Belfast Telegraph

My family didn't get answers after IRA murdered my uncle, but maybe it's time to move on

by michael conaghan

"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," says Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's Ulysses, and it seems that Northern Ireland is like someone struggling to escape the vestiges of a bad dream.

Barely a day goes by without some reference to our recent past, be it the heart-rending search for the Disappeared, or new evidence of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. One is tempted to say enough is enough.

Plenty of clear water has passed between the ceasefires and now, which means a generation has grown up with more than a semblance of normality.

But look at the flag protests, we cry, what about the dissidents, we wail.

Well, what about them?

Our politically inspired violence could be seen as the equivalent of a runaway tractor, a potential threat to life and limb, but not an existential threat to the State.

I'd be more worried about crossing the road on Howard Street.

And yet my own family's experience of loss echoes much of what others have suffered.

My uncle, Judge Rory Conaghan, was murdered by the IRA in 1974, on the same day as his colleague Martin McBurney, later immortalised in a poem by Michael Longley.

No one was ever tried and convicted for my uncle's killing, though high level inquiries as to who ordered it suggested prominent names.

My aunt, his widow, was regal in her contempt.

My cousin Mary eloquently slammed the brakes on Martin McGuinness's Presidential ambition with a broadside in the Republic's Press, but she knew that her anger had to be balanced with the realpolitik of the peace process.

"Let all who have survived go free," said Seamus Heaney, in forgiving mode.

It's a small country, and we all have to live together.

Yet those prominent figures who were in some way involved should no longer have the right to their self-delusions.


Michael Conaghan is a writer for the Belfast Telegraph. His uncle was a County Court judge who was shot dead in 1974. no one has ever been brought to justice for his murder

Belfast Telegraph


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