Massacre At Ballymurphy

Anthony McIntyre last night watched Callum Macrae’s film Massacre At Ballymurphy.

Normally on a Saturday evening I assume the role of couch potato and sprawl out to watch the TV. Scandinavian crime drama is a frequent flyer in this home and is invariably viewed to the clinking of a glass occasioned by repetitive sips of whiskey or bourbon, neat. Last night I broke with Saturday evening tradition, watched a film about British criminals and forewent the glass. It was as well: what passed before my eyes would have produced the most sobering of effects, rendering the alcohol anodyne. All the descriptive buzz words apply: riveting, captivating, shocking, stunning.

I am old enough to remember the Ballymurphy massacre. On the first day of it I was rioting in the Lower Falls, on the second I was in Lenadoon and then the Markets. The massacre was still continuing on the third day, which, if memory is reliable, saw me attend the funeral of IRA volunteer Paddy McAdorey, shot dead on the morning of internment in Ardoyne.

At 14 it was exciting; the thought of being murdered by the state did not always make its way to the forefront of the mind. One of the British Army officers standing on Albert Street warned us we would be shot if we failed to heed his orders, delivered over a bullhorn, to desist from rioting. We continued, and they did not shoot us. 

Just over a mile up the Falls Road the situation was very different. There, people who were not even rioting were mercilessly gunned down over a three-day period by the criminals of the British Parachute Regiment. The same regiment would go on to establish a reputation for itself as a gang of mass murderers after it gunned down an unarmed civilian population in Derry five months later. The Tory government who sent these criminals out onto the streets of Belfast and Derry, had the chutzpah to call men like Bobby Sands and Patsy O’Hara criminals, forcing them to their deaths in defiance of the label. Film footage of the British paedophile Ted Heath, who was in charge at the time of both the Derry and Ballymurphy massacres, merely compounded the sense of anger induced by the labelling strategy of a British state. Here was a true criminal, a man of considerably less moral fibre than the republican hunger strikers. Barely a word from the Tories who seem to regard such things, when perpetrated by their own monsters, as peccadillos rather than perversions.

The slaughter has been described as the North's "hidden massacre." Jean McConville, mother of ten, became a cause celebre for the great and the good. Joan Connolly mother of eight, was effectively written out of the script, to be remembered only by those who knew and loved her.

Unlike Derry, the dots were not as well joined in Ballymurphy. It was a massacre on a par with Bloody Sunday but as Ian Cobain observed in 2014
Unlike on Bloody Sunday, however, no journalists were present, no camera crews captured the events, and there was no international condemnation of the killings.

Even when I lived in the area I recall the discourse of the "Springhill Massacre"  which claimed the lives of five people. I have no memory of hearing the collective term "Ballymurphy massacre," even though the events of that three day period were often recalled, when people referred to the individual killings, or sometimes in passing would point out or mention the relative of one of the butchered. Whatever the reason, the massacre seemed to have been atomised into an number of individual killings. It was 1998 before the dots would be joined:

In the summer of 1998, many of the families of those murdered in the Ballymurphy Massacre attended a conference organised by Relatives for Justice to discuss the forgotten victims of the troubles. Unknown to each other at the time, the families listened in horror to the discussion as the extent of the Ballymurphy Massacre unfolded. For many years families suffered with their own loss and grief, until now when it emerged that they were not suffering alone.

A campaign began which had as its aims:
➤ Independent international investigation examining the circumstances surrounding all of the deaths
➤ The British government to issue a statement of innocence
➤ The British government to issue a public apology

Which is arguably the optimum approach. Prosecutions are to be opposed not because they are morally wrong but because the amount of truth recovered by prosecutions will be limited by the scenes of crime view perspective they bring to the issue. It is of course ethically right to call for the prosecutions. But identifying in court the murderous grunts who, state issue weapons in hand with a licence to kill, murdered the innocent of Ballymurphy is not enough. What needs brought out inter alia is the chain of command, knowledge of meetings before the massacre and since, the extent of the cover up and the role of those involved in it. A process much wider than prosecutions can best move closer to securing these objectives. Truth will come despite the British state not because of it.

Ballymurphy 1971: why would the young not have flocked to join the IRA and fight back against a gang of British mass killers and those who sponsored them? The IRA campaign regardless of what one may think of it was in large part a war against British state terrorism. This intense and traumatic film leaves the viewer in little doubt about that.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.
Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

5 comments to ''Massacre At Ballymurphy"

  1. The footage of the massacre was truly horrific all the more so as I had never seen kit before or heard of the witness testimony. It was never the vision track to my childhood as Bloody Sunday because as Anthony rightfully explains there were no journalists present. I remember the horror created by the murder Fr Hugh Mullan it didn't seem to have been framed as part of the wider narrative of a massacre.

    Above all the bereaved relatives of the Ballymurphy Massacre need to have the opportunity to give witness testimony in court and the perpetrators have to hear it and be asked "Why". For witness testimony as an historical record of crimes against humanity is a much more important principle of justice than that of retribution. There should also be a campakign to strip General Sir Mike Jackson of his royal and military honours and status because of the mendacious lies he had published in the Bel Tel in the days after the massacre about the victims being armed and in the IRA.

    Something that was left out last night was the effect of the Labour Government losing the June 1970 GE which led to such a rapid change of political and military strategy by the incoming Heath government of which the atrocities documented last night.

    Excellent journalism and historical documentation in a era that sorely needs both.

  2. Just watched it...harrowing to say the least and very informative as there was quite a lot I was totally unaware aspect that stood out was the families total lack of bitterness...they came across as extremely courageous in their fight not for justice but simply the truth...Very moving

  3. A blind man could see the Brit govt adopted a policy of plausible deniability when they initiated their terror policy upon the nationalist community. I.e whilst embracing Kitson's advice(terrorise the community) they were mindful to keep the policy within a trusted circle, the 1st Para. This gave other spokespeople for various strands of the Brit army to refute claims that this was an official policy of Brit govt I.e it wasn't widespread and was perhaps a few bad apples. A bit like when Jack hermon unleashed a unit of the police within the police to murder known republicans I.e countless cops have argued that there wasn't a shoot to kill policy because they 'could've but didn't shoot' some folk.

  4. Yes, excellent work by all concerned. Moving, factual and informative.

    I genuinely wonder if this is how controversial incidents from our recent history will be discussed over the next few years (via the medium of film). I welcome it, but have to profess a certain weariness about it as well, due to eventual fatigue.

  5. Very good documentary and good commentary AM. The architect of terrorism, Kitson, has escaped all accountability but he must be getting on in years and I wonder what truths will start to be disclosed about him when he dies?


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