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