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By Jason Michael

I CAME TO IRELAND twenty years ago. As a Scot from an Irish Catholic background, coming to Ireland has always felt like coming home. Scotland will always be home, but so too will Ireland. In the time I have lived here I have learnt so much about my family’s Irish and Scottish roots. Travelling to the townland of Lurgancot in south Armagh I saw the orchards by the banks of the Bann from where the McCanns fled famine and disease; making their home in the Gorbals of Glasgow before following the work on the railways to Hurlford, near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire.

Everything we were never taught about Ireland – about what Britain did to Ireland – I learnt here. There are fields and smallholdings all over west Cork and Kerry where even today the locals are proud to show off where their grandfathers buried the bodies of the Black and Tans, where British soldiers were gunned down by members of the “Old IRA.” All over the country there are small, almost insignificant whitewashed stones marking the places where sometimes entire villages were buried during the Great Famine – at a time when Britain was shipping grain out of the country back to markets in England under armed guard. Mass graves, the pox marks of Ireland’s experience of British colonial subjugation, are to be found everywhere on this island.

In the early years of the Good Friday Agreement I was involved with the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation at Glencree. There I heard – first hand – of Bloody Sunday, internment, loyalist paramilitary murder squads supported by the RUC and the British Army, kidnappings and punishment beatings, and murder. The BBC had taught me the Catholic Irish were just anti-authoritarian malcontents. It never told us of the behaviour of the British government in Ireland; how it used the army to terrorise and brutalise innocent people, how it passed on military intelligence to thugs who would use it to hunt down and kill innocent people, and how it used the British media to hide the crimes it was committing.

When the British government apologised for the 1972 Bloody Sunday in Derry – where British Army paratroopers murdered fourteen innocent civil rights protesters – we were led to believe this was a one-off, an outrageous atrocity committed by scared little boys with guns in a shite situation. People were willing to accept this version. Irish people are eager to put the ugliness of what Britain did here behind them, and who can blame them? But we hadn’t expected Britain to use an apology as a weapon of the war it is still fighting on our island.

As David Cameron stood in Westminster pretending to apologise for the actions of British soldiers in Derry in 1972 he kept his lips tightly shut about Ballymurphy. Few, even in Ireland, outside the Republican movement have ever heard of what happened from 9-11 August 1971 in the Belfast housing estate of Ballymurphy. I’ve been to Ballymurphy. My friend, Fr. Paddy McCafferty, is the parish priest at Corpus Christi parish on the estate, and I had never heard of what the British Army did there. The Channel 4 documentary the other night was an eye-opener. It has sent shock-waves over Ireland. Britain’s narrative of “Northern Ireland” has finally fallen apart. There is no Northern Ireland. There is just a British colony on an island where it doesn’t belong and a history of brutality and murder. Britain’s apology was meaningless because it was still hiding this.

In the dead of night 1 Para – the British Army parachute regiment used to crush uprisings in Kenya and Malaya as the British Empire was collapsing – descended from the hills into the estate with one purpose, to terrorise and murder ordinary people. This was before the Provisional IRA campaign. At that time the IRA had given up violence in the hope of finding a political solution. The British Army wasn’t after “terrorists.” It was under orders to end the civil rights movement by sending a message in blood to the Catholics in the occupied six counties.

Fr. McCafferty’s predecessor, Fr. Hugh Mullan, ran from his home to go to a man who had been shot in open ground by British Army snipers as he fled the estate. Fr. Mullan went out with a white handkerchief, the internationally accepted sign of non-violence and peace, he gave the injured man last rites, and as he went for help the snipers took aim and picked him off. The killers kept their sights on the dead priest, using his body as a lure to shoot and kill others who came to him. This was a war on Irish Catholics, of course the dirty papist priest was the perfect victim.

Over the course of the next two days – through the day and through the night – the British Army went from house to house killing. Out on the street they murdered a youth worker who had filled a handcart with milk and bread in order to feed mothers and babies trapped in their homes because of the pogrom. For the past forty-seven years the British government and the British media have been working their arses off to make sure we knew nothing about this. We were never supposed to know Britain behaves like this, and we weren’t supposed to know because Britain wants this sort of filthy tactic of state terrorism kept up its sleeve for future use.

About a decade ago I reprimanded someone very dear to me for giving Sinn Féin second preference in a general election. As I saw it then, Sinn Féin had blood on its hands. How very naïve of me. In the last presidential campaign, when Michael D. Higgins was elected, I refused to vote. My preferred candidate was Martin McGuinness and I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him because he was Sinn Féin and because he was a leader of the Provisional IRA. How very naïve of me. But I have come to realise a number of things: Men of violence are the only ones who can be men of peace, and Martin McGuinness died a true man of peace. Defending your home and your family is not violence, and so long as Britain remains in Ireland this country will never be at peace. I have decided, given that Ireland’s struggle for unity is the same struggle for Scottish independence – against a tyrannical imperial state, that I will join Sinn Féin.

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Damien Dempsey – Colony


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7 thoughts on “Ballymurphy: Yesterday’s News Today

  1. I’m fairly certain that the events you refer to were reported in the UK news at the time, though no doubt with a pro-British gloss. I certainly remember hearing about the refugee camps prepared just over the border, and the army’s operation(s) to “seal off and flush” certain areas. That’s not to say that every gory detail was reported, but no one needed to have any doubts about the nature of these events. That said, much of the detail came out in later enquiries.

    Again, afaik the Civil Rights Movement was modelled on the American negro civil rights movement, the old ‘Official’ IRA was probably not involved and was caught napping, their arms hidden away in remote arms dumps etc. The Povos were a direct response to the army tactics.

    And the rest is history …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are fairly certain the ‘events’ were reported with a gloss. This event was reported at the time as being a gun battle with IRA gunmen and focused on minor injuries to British soldiers, no mention of a dozen men women and boys killed, so you’re correct not every gory detail was reported. I was around at the time and this is how such ‘events’ were typically reported, so In the absence of any reports that anything other than this had happened, I for one had no doubts that is what occurred. Interested to know how you were in no doubt as to the nature of this event.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This link gives some background. It’s important to remember that NI (and Eire) were (in my experience) very remote places to those of us living mainland U.K. lives, and early reports of violence and shootings were met with a general horror that there WERE shootings and killings of any sort – and a sort of GB assumption that ‘our boys’ were in some way ‘helping’ something. Very trusting we were, in those days…
    https://www.northernslant.com/the-ballymurphy-precedent/

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    1. I’ve just finished watching that programme on the channel4 catch-up. What a horrifically dispiriting film that is. State violence laid bare.
      Thanks for drawing the film to my attention.

      Like

  3. I remember hearing from a friend from Inverness-shire who was working for a while in Dublin about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in the 1970s. I don’t think they were ever reported in Scotland or Britain. I followed the news every day, and do not remember anything about it. My friend said she hadn’t met anyone back home who had heard about the bombs in Dublin.

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