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RUC widow Fiona Willis on defiance 30 years after IRA bombing

I couldn't let IRA break me and my sons, she said.


Fiona Willis

Fiona Willis

Constable David Sterrit

Constable David Sterrit

Constable Joshua Willis

Constable Joshua Willis

Constable William Hanson

Constable William Hanson

Sister Catherine Dunne

Sister Catherine Dunne

Aftermath of the blast

Aftermath of the blast

Fiona Willis

The widow of a RUC officer killed in an IRA roadside bomb 30 years ago today has spoken for the first time of how she found the courage to carry on after his death.

Reserve Constable Joshua 'Cyril' Willis was 35 when a landmine was set off on the Killylea Road in Co Armagh, close to the city, on July 24, 1990, killing him and three others.

The grey Sierra Sapphire he was travelling in took the full force of the blast. He died with colleagues Constable William Hanson (37) and Reserve Constable David Sterrit (34).

Dublin nun Sister Catherine Dunne was driving by in a white Mini Metro and died later from her injuries. A passenger in her car was seriously hurt.

The IRA bomb was reported to have contained 1,000lbs of explosives and left a crater 30ft wide and 20ft deep.

Fiona Willis was 30 when her husband died, leaving her to raise their two sons Andrew and David, who were one and three at the time.

She told the Belfast Telegraph that, in defiance of her husband's killers, she made a vow not to be broken by her experience.

"My view was that they had taken Cyril, but they weren't going to take me and my children," she said.

"I wasn't going to give in to going under. On the day he was buried my brother actually said to me: 'You have two choices, you either go up or you go down'.

"That is so true. My faith was also very important, and as I looked at it God blessed me with these two children, and as long as I had breath in my body I was going to do the best I could for them."

The family lived in the village of Caledon in Co Tyrone, where Mr Willis had worked on the grounds of an estate before being convinced to join the RUC as a reserve constable by a local sergeant.

A keen piper, he also loved the outdoors and chopping firewood for his parents and young family.

"He was very kind, a gentleman and very willing to help people from either side of the community," said Mrs Willis.

"I would have said he was a community policeman, he was a great husband, son and father. People in the village knew he was prepared to help everybody.

"I just feel sad that he didn't get to see his sons grow up or the enjoyment of seeing his three grandchildren."

Mrs Willis plans to lay flowers at his grave today, but said he is never far from her thoughts.

"I think about him every day, so even though it's an anniversary, it's another day for thoughts and memories.

"I suppose what's different is that other people are thinking about him as well."

She said a major regret is that her sons, now 34 and 31, have almost no first-hand memories of their father.

"They would never have talked with any bitterness about it. They just seemed to accept that their daddy wasn't there, they'd always grown up without him, and it's just how it is," she said.

"I'm sure they did feel it at times in school, but they never spoke in harsh ways about what happened.

"I think they're just like me, this is what has happened and you have to get on and make the best of it.

"It isn't always easy, but we've come this length.

"Now they're both settled with jobs and David is married with three children - one of them is named Joshua after his grandfather."

Focused on the positive parts of her life, she said she tried not to dwell on longstanding delays and disagreements over how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

"There were two people sentenced for Cyril's death," she added.

"They got out under the Good Friday Agreement.

"Obviously it would have been nice if they would have served all their time.

"I would like everybody to get an end result, to make them feel better within themselves.

"But our country doesn't seem to be very good at doing the right thing for the right people, it works in the favour of the evil-doer.

"But you just have to put it aside and get on with your life. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I suppose he lives on in his grandchildren."

Belfast Telegraph