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Massacre in Ballymurphy at the hands of the British state

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
After decades of campaigning a new inquest into the killings has begun. Simon Basketter says British attempts to crush Catholic resistance in Northern Ireland lay behind the massacre
Issue 2631
British troops remove barricades, August 1971
British troops remove barricades, August 1971

Eleven people were murdered—ten were shot and one had a heart attack—in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

British soldiers did this killing on the first night of internment—where people could be locked up indefinitely without trial.

At 5am on 9 August 1971 around 600 soldiers of the Parachute Regiment (Paras) entered the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast from different directions.

They began booting in doors, and dragging men from their beds.

At the same time families were fleeing their homes in nearby Springfield Park in Ballymurphy as they came under attack from Loyalist mobs. People were being rounded up and shot at during a pogrom.

Joan Connolly was shot in the face, hand, shoulder and thigh and lay on waste ground for six hours, bleeding to death.

Briege, Joan’s daughter, said, “Kids aged between 12 and 16 were throwing stones outside in protest at their daddies, brothers and friends being kept.

“Me and my friend went up to see what was going on. My mammy came to take me home but we wanted to stay.”

As Briege moved away, the army fired CS gas and she lost sight of her mam.

Soldiers picked up five men from near Joan’s corpse. Their statements said, “We left the woman because she was already dead.”


The murders were all brutally ­carried out. Noel Phillips was wounded so a soldier went up to him and executed him by shooting him once behind each ear with a hand gun.

Soldiers carried out a mock execution of the wounded Pat McCarthy placing an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Pat died from a heart attack.

The army claims they only opened fire after they were shot at by ­republican paramilitaries.

There is no evidence beyond the soldiers for this. The army immediately released statements describing the victims as gunmen and terrorists. Those claims have never been withdrawn.

Sir Michael Jackson, former head of the British Army wrote, “The Battalion fought a fierce gun-battle with an estimated 20 gunmen. I was just around the corner, dealing with the press.”

Three soldiers said they had killed Joan. One said she had a pistol, another said she had a rifle and was crawling along on her stomach like a sniper.

The third said she was sitting in the middle of a field, yards from the army base, with a machine gun.

“She wasn’t Annie Oakley,” said Briege. “She was my mammy who loved and looked after us all, didn’t drink but liked a cigarette and a game of bingo.”

Joan’s family were offered £250 compensation after her murder.

Brutal regime of imprisonment without trial or court

Internment without trial meant people could be locked up indefinitely without being charged and without ever going to court. In the first night soldiers dragged 342 men off at gunpoint.

It was used to try and smash resistance by the Catholic minority angry at being treated as second?class citizens.

A secret British Army document from September 1971 said internment was a “success”.

It describes how, in one night following the introduction of internment, 300 Catholic homes were destroyed “to prevent the houses being occupied by Catholics”.


Internment had the opposite effect to that intended. Up to 30,000 households joined a rent and rates strike against it.

Trade unionists in Tyrone organised a march against internment on Christmas Day 1971 joined by 4,000 people.

On 30 January 1972 thousands gathered in Derry for a peaceful march against internment. The Paras killed 14 people on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

It was four decades before the Saville Inquiry concluded that all the victims of the Bloody Sunday killings were innocent.

But the Inquiry also rejected any suggestion that the Paras were sent to Derry knowing what they were likely to do.

It effectively said Bloody Sunday was not the fault of the government or the Ministry of Defence.

What happened in Ballymurphy shows that to be a nonsense.

An inquest boycotted by soldiers

As the new inquest began many of the victims’ families spoke out. John Teggart, whose father Daniel was one of those killed, said, “The determination of the families to get to the truth has brought us here.”

“We think after 47 years we are going to get some form of truth.”

The court has heard that a large number of records and witness statements taken after the massacre are now missing.

British soldiers are boycotting the inquest.


Barry McDonald, a barrister representing some victims’ families, said that at least 12 soldiers fired 117 shots. But none has provided a statement. “The soldiers who fired are simply refusing to co-operate with this inquest and are boycotting it,” he said.

This year former members of the Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed that they were involved.

Tommy West, a UVF member in question is now dead. And this may be an attempt to divert from the role of the army.

But Britain did use Loyalist death squads during the conflict.

The probe into the deaths of Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr, is set to last four months.

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