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The So-Called Irish Press

Joan Connolly, a fifty year old Irish mother of eight murdered by British troops during the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971
Joan Connolly, a fifty year old Irish mother of eight murdered by British troops during the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971

The meaning of the English idiom “so-called” is generally given as, “So named; called by such a name, with a very strong connotation that the item is not worthy of that name.” It is typically used as a dismissive turn of phrase, as with contemporary Nazi-apologists when they speak of the “so-called Holocaust”. So you would think it extraordinary to hear Irish journalists use it of events in their own country involving the killing of their own people by a foreign military power. Yet that is exactly what takes place, and on a regular basis, in the Irish news media in relation to the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971. On the 9th of August of that year troops from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment sealed off an Irish Nationalist enclave in West Belfast and over the course of three days wounded dozens of unarmed civilians while killing eleven men, boys and one woman. Several months later the self-same paratroopers would go on to attack a civil rights demonstration in the city of Derry, this time murdering fourteen Irish citizens in the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972.  Last year I described the historic events that took place in Ballymurphy in a post for ASF:

“…on the night of the 9th of August paratroopers began to target random members of the civilian population, the first death relating to the wounding of Bobby Clarke, shot by a military sniper while trying to carry a child to safety during attacks by British terror gangs from the neighbouring Springmartin estate. When local people went to his aid they were pinned down by fire from nearby troops until a local priest, thirty-eight year old Father Hugh Mullan, moved out into the open waving a white cloth. Despite the danger he managed to reach the injured man, establish that he was alive, before being shot in the back as he retreated to safety. Witnessing the second shooting a nineteen year old youth, Frank Quinn, rushed out to help the priest but he too was shot, this time in the back of the head. Both men eventually died of their injuries, their bodies left in the open for some time before they could be safely recovered by local people.

Meanwhile soldiers based at a recently commandeered building known as the Henry Taggart Memorial Hall began firing on the surrounding neighbourhood. A number of people were caught in the open when the shooting commenced and sought refuge in a small field opposite the installation. Nineteen year old Noel Phillips was one of several wounded youths trapped in the location and as he lay on the ground Joan Connolly, a fifty year old mother of eight, rushed to his aid. Almost immediately she was shot in the side of the head by one of the ubiquitous British snipers, the impact removing part of her face and blinding her. According to eyewitnesses she stumbled on, local women screaming at her to follow their voices until the soldiers, realising that she might make it to cover, fired several shots at her legs. She collapsed to the ground, another bullet slamming through both her shoulder and her hand as she held it up begging for help.

When the barrage of gunfire ceased dozens of civilians lay injured while Daniel Teggart, a father aged forty-four, lay dead having been hit by fourteen bullets (most of the gunshot wounds were to his back as snipers repeatedly shot him in the hope that others might attempt a rescue, in the process providing fresh targets). Within minutes British troops fanned out from their fortified base and into the nearby field and in front of numerous eyewitnesses the prostrate teenager Noel Phillips was summarily executed with a single shot to the back of the head. A second man was dragged from the field and shot four times at point blank range though he managed to survive his injuries.

The many victims, wounded and dead, were thrown into the back of an armoured vehicle and brought back to the hall where they were subject to sustained torture. As well as beatings the soldiers jumped off the top of bunk-beds onto the bodies and heads of the victims while others shoved blunt objects into their gunshot wounds. Joseph Murphy, a forty-one year old father who had been wounded in the leg and was bleeding profusely, was shot at close range with a rubber bullet in the open wound later dying from his injuries. At one stage a group of frenzied soldiers threw the now naked and bloodied corpse of Daniel Teggart into a room containing a number of terrified prisoners. Meanwhile Joan Connolly, who had been ignored by the soldiers when they entered the field, lay wounded and blind. Despite repeatedly crying out for help she bled to death, local people too terrified to approach her as violence continued to erupt around the district.

If the people of Ballymurphy thought their travails were over they were to be bitterly disappointed over the next two days. On the 10th of August Eddie Doherty, a twenty-eight year old father of four anxiously checking on the well-being of his elderly parents, was shot in the back near a street-barricade erected by local people in a desperate attempt to keep the British military out of their area. The improvised defences were being demolished by vehicle-borne troops during riotous scenes when one of them opened fire from an armoured digger. Doherty was carried to a neighbouring house but died some time later of his wounds.

On the morning of the 11th of August another local civilian, twenty year old John Laverty, was gunned down by marauding British soldiers while Joseph Corr, a forty-three old father of six, was fatally wounded with multiple shots fired by a military patrol. Pat McCarthy, a Quaker and community worker from Britain, was hit by gunfire from passing troops as he tried to distribute milk and bread to families that were suffering under a military-imposed curfew. When wounded he was carrying a large Red Cross flag hoping that it would provide some degree of safety. A few hours later he was seized by soldiers who publicly beat him and carried out a mock execution with an unloaded gun. McCarthy suffered a heart attack and died some time later, the members of the Parachute Regiment preventing local people getting the prostrate man to a doctor. John McKerr, a father of eight, was fatally wounded by passing troops with a single shot to the head outside a Roman Catholic church. He was the last to die in three days of violence by the British Forces that left eleven civilians dead and dozens wounded.”

Yet the extracts below is how the representatives of the Irish media establishment – journalists! – continue to report the Rape of Ballymurphy.

The Sunday Independent newspaper, 2015:

“One of the current campaigns for public inquiries is into the so-called Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971.

Republicans claim the episode involves the indiscriminate killing of 11 civilians by the British Army.

However, there are conflicting versions of events of the massacre. Loyalists claiming the two-day gun battle began when the IRA fired on Ulster Volunteer Force members at a nearby Protestant housing estate, and that the British Army, who were in a base between the two areas, then joined in the gun battle.”

The Irish Times newspaper, 2014:

“The coroner in the inquest into the so-called Ballymurphy Massacre is to decide if the body of one of the 11 victims should be exhumed to help determine if a British soldier shot him sometime after he had been wounded, detained and brought to an army barracks in west Belfast.”

The Irish Independent newspaper, 2010:

“Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor was speaking as he publicly backed a campaign for an inquiry into the British army killings of 11 people in west Belfast almost 40 years ago.

Young Catholic priest Hugh Mullan was among those shot dead by soldiers in the so-called Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971.”

The Irish Independent newspaper, 2010:

“New eyewitness accounts of the shootings of 11 people by British soldiers in Northern Ireland have been submitted to the region’s Attorney General in a bid to get fresh inquests opened.

The statements form part of an extensive file of information related to the so-called Ballymurphy Massacre in west Belfast that has been compiled by the victims’ families.”

What’s that old biblical verse? Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them?

6 comments on “The So-Called Irish Press

  1. The Ballymurphy events are far more in need of an enquiry than Bloody Sunday – as consensus had largely been reached on what had happened in Derry.

    Interesting aside on the use of language in relation to Ballymurphy – see my final comment on link below – presumably someone in BBC NI had a bit of telling off for ‘inappropriate’ use of the ‘M’ word.


  2. Sammy when you said M word I immediately thought M for Massacre.
    But still..for the Beeb to use even the “murder” word is sure to send the Daily Mail overboard..
    English soldiers don’t “murder” Irish people it simply never happens.
    And any mention of stuff that didn’t happen is just Whattaboutery in any event.
    Oh boy!!!!


  3. Oz, yes that was a bit confusing to introduce a 2nd M word (murder) in a discussion on the other M (massacre) word.

    On the substantive point I’m not sure if the Labour Party – who are likely to get into power in Britain have indicated support for an enquiry into Ballymurphy?

    ps Personally speaking I prefer not to use the either M word for state or insurgent killings.


    • Sammy, welcome back! 😉

      I agree with you about the use of “emotive” / “judgemental” terms like “massacre” or “murder” when discussing historic events relating to the conflict. However there is probably some justification for these words when describing the likes of Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy (or Teebane and Darkley on the other side, to pick just two of many). I suppose one can judge it on a case by case basis. But then that is probably revealing of where one’s partisan feelings lie too.


      • ..and just look at the trouble the boy Frankie (in the Vatican) had when he used the G word recently in relation to the Armenians.


  4. …and now for something completely different – the T word

    Was in Marseilles for the Ruggerball (Leinster’s near miss) and was reading some of the WW2 historical stuff in the tourist office – and although probably a translation issue it really jarred when reading about German reprisals for – terrorist – (no quotes) attacks – by the resistance.

    ps Germans blew up the old port area (mainly Corsican and Italian immigrants) and shipped the ‘terrorists’ (Jews, Left Wingers etc) to concentration camps and the other residents (about 20,000) down the coast(I think). Fascinating city.


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