Ripples still spreading from Bloody Sunday

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The Independent Online
In a small house in a small Catholic estate in the killing fields of north Belfast, far from Londonderry and yesterday's Bloody Sunday commemoration, a father and mother sit and talk about what that event did to their family.

They wanted to explain but they did not wish to be identified. Although it was 26 years ago its effects reverberate to this day. Just two weeks ago, the life of their 11-year-old paper boy was threatened, an act which they think can be traced back to that grim day in Londonderry.

Their son Brendan was 17 when the paratroopers opened fire. Three days later, according to his father Jack, Brendan and two close friends, also teenagers, travelled into a republican stronghold and joined the IRA.

This act went against decades of family tradition. In the Second World War, Jack's father had served with the RAF in the African desert, fighting through Sicily and into Italy. One of Jack's uncles served with the Royal Artillery while another was killed in Italy in the closing stages of the war.

Jack himself served in the Territorial Army and then the Ulster Defence Regiment. "This was a non-political family," he said. "We never talked politics, Irish history never meant anything to us. We watched Bloody Sunday on the television but we never discussed it."

But three days later his son was in the IRA. According to Jack: "The three boys were as thick as thieves - whatever one did the others would do too."

Some 10 weeks later, there was an explosion at a lock-up garage at the edge of the little estate. Since there was little local IRA activity, many at first assumed it was a loyalist bombing.

Jack recalled: "I didn't know anybody was killed until I was told there was flesh over the road and on the roofs. It was a cold April day, there were pieces of flesh and bone all over the place, and the steam was rising off it all. When Brendan didn't appear for his evening meal that's when we started to worry, and then it was confirmed. The police and a priest came down, and they had a piece of shirt with them. It was Brendan's favourite shirt: he died in it."

The next morning Jack was taken by police to the Belfast mortuary. More than 25 years on there was still shock in his voice as he re-lived the experience. "Under the first sheet was the top half of one of the lads, just the upper torso, all covered in cement dust. Under the next sheet there was nothing recognisable at all, nothing, just a heap of flesh and an evil smell. The next one was the same, a big tray, a big steel tray. The only identifiable piece of a human being was a human tongue sitting on the top of it all. That memory hasn't left me. The smell sticks in your mind."

Jack and his wife were insistent that the three teenagers were not working on a bomb in transit. By making discreet inquiries, he said, he had discovered that the three had been ordered by the IRA to remove gelignite which was in a dangerous condition.

They refused to allow any paramilitary trappings at their son's funeral. A senior republican appeared at their home to pay his respects. Jack recalled: "He was commiserating with us. I told him to fuck off. He had all this patter about the three volunteers and all. I said, `Fuck off, they're three dead volunteers now, they're no use to anybody'."

The families of the other teenagers also had no republican connections. But the explosion branded the little estate as a centre of IRA activity, and loyalists went for it.

The father of one of the teenagers, who worked as a cleaner at the High Court in Belfast, realised he was being stalked as he went to work. He gave up his job, and died soon afterwards. Later, in 1972, a brother of the other teenage IRA member was walking home after work when loyalists shot him dead.

In 1974, two years after Bloody Sunday, five young people from the estate were in a car driving to their work in a nearby factory when loyalist gunmen stepped in front of it and opened fire.

Jack related: "It was a two-door Ford Anglia. The two lads in the front were able to scramble out and run but the three in the back were just stuck there, and they kept firing and firing." A 16-year-old youth from the estate, who was in the back seat, was killed. Also in the back seat was Jack's daughter Margaret. She died a week later. The third person in the back seat was another girl whose brother had died in the garage explosion.

Although she was hit by twelve bullets she survived. She married, but in 1983 her husband was shot dead by loyalists. It was their son, who is around 11 years old, whose life was threatened a few weeks ago.

Jack summed up as his wife looked out the window: "That's why I say Bloody Sunday is still an ongoing thing. We are three families, and each of us had another death resulting from the deaths of the lads in that explosion. How many other sons like mine joined the IRA after Bloody Sunday? Bloody Sunday was the pebble in the pool and the ripples went out. And they're still going out."