As the controversy over the Stormont appointment of one of the IRA gang which murdered magistrate’s daughter Mary Travers continues, in a poignant tribute her brother Paul Travers recalls their happy family days of childhood.
My father, Tom, was brought up in a small village in north Down, called Strangford. For those who know it, it is a beautifully peaceful spot sitting on the edge of Strangford Lough, a community that has lived in peace and harmony throughout the Troubles. For those of you who have never been there, it is worth a visit and a trip to Audley’s Tower with its magical view to the Ards Peninsula.
My father lived in a two-up, two-down with chickens and goats in the small backyard. He had two sisters. His mother was a domestic, cleaning houses for other people. His father worked on the boats that came into the harbour, shoveling coal. There wasn’t much money. Simple things brought happiness.
Dad left school at the age of 14 and went to work as an office boy. He eventually moved to the Hospitals Authority, fell in love with my gentle mother Joan, a nurse, who he had met at night classes and they got married. They rented a small, damp house on the Sydenham bypass and had a son, Tom, my oldest brother.
At that time, my father put himself through a law degree at Queen’s University, working during the day and studying at night. It must have been hard. Other children followed and I was brought up with five ready-made playmates Tom, Mary, Martin, Hugh and Ann. We were very happy. Sunday walks in Tollymore Forest. Walks along the Lagan and Belvoir Park. Ice creams and Tayto crisps at Cave Hill. Visits to Strangford, Castle Ward and Audley’s Castle.
Dad eventually opened his own practice in Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre. On many occasions we went there at weekends to play offices while he worked or, at times, to help clean up the mess after IRA bombings.
We were brought up in a Christian environment. Family was everything. We were taught to love our neighbours, as ourselves. This meant cherishing the lives of others and respecting their right to express themselves and go about their own business.
Only God had the right to take a life. God had no time for the Armalite and the ballot box. In any event, the concept didn’t make sense. Pope John Paul II had told us, on his bended knees, that murder was murder. It was profoundly effecting on me when a family friend from Sandy Row presented us with a plate commemorating the Pope’s visit.
The “peace-makers” within the IRA and Sinn Fein never saw it this way. In their world it was right to carry out cowardly murders against defenseless people.
It became more and more apparent as I grew up, that they believed one rule should apply to them and another for the rest of us. Their cold-hearted callousness horrified me. The Kingsmill massacre, if undertaken in Bosnia or Libya would surely rank as a crime against humanity.
When my dad accepted appointment as a Resident Magistrate in 1979, he had to stop attending his beloved Thursday night novena at the Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road. I noted later that Gerry Adams mentioned how much he, himself, liked to attend.
Dad told us to live our lives every day as if it was our last. To remember always that we were working towards the day when we would meet our maker and have to answer for our actions.
This, he said, was the most important thing we ever had to remember, to keep in the forefront of our mind, because we never knew the date or the hour of our passing.
And so, in 2011 we are told to put the past behind us and move along. I go home every year to visit my family and notice the murals to the hunger strikers are lovingly maintained.
My sister Mary did not starve herself to death. She was murdered by those who now claim to be the “peacemakers”. Mary has no mural. However, her memory is as alive to me now as it was 27 years ago when I travelled with her bloodied body in the ambulance to the Ulster Hospital.
It is the same for the other victims of the Troubles. It is the same for those people who did their best to live normal lives under extraordinary circumstances. Those brave people who put their lives at risk to ensure the rest of us could enjoy a level of normality amongst the madness Sinn Fein and the IRA had created. To my mind, these are the peacemakers.
Following my sister’s murder the Reverend Ian Paisley came to
visit and give condolence to our family. He was greeted at our front door by my Auntie Gertie who is a nun. We made cups of tea. We spoke and prayed together in the way people do when tragedy has struck. He spent time with us. I will always remember his kindness.
Gerry Adams said the murder of my sister was “regrettable” but that my father was a “legitimate target because he was part of the British war machine”. It was the usual circus. He made no mention of the attempt to kill my mother and I have no doubt he, Martin McGuiness, Carál Ní Chuilín and Mary Ann McArdle continue to feel the same way, that the attack on my family was justified.
I say quite simply to Sinn Fein, if it really is time to move on and if the “war” is truly over then show some respect and a sense of decency for those of us who have suffered dreadfully at your hands. For those of us who grieve for our cherished dead. If we are to move on, let us all move on without further rewarding those who have shown callous disregard for human life, and stolen our loved ones. Enough is enough.
You compare yourselves to Nelson Mandela. Well then. Do as he did, if you are brave enough. Embrace the need for genuine truth and reconciliation and support the very institutions, such as the Historical Enquiries Team, that have been established to find it. Don't ignore them. Tell us who committed these foul atrocities.
It seems to me that you, Sinn Fein, selectively support those aspects of the 1998 peace agreement that suit you and not the ones that don’t.
You did the same thing during the Troubles. It is not acceptable now.
You are the ones who will |not move on. You are the ones who perpetuate hurt and promote your brand of hatred. You are the ones who do not have the courage |to truly confront the devastation your actions caused so many others, including my family. |You are the ones who fear the truth. Just what are you scared off now you no longer have your guns?
There isn’t a day goes by when I do not think of my sister Mary and my dad together in heaven, suffering now past, waiting for us to join them.
My dad couldn’t attend Mary’s funeral but his body is buried with her (together with his mother and father) in the cemetery at Kilclief, about seven miles from Strangford. It is peaceful spot.
Every time I visit, I always remember that wet, windswept day as my sister’s young body was lowered into the ground, the sun came out and a bird flew low over her grave. I felt as if it was Mary saying good-bye.