Patsy Was Taken Away At Midnight

Via The Transcripts BBC Radio Foyle Programme presenter Joel Taggart introduces reporter Mark Carruthers who is in Doire covering the death of Martin McGuinness. Mark presents Teresa Craig’s interview with Kathleen Gillespie, the widow of Patsy Gillespie.

Good Morning Ulster
BBC Radio Foyle
(begins time stamp ~1:37:24)

TT Note:  Where’s the audio? At the time of posting it is not available for download from the BBC.  Please use the hyperlinked title ‘Good Morning Ulster’ to listen along as you read.  Thank you.

Joel:  Now this morning we’re continuing to look at the life and legacy of Martin McGuinness who died yesterday. Our colleague, Mark Carruthers, is in Doire for us. Good Morning! to you again, Mark.

Mark:   Morning, Joel. Welcome back to Doire where, from the ancient walls, I’m looking across at the Bogside where Martin McGuinness’ body currently lies at his home ahead of tomorrow’s funeral which will take place at two o’clock at St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower, just beside me at the walls here. People, of course, in the past twenty-four hours have been reflecting on Mr. McGuinness’ journey from IRA Commander to Deputy First Minister but many can’t forgive or forget his violent past. One of those is Doire woman Kathleen Gillespie whose husband, Patsy, was murdered by the IRA back in 1990. The father of three worked as a cook at Fort George Army base marking him as a British collaborator in the eyes of the IRA. They took him from his home, left an armed gang with his wife and children, tied Mr. Gillespie into the seat of a lorry packed with a thousand pounds of explosives and ordered him to drive it to Coshquin border post where they then detonated the bomb killing Mr. Gillespie and five soldiers. Kathleen Gillespie’s been talking about that night to our reporter, Teresa Craig.

Kathleen:   Patsy was taken away at midnight. Four hours later my phone rang and the man who I thought was in charge of the men in the house because he was the only one who would speak to me – they were with us for four hours when the phone rang. And the boy I thought was in charge answered the phone and he pulled the phone, the wire out of the phone, and he said: That’s us away. Now give us half an hour before you do anything and your husband will be back. A few minutes later I heard the explosion.

Teresa:   When you heard the explosion did you have a sense that Patsy – something had happened to him – did you realise then or…?

Kathleen:   …No. No. And I said to the wans that’s the car going. Your daddy’ll be home soon. That wasn’t to be.

Teresa:   When you realised that he was dead, he’d been killed so violently he wasn’t coming home again – you were left without a husband – your children without a father.

Kathleen:   How can you put into words how it feels?

From the Derry Journal

I spent the whole next day waiting for confirmation that Patsy was dead. They eventually found a piece of clothing that I could say was Patsy’s. Do you know that Patsy was murdered on our eldest son’s eighteenth birthday? So his birthday every year’s not a great day.

Teresa:   Do you blame Martin McGuinness in any way…

Kathleen:   …Yeah…

Teresa:   …for the death of Patsy?

Kathleen:    Yeah. Of course I do. He was asked specifically: Why was Patsy Gillespie murdered? His words were: ‘Patsy Gillespie was a legitimate target of war’. I wanted to know why Patsy was considered a legitimate target of war.

Teresa:   Did you ever get to ask Mr. McGuinness why he’d said that? What he meant by it?

Kathleen:   No, I didn’t. I never once came face-to-face with Martin McGuinness.

Teresa:    And with his passing do you feel that opportunities have been lost in that sense?

Kathleen:   Yeah, I feel as if I’ve lost out. I feel robbed of the opportunity of a conversation with Martin McGuinness. I would have liked a conversation with him just to put that one question to him. Now I didn’t want to berate him or fight with him. I had gone past that stage of all the hatred and anger that I felt. I just wanted the opportunity to ask him the question – just to explain to me – but that’s a part of my life that’s gone now. So I just have to learn to live with the fact that I didn’t get my opportunity to speak to Martin.

Teresa:  He made that transition from the IRA to peacemaker and had a key role in the peace process. Can you accept that – whatever his past is?

Kathleen:  No, no. I can’t because I just feel that – I don’t know how he can, he could have, come to terms with the things that he did.

Teresa:   Some will say that he brought the IRA to the table, that he took the guns out of paramilitaries, the Republican paramilitaries.

Kathleen:   But did he ever show any remorse for what he did?

Teresa:   Do you forgive him? Can you ever forgive him?

Kathleen:   No. There’s no forgiveness in my heart. I had to learn to find a way to look after my family. And it all turned out rather well and I’ve got five grandchildren and it’s great and all the rest of it but it’s five grandchildren that Patsy should have been here to be with because he would have just – he would have just idolised them. I don’t feel any better because Martin McGuinness is dead. I feel sad for his wife. If she loved him as much as I loved Patsy then I give her my condolences because I know what’s missing.

Teresa:   When you look back at twenty-six years, what have you lost?

Kathleen:   Patsy was a great family man now but I loved him – he was my husband, he was the father of our children and they missed out. And the day that my daughter was getting married and her daddy should have been there to walk her down the aisle – he wasn’t there. But her daddy should have been there and he wasn’t.

Teresa:   Do you miss him to this day?

Kathleen:   Oh, God! I miss him every day. And I talk about him all the time. I met Patsy when I was sixteen. And because of the way, because of the way he died I didn’t even get to say good-bye to him. You know – he was gone. One minute he was there – they took him out – and that’s the last I saw of him. And the last words he said to me was: Don’t worry, girl, I’ll be alright.

Joel:   The thoughts there of Kathleen Gillespie whose husband, Patsy, was killed by the IRA twenty-six years ago.

(ends time stamp ~1:43:30)


  1. Another time she retold that night, I think she mentioned she was walking down the road expecting him to appear, and he never did, Its one of those awful mental images that emerged from the troubles. I would love to know the thinking behind such attacks,at a minimum, they were so barbaric it could only be negative for the republican cause.

  2. Daithi

    many of our minds were warped by the conflict and history. We believed that those who worked for/with the British military, no matter how menial the role or how vulnerable each individual's circumstance, were collaborators. They were collaborators clear and simple. For those of us born into it, indoctrinated with a flawed history, a flawed history reinforced by daily subjugation in a sectarian statelet we felt no, or little, remorse at the execution of those whom we perceived as collaborators.

    That probably seems somewhat barbaric to some of today's readers. Yet such thinking and endorsements of callous acts, callous acts such as making a human bomb out of Patsy Gillespie, were not uncommon or unusual among those of us who believed ourselves at war ... at war in pursuit of a just and noble cause.

    Many of those who fought the war were young ... young, immature and uneducated ... at least uneducated in the broadest sense of that word.
    Some of what happened was unjustifiable and much of it was unavoidable ... or was it that much of it unjustifiable and some of it unavoidable?

  3. DaithiD,

    I have heard it speculated that the attacks were planned with the political objective being rendering redundant the military option: it was about advancing SF and curbing the IRA. In hindsight it is plausible but as Henry Joy points out few of us were up in arms complaining about it. What I disliked about it at the time was the media term human bomb. I preferred collaborator bomb. Sort of tells you where I had my head.

    Given the situation that prevailed I thought Patsy Gillespie very unwise to work in an army base. The Derry IRA had a record of targeting people who supplied those bases. He was bound to come to their attention.

    The exigencies of war drag us into a moral sewer where we indulge in those things. Browning in his book on Police Battalion 101 showed how ordinary men, not pre-formed ideologues, carried out the worst atrocities against Jewish people.

    That might explain it but it does not excuse it.

  4. I get that he was working for the British, other contractors like the porta-cabin supplier (name escapes me now) were simply shot, in the logic of the time I can empathise with it.Surely the media aspect was always a consideration before operations at this stage? But if MMG had given the go ahead for the attack, he could of been purposefully tying his hands, making defence of the IRA campaign much harder, in accordance with the speculation AM has heard.

    AM, it is said he warned beforehand, I dont know how true this is, I dont know why someone would stand in defiance against an organisation with a track record of shooting those who assist the occupation forces.

    PS I wish you would write some articles HJ, I dont know how that would work with the moniker, but your comments deserve a more obvious access point.

  5. DaithiD,

    he might have been warned before hand. I don't recall. I think McGuinness kicked up a storm at university debate in England when he said he disagreed with criticism of the IRA for the operation.

    Whatever reason Patsy Gillespie had for making the choice to work there, he could hardly have felt safe. I think it also showed how the British were closing down the IRA ability to kill British troops. They were being forced to take more desperate measures to deliver. This came only two years after they had a relatively successful year in terms of troop killings. I remember asking a guy in jail how could the armed struggle be maintained when the IRA would be reduced to killing less than ten British troops a year. He told me it would never happen. Within a year or two it had.

  6. AM, in the twilight of the war, there was an agreement no IRA operations at night in exchange for no troop encrouchments into Derry nationalist estates in the same nighttime hours, how this isnt worse than Patsy's collaboration isnt clear to me.
    After the IRA delegations meeting at Cheyne Walk, they flew back to Derry with Frank Steele, he said to Macstiofain,not to re-start hostlilities but dont think you are worrying us with casulties, we lose more men to road accidents in Germany each year. The bodybags theory relies on a governments degree of empathy to its soldiers.

  7. AM,

    "This came only two years after they had a relatively successful year in terms of troop killings. I remember asking a guy in jail how could the armed struggle be maintained when the IRA would be reduced to killing less than ten British troops a year. He told me it would never happen. Within a year or two it had."

    I think it was Malachi O'Doherty who posed the question here a while back, given all the arms arriving from the Middle East did no volunteers at the time ask the question of when they were going to be used?