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Catholic mother who served soldiers tea and sandwiches shot dead by army months later

The daughter of a Catholic woman who welcomed the arrival of British soldiers in Northern Ireland said she was shot dead by the Army months after serving them tea and sandwiches at her family home.

Joan Connolly, a mother-of-eight, lived with her husband and children in a predominately Catholic area in west Belfast when the Troubles started.

Shocked by the violence that was erupting on the streets of Belfast, Joan saw the deployment of British troops as a peace-keeping exercise.

She welcomed the soldiers into her home, chatting to them as she made tea and coffee.

Some of the soldiers gifted her with a present when the first Regiment stationed in Ballymurphy left Belfast.

Her daughter, Briege Voyle, has fond memories of the Army being in her home as the Troubles flared across Northern Ireland.

“After the Troubles started, the Army came into our estate (Ballymurphy) and we thought this was great, that they were our friends,” she said.

“My mummy and our neighbour made them tea and sandwiches. They used to come every night and sit and have a yarn with us and we thought nothing of it, that they were here to protect us and it was great fun.

“They were all the best of friends and they were very nice and friendly.

“My older sister actually ended up marrying a solider.

“They bought my mother a lovely present and they bought my neighbour a bunch of flowers to thank them for looking after them while they were there.

“I remember my neighbour was raging because she thought the present mummy got was better than her flowers.

“They were friendly and we had a laugh and a joke and that went on for months.

“My mummy used to say that the men were always somebody’s son, but then all of a sudden it turned very nasty and things changed.

“People were afraid. The Army got worse and worse.”

But in August 1971, Joan was one 10 people shot dead by soldiers in what later became known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

It happened during an Army operation in which paramilitary suspects were detained without trial, known as internment.

Briege was 14 years old when her mother was shot dead by the Army.

She said: “The night my mummy was shot she went looking for me and my sister to get us into the house. But the Amy fired the tear gas and I did a runner. It wasn’t until the next day when I heard she was shot dead.

“The Army just seemed to turn. One minute they were our friends, the next minute they weren’t. They just saw everyone as the enemy. They thought every Catholic was an IRA person.”

Picture: Briege Voyle, who’s mother Joan Connolly (inset) was shot dead during a disputed series of shootings in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast in August 1971 during Operation Banner. (Liam McBurney/PA. Picture of Joan Connolly credit: Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA).

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