An inquest into the killing of ten people in Belfast almost 50 years ago has heard emotional testimony from the families of three of them.
Several broke down in tears as they recalled their loved ones who lost their lives during shootings in the west of the city in August 1971, an incident which has become known as the Ballymurphy massacre.
Fresh inquests were directed into the deaths following claims that the original coronial probes were inadequate.
They are the latest in a series of new inquests into incidents which took place during Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
The Ballymurphy shootings took place as the Army moved in to republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.
Soldiers have long been held responsible for the Ballymurphy killings between 9th-11th August 1971, but the accepted narrative became clouded earlier this year when former members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force came forward to claim their organisation was also involved.
On the fourth day of hearings on Thursday, Alice Harper, daughter of Danny Teggart, 44, who was among those killed, told the inquest how soldiers mocked her, singing “where’s your papa?” as she and her family searched for him.
She described ringing hospitals with her mother, trying to find him, before going to an army post.
“I asked ‘did you arrest my father?’ They just said no, we hadn’t time for arrests, we only had time for killing – and that was their words,” she told the inquest.
“I was shocked and started walking away, they started singing that song chorus, ‘Where’s your papa gone, Where’s your papa gone’.”
Mrs Harper was 23 when she identified her father’s body at the morgue. She said the last time she had seen him, he had asked her to cut his hair.
“Little did I know that I would later identify him in the morgue by those same black curls,” she said.
“He left my house that day and that was the last time I seen my father alive.”
Mrs Harper said the shock of it caused her to lose her hair. Almost 50 years later, Mrs Harper said she wants to find out the truth.
“No-one came to our door to inform us or even investigate my father’s death, we were burdened with doing that ourselves also. What we want is the truth, that is it, and to know why they were killed,” she said. “They said he was a gunman, not just my father, all the ones that were killed that night, including the priest Father Mullan. It was very hurtful, they branded them gunmen and a gunwoman, they took their good names and blackened them. I want my father’s name cleared.”
Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, 43, a machinist at the Shorts factory in Belfast, said her family had been in the process of moving to Australia when her father was shot. He died after 16 days in hospital.
Mrs McKeown was just nine years old and she told the inquest she remembers screaming when she was told her father was dead. Her mother received hate mail after he died from some Shorts workers after he had been labelled a gunman.
“It said ‘may your sub human husband and his pals roast in hell’,” she told the inquest.
“I want my daddy’s name cleared, I want the true facts in the history books. I want my daddy’s name read out, I want ‘Joseph Corr was an innocent man’ read out for everyone to hear. Because of what the media put out, his work mates all think that he was an IRA gunman, and I want them to know that he wasn’t, and I want them to regret what they did and what they put my mammy through, because getting that letter, it really did nearly kill her, because this is what his work mates thought of him.”
Kathleen McCarry, a sister of Eddie Doherty, 31, said her family was torn apart by grief after he was shot dead on August 1971. She said her mother died of a broken heart seven years later.
“She went from this strong woman who washed the dead, delivered babies, did amazing things, to a woman who was lost,” she said. Eddie was labelled an IRA gunman.
Mrs McCarry added: “If Eddie had of died of natural causes we wouldn’t be the way we are, the fact is there is an injustice and Eddie was labelled what he was labelled, and we have had to fight for all of our lives and we’re not going to rest until we have achieved his innocence.”
The inquest continues next week.
Photo: Supporters and families of some of the ten people who were killed in gunfire during three days of shootings in west Belfast in 1971, outside Laganside Courts on the fourth day of the inquests. (left to right) Kathleen McCarry, Eileen McKeown and Alice Harper, gave evidence on Thursday.
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