Ballymurphy Inquest Day 3
By Andrée Murphy
What strikes you on the Fourth Floor of Laganside Courts is the way ten working class families who have been denied access to due process have taken over a court and corridor and made it their own. The Quinns and Mullans had given their testimony the day before, they were the old hands. Today it is the turn of the Connollys, Murphy and Phillips. The other families know their turn is soon, but not today. Today is about these three families. Supporting each other, telling each other “you will be great”. Asking each other “Are you ok”.
10.30am comes quickly and Briege Voyle, a leader of exceptional qualities takes her place in the witness stand. She speaks for herself, she speaks for her mummy and her daddy, she speaks for her siblings, those with us and not. She speaks for all of the ten families. But this is not a speech or a campaign moment, like so many that have gone before. This is her family, giving us a snapshot of a rare event in our conflict – a mummy killed. The particular loss that that meant for her and her family. The family literally torn apart in the hours after they found out the news. The house that had known fires lit and dinners made every evening coming home from school that found its fire extinguished. Every other family sat on the edges of their seats. Every single word penetrating them.
Janet Donnelly took the stand her testimony began with a love story between her daddy and mummy. The babies that came into their lives and the babies that were lost to them. It was setting the picture of a large fun family where immense love lived, protected by the ribbon buying hand standing rag and bone daddy. A love story that ended with the exhumed remains of Joseph Murphy being buried with his wife Mary four decades later. The decades of multiple conflict loss, conflict harms and denial of truth and justice. Janet, the little daddy’s girl, who hadn’t been allowed to attend the funeral because of her mummy’s understandable and justified fears of “trouble”, gave a eulogy in Court 12.
Kevin Phillips painted the picture of a young fun man who loved his style – Wranglers. He described the cost of the loss. The cost to his mother. He spoke of the silence. The traumatic silence that hangs over families whose lives are so altered and so changed by unspeakable crimes, and no one can find the words so much so that words themselves hold fear. He spoke of the search for truth. The cost of that. He told us he is not interested in apology. It is too late. He gave us an imperative. Truth. He needs truth.
“It is like the funerals without the bodies”. Families hugging each other and holding each other on a corridor of Laganside Courts. That corridor belongs to these families over these days. They take it and nothing else in the Brexit confused world matters. They are establishing the identities of their families and the truth of their families’ loss and experience.
Below is the testimony of the three families generously shared by the Ballymurphy Massacre Committee:
INQUEST TOUCHING THE DEATH OF JOAN CONNOLLY
PERSONAL STATEMENT OF BRIEGE VOYLE
I, Briege Voyle, am reading this pen portrait of my mother, Joan Connolly, on behalf of my family.
My mother’s name was Joan Brigid O’Hara Connolly. She was born on Thursday 28th October 1926 to Michael and Mary Ellen O’Hara at 24 Colinward Street, Belfast, Springfield Road. She was the 7th child of 8 children. She had five sisters – Patsy, Kathleen, Maura, Nancy and Madge, and two brothers Michael and Tom. She attended the nearby St John’s Primary School, just on the other side of Colinward Street.
She left school and went to work in the Mill. She worked alongside her older sister, who knew exactly how much was in the pay packet that was handed over to their mammy. In a house of 10 every penny was needed.
She met our father, Denis Connolly, at a local dance in Belfast. Our father had come from Monaghan to Belfast looking for work. He was a 6 foot 6, fluent Irish speaker with a strong education. He swept her off her feet. They married in St Paul’s Chapel, Cavendish Street, on 10th October 1946. They honeymooned in Dublin and returned to Belfast to set up home and to start a much wanted family of their own. Our mother gave birth to 8 children with 6 daughters – Denise, Philomena, Briege, Joan, Maura and Irene, and two sons – Paul and Patrick.
As a mother she was devoted to her children and family.
Her first born, Paul born in 1948, was often poorly, suffering from severe asthma. He spent most of his childhood in and out of hospital and respite.
Her youngest, Irene, born in 1968 , was 3 years of age when my mother died.
Irene had come along as a surprise at a time when Joan thought she had finished having children after Maura. When Irene came along after a 6 year gap, and after Maura had been the baby of the family for 6 years, Maura was put out by this and used to fight with our mother for having another baby.
Despite this all the children were happy and enjoyed their lives up until the time when our mother died.
As a new family we had spent many happy years on the Shore Road in Belfast, in a tiny two bedroom bungalow. Our mother was part of the local chapel and helped run the bazaar every year. She would bring all the children and get them all wee handbags and presents and I remember having good times then. We had lovely neighbours. We lived in a mixed community but our mother never thought anything of it and nor did any of the children. As children we never realised or questioned why friends of ours weren’t going to the same school as us.
Our home was warm and cosy, with an indoor toilet and a bath. Our mother worked hard to keep it clean, looking after our father and all of us children. Each Christmas my father’s family sent up a turkey from the family farm in Monaghan.
We did not have many luxuries. Our father won the pools once. Although he had won only a very small amount, it was like all our Christmases had come at once. After years of hand-me-downs, all the girls got new coats. We were delighted and most of the day refused to take our new coats off.
As time went on and the family got bigger, the tiny bungalow on the Shore Road became too small. We were moved to Ballymurphy in 1966. 91 Ballymurphy Road was a four-bedroom house and the children though it was great as we were not familiar with the stairs in the new house, and were up and down them at every opportunity. Our mother would say that her head was away listening to them.
The move to Ballymurphy was a good move. We lived in 91 Ballymurphy Road and my mother’s sister lived in 66 Ballymurphy Road. She loved having family so close and thought that it was great for the kids. The people in Ballymurphy were friendly and welcoming, and we adjusted very quickly and settled down. Anna Breen lived next door and was good friends with my mother. Anna had lost a little girl through illness and our mother would have helped her out with her youngest Martin.
As a mother she was always on our side. If another mother or someone came to the door to complain about any of the children she was say to them ‘don’t worry, I’ll sort her out’ but when she closed the door would say ‘unless I see it happening, I’ll not take someone else’s word over yours’, ‘there’s three sides to every story, there’s your side, their side and truth somewhere in the middle’.
Most of us have great memories of our mother. Most of it relates to simple things. It was nice to come home from school every day with the fire on and the dinner made.
As the children got older the house never stopped. There were always friends at the door looking for one of the kids. As our mother looked after our father and us kids all week, she loved a wee smoke and a game of bingo and used to go to bingo a couple of nights a week with her friend Ruby Arbuckle. She played bingo in St. John’s at the bottom of the Whiterock Road and helped cover the shop on a Saturday night too. I used to help my mother get ready beforehand. I remember being about 12 and that I would put a couple of rollers in my mother’s hair and comb it out for her and she would have got all dressed up for bingo. My mother was never much one for alcohol. She was happy and content with a game of bingo on a Saturday night.
When her children got older the older ones went into work. Paul got a job in a car factory. Denise went into stitching. Pat was struggling to find work but things started to get a wee bit better financially.
My father Denis was a bar man. He worked in a bar on the Castlereagh road and he worked long hours and split shifts. He started work at 10 in the morning and finished at 1 or 2, came home for something to eat and went back to work and wouldn’t come home to maybe 12 o’clock at night. Denis would have worked like this six days a week and on a Sunday sometimes he would have got a chance to do a wee part-time job in one of the clubs and would of got a wee bit of extra money for us. As a result the family never saw that much of him. However he was providing for the family and my mother was getting on with looking after the children. That’s the way it was. Times were hard and they didn’t always have enough to go round but they did their best to rear the kids as best they could.
I remember my mother being shocked by the start of the troubles. People were getting burnt out of their homes in the Lower Falls. This really shocked my mother and she would say ‘why are these protestant people doing this?’ because we had lived together for years on the Shore Road. Even when we moved to Ballymurphy there were protestants living there. She just couldn’t get her head around it.
In 1969, when families were burnt out they opened St Thomas’s School and refugees came up from the Lower Falls and it was frightening for her. She was sitting with all these children and thinking what’s going to happen next?
When the Army came in my mother thought this was the best thing. My mother was out making the sandwiches and the tea for the soldiers and thought they were there to protect us. Soldiers used to come every night and she would have made them sandwiches and tea and had a yarn with them.
My sister Denise, Joan’s eldest daughter, started going to the dances. The Army had dances in the area and she would go to them and soon she started going out a soldier and announced that she was going to get married. My mother was happy for her but frightened. At this point the Troubles were starting to kick off and my mother was thinking ‘what the hell is going to happen to her?’.
Denise went to England to get married but we had no money to go with her, so she and her friend Tessie Bryson next door went with her as her bridesmaid. I can remember that morning so well. It was a dark and dreary November day when she was leaving. It broke my mother’s heart because her first daughter was going off to be married in a different country and she didn’t know what was going to happen to her. But Denise went anyway.
Things in Ballymurphy took a turn for the worse. Every other day something frightening was happening in the area. Joan was doing her best to keep her children safe. But there were still happy family times. I remember that on the 21st May 1971, Christopher was born, Joan’s first grandson, and he was red-headed. My mother had eight children and none with red hair despite being red haired herself. I remember my mother getting a telegram and standing at the top of the steps waving it and saying ‘I’ve got a grandson and he’s a red head’. This telegram was like gold to her and her new red-headed grandson made her so happy; she was delighted. This news came at a good time as my father Denis had had a heart attack in May and was out of work. Things were a bit hard but she was happy and we were getting on with things. We were all over the moon for her and Denise. I remember my mother going to see Denise’s husband Chris. He was stationed in Flax Street Barracks at the time and she had to get clearance from the Army to visit him.
Denise came home to get Christopher christened. He was christened on the 11th July 1971. It was so great for my mother to have Denise home and the new grandson and everybody was happy. It was good for the younger ones, Denise was their big sister who now had her own son and things were good.
Whilst Denise was back she saw something of how Ballymurphy had changed in her absence. My mother was out brushing the steps one day. Denise was standing at the door with Christopher in her arms and some of the kids were playing in the street. It was a lovely sunny day and an army patrol came past in one of the jeeps. One of them started shouting abuse at my mother and she shouted back. The soldier replied that ‘there’s a bullet in here and it’s for you’. Denise got herself into a terrible state and was shouting ‘don’t you dare speak to my mammy like that’ and asking for the soldier’s number so that she could report him. The soldier laughed and the jeep drove on. My mother thought that Denise now didn’t know how things had changed since she had left for England.
Whilst my mother had nothing against the Army, had welcomed them when they arrived, had made them tea and sandwiches, had allowed her daughter to marry a soldier and loved her grandson, she thought that what the Army were doing in Ballymurphy was wrong. The Army would be stopping young men in the street who were courting or going about their business and my mother and other women in the area would have challenged them on this and remonstrated with them. She thought that the Army would not hurt a woman.
On 9th August 1971 she knew that something was going on at the Henry Taggart and told my father that she was going out to get her daughters Briege and Joan and get them into the house. I saw her outside the Henry Taggart with my sister Joan and our friend Linda Breen. When the Army fired gas in the confusion I got separated from my mother. I believe that she would have continued to look for me even in the confusion as she believed the Army wouldn’t hurt a woman.
That was the last time that any of the family saw her alive.
Then next was this 47 year long period of being afraid for her, then grieving for her and missing her, then campaigning for her.
The being afraid for her started that night when my mother never came home. My daddy was very scared and my sister Denise was petrified. She didn’t feel safe in the house because mammy wasn’t there. We went next door to mammy’s friend Anna Breen for a couple of hours and came back into our own house. Daddy put mattresses on the floor and we all slept on the floor that night. The next morning Denise woke up to feed Christopher about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, it was very bright outside. The first we realised my mammy was still missing was when my sister Denise shouted up the stairs “daddy I am going to go out and look for my mammy, she must be somewhere”. She and Tessie Bryson, her friend next door, went and checked community centres and asked people that knew her if anyone had seen her. However nobody had seen her, nobody found her, so she came back. We were all distraught at this stage. My Daddy shouted to my oldest brother “Paul we can’t find your mammy what will we do” and he said go to the phone and phone the hospital and ask if anybody had been admitted with red hair. My daddy went over to Mr Hyndman’s house. They were the only people in our street that had a phone. He phoned the hospital. When he came back into the house he was badly shaken and he said there was only one woman in the hospital with red hair and she was in the morgue, so we all got ourselves into a bit of a state. My daddy and Mr Hyndman went off down to the morgue to see if it was her. We were all sitting in the house, didn’t know what to do, what to think, praying to god that it wasn’t her. When my daddy came back he was literally carried in, he was a broken man because it was my mammy in the morgue. We were all screaming and crying and everybody was yelling and neighbours started coming in. We sent for the doctor. He gave the older ones something to calm them down.
Later that day my father called us together and told us that we would have to go away to a refugee camp because it was too dangerous in Ballymurphy. My eldest sister Denise and her baby son Christopher, Joan, Maura, Irene and myself were all put in a car and taken away to a refugee camp in Cork. We stayed there overnight and the next morning we were transferred to Waterford and we stayed in an army camp.
It was here a few days later, when watching the RTE News that Denise and I heard on the news that Joan Connolly, mother of 8 had been buried that day in St Johns Chapel. We had heard nothing from Ballymurphy since leaving. We were distraught and scared and frightened. Those that stayed behind were just as upset. My sister Philomena had been 15 at the time and had been away on a trip with a youth club when this happened. When she was away she was wakened from her bed by nuns and taken back to Belfast with the explanation that her mother had been in a fire. She was left at St. John’s Chapel at the time of the funeral and found out there that our mother had died.
A few weeks later Daddy’s sisters came to take us out. The family was split up from then. Joan and Irene went to Dublin with my aunt Annie. Maura was taken with aunt Mary to Tipperary. Denise, Christopher and I were taken to Monaghan. My daddy and sister Philomena were already there. After a few days my uncle Frank took me to Sligo and my daddy talked Denise into going back to England as she needed to be with her husband.
I didn’t return home for some time, I think around November.
On returning it was clear how everything had changed. My mother had been at the centre of things and now was gone. There was no one making the fire or putting on the dinner.
My father was a broken man and began drinking too much. He had no family around him to support him. They were all in Southern Ireland. He suffered a breakdown when Bloody Sunday occurred and that had brought things all back for him. He never really recovered. We didn’t feel safe. Irene, the baby of the family, has no real memories of my mother. My other sister Joan, who was 12 when my mother died, has no memory of her and believes that she had subconsciously blocked them out due to the trauma of the way she was lost to us. My mother did everything around the house for us all. The family did not cope well without her. All of the children suffered in their own individual ways.
My mother was very dearly loved and has been very dearly missed. Losing her destroyed our family.
Whilst coping without her has been hard for all of us what has made things worse were the media reports that she was a gunwoman and the rumours that followed us that we were the children of the gunwoman that was shot.
I believe this to be untrue. My mother was not out trying to shoot anyone when she was killed. She was trying to get Joan and me back into the house. She was just a mammy. She has missed out on her life. She has missed seeing the births of more than 30 of her grandchildren, most of whom have red hair. We and they have missed out on her. I would like this Inquest to help my mother to be remembered as the person that she was and not what she was reported to be back then.
Statement by Kevin Phillips brother of Noel Phillips
My name is Kevin Phillips I am the younger brother of Noel Phillips,
Noel Was born on the 6th December 1951 he was one of eight kids to Robert and Margaret Phillips they are
Elizabeth, Robert, Sean, Patrick, Tony, Noel, Marion and myself.
Our family lived in 18 Whitecliff Parade in Ballymurphy and we played as children in the surrounding streets. We had good neighbours and friends in Ballymurphy and good childhood memories.
Noel went to St Kevin’s Primary school followed by St Thomas’s Secondary school on the Whiterock road.
When he left school Noel worked as an apprentice barman then he became a window cleaner.
He wasn’t a drinker himself, maybe his job in the bar put him off it, I don’t know, but he loved his style.
He was a fanatic about his dress, he was always in his Wranglers and was very conscious of his appearance. He was a complete hygiene freak.
As kids Noel and myself would have played football together he loved sports, handball and swimming things like that.
He was so quiet and sedate, really easy going and got on with everybody. No-one could say a bad word about him everybody liked him.
On the 9th August 1971 Noel was doing what kids do, he was doing what anyone would have done at that age if you heard trouble you would go for a nosey, that’s all he was doing.
Shooting broke out and everybody ran for their lives. Noel ran down into the field in front of the Henry Taggart Army base, he was shot and dropped to the ground.
He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was trying to make his way home through Springfield Park at the Manse field when they shot him.
That night me and my sister Marion were lying sleeping in the living room, we knew at this stage our Noel mustn’t be coming in, it was around midnight.
The next day my sister went over to the Henry Taggart to see if our Noel was there and they started shouting abuse at her and told her to check the morgue.
My brother Robert and brother-in-law went to Lagan Bank Morgue to identify Noel’s body. They came back in a terrible state, nothing was ever the same from that point. Nobody came to tell us Noel was dead we just had to find out for ourselves.
My mummy took it really bad, she went to pieces, she was never the same from it, she changed. She used to be very easy going, happy go lucky person but her personality completely changed.
My older brother Robert and sister Lily took on the parenting, there was a lot put on their shoulders. Our family were already fractured with the break-up of our parents before Noel died but his death completely blew us apart, we never recovered.
It was as if a big, black, heavy curtain just came down on top of everyone, the atmosphere in the house just changed. We just couldn’t take in the fact that our brother was dead. I think we all blocked it out for years as a way of coping with it we never talked about our Noels death.
Before Noel died we were all a big close family there was never a dull moment, after his death everything just went black everything changed for us there was no laughing or messing about, the normal things six brothers would get up to, that all changed.
Our family moved out of Ballymurphy to the Newlodge area where my sister Lily was living, I think my mother just wanted out, there was too many bad memories there.
It might have been forty-seven years ago but to me it was like yesterday. I remember it as clear, then again there are other parts I can’t remember.
The trauma is terrible when you go through something like that. Back then no-one had ever heard of counselling so we bottled it all up and tried to deal with it ourselves and just get on with life.
We never spoke about our Noel’s death and we never asked our older brother Robert about identifying his body. He never spoke about it right up until the day he died. Robert was 27 when Noel died, he was more like our father, he kept us in line.
I remember the funeral going down Ballymurphy Road, it reached the Whiterock junction and there were 2 open air jeeps of soldiers about 10 or 12 of them standing around smoking and laughing, pointing over to the funeral procession, it was as if they were celebrating, you would have thought they were partying and high on something, They were getting enjoyment out of our suffering.
Noel was killed on the Monday and his funeral was on the Friday. One question that always sticks in my mind was why Noel was brought to Lagan Bank morgue, why was he not brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital? Surely he should have been brought there that’s the closest hospital.
We missed out on a good brother a good friend and companion, he could have got married and had a family of his own, his whole life was ahead of him but we were robbed of that, it’s hard to put into words what we missed out on. He missed out on all our families, weddings, birthdays and all the nieces and nephews, they have missed out on the best uncle.
I was 15-years-old when our Noel was killed, It was only years later when we learnt what really happened to our poor Noel and it made me sick to my stomach. It tore our family apart at the time but it’s years down the line when certain things start to hit you and certain emotions start to take over.
We’ve listened to the lies told about Noel in the media, how all the victims were gunmen and women. Bad enough they killed them but in death they tried to tarnish their reputations.
My brother Robert campaigned for years to change that and to let the world know Noel was innocent and not a gunman.
I took over campaigning when Robert died. We’ve been in and out of courts for years and we will continue to do it until our loved one’s names are cleared and they have been declared innocent.
I often wonder what the soldiers told their families afterwards, did they portray themselves as heroes to their children after they came over here and killed our loved ones?
I don’t want an apology, I’m not interested, it’s too little, too late. I want justice. I want their names cleared, that’s what all the Ballymurphy Massacre families want, their names cleared and declared innocent.