the time my husband was murdered I didn't know anything about who these people were but I was praying for them, thinking what they have done is a very serious thing, and I was praying: 'Please Lord, don't let them murder anybody else'.

"I didn't want any other woman to have to cope with the pain and the uncertainty and the whole trauma that that brings."

She added: "Bill was murdered on a Tuesday morning and I think that evening at my daughter Gail's bedtime, after I had read her a story and was praying with her before she snuggled down for a sleep, she interrupted my prayers.

"Aged just three-and-a-half years old, she said: 'God, did you know there were bad men who came and killed my daddy, would you make them into good men?'

"At that early age, she already knew that only God can change people's hearts.

"But while I wouldn't speak about it in front of Gail because I didn't want to add to her trauma, I would have prayed for these guys myself."

One man was later convicted of Mr McConnell's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mrs Quigley said she chose not to be "consumed" by the trauma surrounding the court case, but explained that she had once been contacted by a journalist who informed her that the person had been let out of prison.

She added: "I said at that time, I really hope this guy can go back home and build a relationship with his wife and children if he has any, put this behind him and live a half-decent life and try and make sure his kids don't get into trouble and end up in prison or whatever.

"That would have been my deep desire, that somehow he would have had the time in prison to realise that this was an awful way of spending your life when there was a life outside that he could have been living with his wife and children and enjoying."

Mr Clark's documentary also features Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon was killed by the IRA in the Shankill bomb, and Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were murdered in cold blood while watching TV in their family home in January 1976.

The documentary will be shown in Londonderry on Tuesday as part of the Towards Healing And Understanding project run by the Holywell Trust, where Mrs Quigley and Mr Clark will address the audience.

Mrs Quigley said: "Jonny Clark's documentary was made just a couple of months ago and while I had known Alan McBride's story, I didn't know anything about Eugene Reavey's story at all.

"What he and his family suffered was horrendous and I found that very painful.

"I think when you hear of other people's pain it brings into sharp focus the tragedy that all of those years of the Troubles have brought to so many homes and families throughout this island."

Mrs Quigley said that while we have managed to move beyond the dark days of the Troubles, it is "desperately sad" that beatings and shootings are still happening.

She added: "Alan McBride in one part of the film says there is hardly a day in the year that's not an anniversary of some tragedy or other.

"Sadly there is a whole raft of young people, and not so young, who have grown up not knowing the impact of the Troubles or they have been impacted by the Troubles and they are in a place of great pain and difficulty, maybe looking for justice or maybe looking for their day in court, and maybe not being able to forgive."

Mrs Quigley also warned that people here have not yet been able to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

"We have not got over the past yet and we haven't found a way of dealing with it in a healthy way," she added.

"I am very grateful for my particular journey, although I am not grateful for every part of that journey.

"But I am grateful that forgiveness is not something I am struggling with.

"I have been able to forgive, within minutes, for my husband's death.

"And through those years since that I have been able to enjoy bringing up my little daughter and enjoy life and all it has."

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