“there are folk struggling with loss tonight and others having the memory of their loss stirred up…”

As one good friend noted on Facebook this evening “there are folk struggling with loss tonight and others struggling with having the memory of their loss being stirred up” in Northern Ireland, in London and in other parts of the world.

This interview from Good Morning Ulster is just one of many with victims of IRA violence over the last day or two, and probably as Sam McBride noted on Twitter above, by dint of its grace and restraint one of the most powerful.

As it happens, the Gillespie killing was also part of this somber recollection from Mark Devenport:

On one level I was strolling with an engaging companion, devoted to his dog, talking in an animated way about his children and grandchildren.

On the other, whilst he pointed down to the places where he went fishing, I thought back to what had also happened in the countryside before us.

The misty cloud obscured part of the view, but not far down there was Coshquin, the place where the army used to have a permanent checkpoint.

A quarter of a century earlier, the IRA sent army chef Patsy Gillespie to his death at Coshquin, holding his family hostage while he was forced to drive the car bomb which killed him and five soldiers.

The deputy first minister and I took shelter from the wind inside the hill fort, walking in a series of circles for the benefit of my cameraman. Amid the cold stone, my thoughts became more sombre.

It was a matter of record that my companion was a senior IRA commander, so I asked him: “Are there secrets, that you will take to your grave?”

Not surprisingly he didn’t see this as a moment for any personal confessions. Instead, he talked about the unfinished efforts underway to try to create new bodies which might enable victims of Northern Ireland’s troubles to find the truth.

It is important to acknowledge the full breadth of Martin McGuinness’s journey, from its beginnings to its highly positive end. We should, as Bryan Delaney says, be vigilant about the stories we tell about ourselves. And McGuinness’s is critical to understanding the depth of NI’s transformation.

But as we noted in A Long Peace in 2003

John Dunlop warns us, ‘It would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave grieving people behind.’  The greatest tribute to those who have suffered, however, is to build on their sacrifices.

…the world’s attention is moving on and the mundane work of reconstruction must begin.  This is not about grandiose gestures, nor sudden cures. It is both more modest and more patient.

Despite important progress, we’re still largely waiting for that reconstruction to begin.

I’ll finish by quoting from one of the most powerfully sustained pieces of poetry from the Troubles and post-Troubles era Pity For The Wicked, by Brian Lynch.

The final stanzas speak for themselves:

She didn’t answer, and yet I heard.

I heard the way that thunder hears itself.

And then I saw the tear that stood within

Her eye grow huge, embreast itself the way

That water does, and with a tearing sound –

The movement was the only noise it made –

Detach itself and fall. A falling star

In miniature, a meteor of dew

And yet the size of sky, it filled the room

With liquid light and washed the window clean

For pity’s sake, with angry emphasis,

And all its other milder synonyms:

For empathy, compassion, clemency,

For tenderness and mercy, sympathy

For sorrow and regret and charity,

And all those words applied to proper names:

For Bloody Sunday, Aldershot, for Pat

Gillespie and his wife, for Margaret Wright,

For everyone who dies and doesn’t know

The reason why, except its not for love.


She said: ‘If not for that for what?

What else is there to give the dead?’

In lieu of answers that was all she had:

An interrogative. But then she added this:

‘There’s nothing else except

That altogether useless thing,

That surplus to requirements,

Suffering in silence’.


And so I woke. And for a moment, lost

To time, I thought I saw the world again,

The world before the Fall, before we crossed

The border line of hate. She vanished then.


  • AntrimGael

    The interview with Mrs Gillespie is heartbreaking. Her husband missed what no father should, his daughter’s wedding and the joy of his grandchildren. We have shamefully failed the victims and treated their families abysmally.
    Take a walk around Roselawn, Milltown, Carnmoney, City Cemetery and countless other graveyards and memorial gardens. Multiply by 100, 200+ the number of people affected by that one name on that gravestone or plaque and that is the stark reality.
    I live in North Belfast and can point out 10,20,30 people on any given day who are carrying around the grief of the conflict and you can see it in their faces. Two stories stick out in my mind. One was the father of a young boy killed by the UDA in the Sean Graham Ormeau Road bookies. His father said “the bullet that killed my son didn’t just go through his body, it travelled through time and killed my wife through a broken heart several years later”.
    The second was an interview with two Protestant brothers whose pensioner father was shot dead sitting at a bar in a random, sectarian shooting by an INLA/IPLO faction. The tears rolled down their faces as they said “Our father was a good man, he just didn’t deserve that”.
    If we don’t deal with this legacy and continue to ignore victims and relatives it is as John Dunlop said ” callous for a community to travel forward and leave these people behind”. It’s a false dawn and not worth it if we keep sidelining them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A few years ago I went back to the farm in Co Tyrone where my Mum grew up and knocked on the door of the house. It turned out to be bad timing as the woman living there was just back from her brother’s funeral. Still she insisted we come in for a bit. She told us her brother had been a broken man for 30 years and had actually wanted to die. His daughter was the wee girl blown up at Claudy.

    [Thank you MU. Let’s follow AG’s example and keep this thread to story/testimony – which is singularly valuable – rather than opinion? – Moderated by Mick]

  • Granni Trixie

    The unexpected terrorist events in London should also focus minds on the prize of stability and peace. In a normal society …..

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No doubt that bloke mowing people down in a 4×4 was “inevitable” because Muslims suffer economic and social disadvantage.

  • mickfealty

    Subject, please? Some of the raw and barely poetically refined anger of lynch’s long poem is sublimated in that last page quoted above.

    The subject is not so much the anger, but the way we’ve cast aside the victims and their largely hidden narratives of survival and pain and in doing so we withdraw the merest scrap of human empathy.

    However, substitute reconciliation (a passive personal quality that no one has the right to demand of any individual) fir the active, collective actions needed for reconstruction, and another vista comes into view?

    The sitting on our hands is the greatest insult to their memory and pain. Listen to the Derry woman on Nolan who followed Mrs Gillespie’s powerful testimony. Best political analysis I’ve heard from any quarter in years!!

  • Jag

    We can pick at these scabs until our bodies are covered in blood. If you’re one of the 10,20,30 or 200+ affected by a specific killing or incident, then that “scab” is perhaps your most cherished memory of a loved one whose loss affects your life and thoughts on a daily or hourly basis. For the rest, perhaps the decent thing is to acknowledge those losses but focus on the future, and seek out the best in the hope of becoming the best.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I couldn’t agree more Mick.

    The relevance to this thread is that we are talking in the context of the inadequate consideration given to victims (and everyone affected by terrorism) in the media discussion of McGuinness’s life. They are being paid lip service only because of an analysis that sees violence as something that just happens. Victims are being given the message, by a kind of bogus consensus of media and politicians, that it would be churlish of them to feel bitterness at McGuinness or to morally judge him. Yes, have your little bit of grief, they are being told, we’ll let you do that, but it’s less important than talking about the good stuff McGuinness did. The terror attacks in London should remind us how ridiculous the excuses of terrorists sound at the time. That was my point: that as time passes, we forget what we learned during the terror years and we allow the faulty logic and evasion of terror apologism a foothold – one that is much less possible in the cold light of a fresh experience of terror.

  • mickfealty

    That’s a switch from victim to perpetrator though. Terror is a thing. But whilst we write endlessly about the enforcers, we also give far too little time and consideration for what we might do for the sake dead and wounded.

  • Granni Trixie

    Ok. Here’s a bit of story/Testimony MIck: in response to what happened to Mr Gillespie people from a range of groups formed “Enough” who tried to draw attention to th immorality of “legitimate targets”.

    It was like many Short lived responses to violence it probably went nowhere but who knows? at least we did not stand idly by. I cannot bring myself to throw out the tshirt I wore with the words “am I a legitimate target”.

  • Gavin Smithson

    People are v emotional this week. You need cut them some slack.

  • mickfealty

    Some, yes. Much, no. This is a place for story sharing and discourse (though I’d forgive anyone for thinking otherwise recently). It is not an encounter group or for individual therapy.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Agreed Mick – let’s keep this thread for something reflective. We can do the political side of it elsewhere.

  • mickfealty

    That’s why Dunlop. And why we should dump all unreasonable demands for reconciliation over the short term and look for some class of reconstruction.

    I have to say the promise of movement into another future (and away from the real nightmare for victims, ie that it could all repeat itself all over again) is about the most useful thing we can offer victims. Reconstruction first, then reconciliation will follow.

    I had a Jewish mate once who’s father won an Aer Lingus prize for some typographic font he’d designed. She had to fly to Dublin and take the prize for him. After all those years of living in Britain he feared he might not get back in and instead be deported to a Germany he’d fled in the 1930s.

    Transformation has to happen as a result of our new politics, not just within the individual biography of former players, and not just spite of it.

  • jporter

    Of course one of the parts of this heartbreaking interview that stands out is Kathleen Gillespie’s unfulfilled wish for Martin McGuinness to explain why he considered her husband to be a legitimate target.
    Presumably also why the IRA thought that Patsy Gillespie deserved the manner of death to which he was sentenced.
    If Martin felt he was a legitimate target then presumably some on this board who consider themselves Republicans, who felt that the end justified the means, agree with Martin and could offer, without any whataboutery, an explanation?

  • Fear Éireannach

    AS Queen Elizabeth said in Dublin Castle “These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all”

    There are many things, on all sides, that should not have been done at all. The important thing is to ensure that your actions reduce the chances of such things in the future, and an eye for an eye does not meet that objective.

  • grumpy oul man

    I listened to Mrs Gillespie and thought of the horror that was visited on that family, although what was done to her husband was among the most ruthless acts of the troubles ( such a soft adjective for such a hard time) it was just one of many.
    No side here has a monopoly on horror inflicted or endured and it is important to remember that every person who died was injured or suffered had a mother father, maybe siblings or spouse and children.
    Asking these people to forget is a big ask, too big i think for many.
    Asking for justice for them is also a big ask. In the best of circumstances justice is scarce on the ground.
    And wont be justice unless available to all.
    We cannot let the past stop us from a decent future but we cannot ignore the victims and the familys of the victims.
    Legacy will be the hardest thing to settle simply because we dont have a agreed history we cannot agree on its legacy.
    I have no idea how to square this circle.

  • Deeman

    No republican could justify the tactics deployed in this case whether Patsy was a legitimate target or not.

  • Barneyt

    Oh man that’s poor

  • Madra Uisce

    I thought so too but my post was censored

  • Barneyt

    How do you address the victims? How do you cure the grief particularly if you your relative was treated as an expendable explosive delivery mechanism. Were they told they would be given an opportunity to flee… not that that would help. Don’t drive the car? You’re family is wiped out. Drive it and scarper? Shot by other side. Deliver as ordered and remain in the vehicle? We know the answer. For me that is one of the coldest tactics I’ve come across. I could adjust or see others recover to some degree if they knew it was not directly intended… I don’t mean to imply some deeds are excused …. but this is brutal. Informers and deserters get shot. There’s nothing new there and paramilarists can cite many a precedent and argue for their cause. People get threatened to carry guns across the border but they stand a chance of survival. There is no possible escape with this act of pure terror. With this weapon in your armoury expect to lose the title of freedom fighter.

  • Barneyt

    No. No wriggle room with this particular deed. Out and out act of terror.

  • Barneyt

    It takes just a simple gesture to make a greater gain. If the DUP would take a look at Linda Irvines project and drive through the language act and even take some ownership of it, it would send out a massive signal towards equality. I doubt that Linda sees this as something that would compromise her Britishness or sense of who she his. I’ll think of something republicans can do but every idea I have seems to dilute who republicans are, whereas an Irish language act impacts unionists not a jot. I’m sure I’ll find one act of random kindness that could work…. em…

  • Barneyt

    A wee child was killed in the 70s. His uncle went ballistic and blamed those who planted the device and this hardened the political direction he took. The father of the child blamed the circumstances and had the intended targets not been present, there’d be no device and the child would be with us today. Maybe that’s how he survived a pointless death and the loss of his child.

  • 05OCT68

    Legacy is the issue often talked about but never really is at the heart of negotiations. I would advocate a period of agreed direct rule, agreed meaning that Westminster administers the perfunctory of running NI. During that period the political party’s here work out our Legacy issues. Everything has to be on the table, truth commissions,( I think that there are people on both sides that would want to speak truth to the victims of their actions) general amnesty, full rigor of the law, context etc.

  • The Irishman


  • MainlandUlsterman

    See explanation below. The cognitive dissonance in media treatment of the two big news items this week has been deafening. But I agree with Mick, this thread is for a less political sharing of stories about Troubles experiences, let’s keep to that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well said Barney. To work out our feelings about all these things we all need to nurture our capacity for empathy, to walk in the shoes of the people caught up in it all. It’s not so hard, we actually do know their stories and we may even be one of those people ourselves. We just choose as a society not to empathise a lot of the time, because we tell ourselves it will hold us back, bog us down in the past. The opposite: it releases us.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Hear hear, FE

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • mickfealty

    You used the word ‘disgusting’ which was disproportionate, going on trolling. As I said on the original McG thread tone matters at times like this.

    If the tone is right, it’s still possible to be frank. The victims of the Troubles (all of them) deserve that every bit as much as SF’s fallen northern hero.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    She’s great. Irish isn’t for all but hers is the kind of self-confident attitude towards culture and our place in it that reflects well on the progressive side of the Ulster British community. It does exist and is way bigger than is reflected in politics. And I know many SF voters are not as immoral about the IRA as its leaders. These parties let us all down. Even as they appear to prosper electorally, through a grim ethnic oneupmanship, their politics are out of touch with what people really feel.

  • mickfealty

    People need to be realistic about what’s possible. What we’ve seen (albeit by default rather than design) is often little short of victim tormenting.

    There needs to be a reality too, about what we mean when we talk about all the parties. None of them carry the personal liabilities that Martin and Gerry have.

    That’s not to have a go, but people aren’t as stupid as some of us anoraks seem to take them for. They know SF cannot deliver on this, without putting themselves into jeopardy.

    The real plan is to keep looking for the kind of deal for perps (all perps, state included) until any one who has a case to answer is dead. But admitting such is taboo.

    The HET is largely a promise that was never intended to be fulfilled. And now it’s been killed off for something that has the teeth HET never had, but is under the direct political control.

    A Nuremberg/Marshall Plan model might have worked, but it would have also flown in the face of the spirit and the letter of the Belfast Agreement (note how Colombia have avoided some of these pitfalls.

    If we cannot have a Nuremberg, we definitely owe those many dead and wounded some class of Marshall Plan (we didn’t sustain anything like the damage mainland Europe did).

    We need politicians with ideas, transformative ones. McGuinness took us all so far, but there’s a far longer journey ahead of us.

  • Madra Uisce

    Mick I used the word because that is how I viewed it. It was using the London victims to cynically try to score political points. You may view it differently but that is how I saw it and why I used the word .

  • 05OCT68

    Yes SF are/was the political wing of the IRA, the British government the political wing of the state forces, who are the political wing of the myriad Loyalist groups, who would represent them in negotiations? Awaiting the death of victims or perpetrators is indeed cynical, a general amnesty is the only option, unpalatable as I do think state forces should be held to a higher standard.

  • mickfealty


    Disgusting is word fit to the details of some of the nastier actions of the Derry Brigade we’ve been reading about over the last few days.

    If just reading the views of others that you passionately disagree with makes you feel sick to your stomach, then you must be in the wrong place.

    This is no place here for the weak-willed. And I won’t have anyone using falsely emotive language to set taboos on views they deem unacceptable.

    I hope that’s clear and reasonable?

  • TJ53

    And three three children up in Ballymoney after Drumcree

  • Madra Uisce

    Oh it’s perfectly clear Mick that dissenting from the Slugger party line is enough to be threatened with a ban. I’m genuinely interested to hear what words you would have used in relation to a comment that was a blatant attempt to score political points on the backs of people being murdered in London for that is exactly what it was and you and everyone else on this board knows it.