The Niedermayers and the cascading misery of our dirty little war…

At least, from time to time, someone remembers. Anne Marie Hourihane recalls just one terrible event out of many in the year 1973. Much as it is never far from my finger tips Lost Lives does not recall the interminable damage wrought on families long after their loved ones were taken in the midst of the Troubles.

The news bulletins did not tell us that when the kidnappers came to the Niedermayer house, which, far from being a mansion, was quite an ordinary house in suburban Belfast, in December 1973, Mrs Ingeborg Niedermayer was in hospital. One of the two teenage Niedermayer daughters, Renate (15) and Gabriella (18), opened the door. The kidnappers said that they had run into Thomas Niedermayer’s car outside, and asked the girls to fetch their father. He went outside to look at the car. They never saw him again.

In 1973 it was said that Thomas Niedermayer had been kidnapped to be traded for the repatriation of the Price sisters, among others, who were IRA prisoners in British jails, sentenced in November of that year for their part in the Old Bailey bombing. Within the past fortnight, Dolours Price died here in Dublin.

It was his name that saved Thomas Niedermayer from fading completely from public consciousness: it is foreign, yet easy to say, easy to remember. But over the years we heard it less and less. Other names came and went. Despite the pleas of the Niedermayer family – the girls apparently sounding very Belfast – his body was never returned to them. It was found seven years later by the RUC at a rubbish dump on the Collin river, at the Glen Road in west Belfast. He’d been buried bound and gagged, face down.

Such deception has more recently been ascribed to informers and those in the security forces (lets call them securocrats) who undoubtedly used individual life crises to entrap people into working for state forces and deceiving their comrades in arms.

Yet consider the casual deception here, practised to a particular end, ie the abduction of a wealthy foreigner for purely tactical means. The Niedermayers were to pay a terrible price for such thoughtless deception. Anne Marie again:

Joe Duffy was contacted by those who knew that Thomas Niedermayer’s widow, Ingeborg, had died by suicide in 1990. She drowned herself off Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Joe Duffy and Ciarán Cassidy, of RTÉ’s documentary unit, soon found out that Thomas Niedermayer’s daughter Renate had killed herself the following year, in South Africa, in 1991. Niedermayer’s older daughter, Gabrielle, took her own life in 1993 in the south of England, near Torquay. Gabrielle’s husband, Robert, killed himself three years after that.

It’s kind of shocking, depressing, and then shocking again when you realise this is just one documented trail through one family’s Troubles afterlife. Was it the brutality of the killing, the senselessness of it, or the sheer coldness of the deception that drove all of the primary members of one family to take their lives?

It’s impossible to know. And if there ever is any kind of commission it is already too late to adumbrate what can now be passed off for the truth (to save the killers’ blushes) as any kind of compensation to the survivors. Our only memorial to innocents, as the poet says “to murmur name upon name”. And by another:

Death of one is the death of all.
It is not the dead I pity.

A Knock on the Door, Documentary On One, RTÉ Radio One, Saturday, February 16th, 6pm

Imagine festival 202

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