Northern Ireland

Ballymurphy inquest: Teenager saw three men shot dead in 48 hours

Nine men and a woman were killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971
Image caption Nine men and a woman were killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971

A woman has told the Ballymurphy Inquest how as a teenager, she witnessed three fatal shootings in little more than 48 hours.

At the time, she was too traumatised to remember the third victim's name, even though he was a family friend.

Eilish Meehan was testifying about the death of John McKerr in Westrock Drive on 11 August 1971.

Just two days earlier she had been present when Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot in Springfield Park.

She was 19 at the time.

Ten people died over three days in what some refer to as the "Ballymurphy Massacre".

Mr McKerr, 49, was a joiner and a former British soldier who was married with children.

Mrs Meehan told the court she had been traumatised by the first two deaths.

"I was walking, to some extent, in a fog," she said.

Image copyright McKerr family
Image caption A picture of John McKerr and his wife Maureen

She explained that two days later she had ventured out from her home on Springhill Avenue to buy her mother cigarettes.

She spotted Mr McKerr coming out of Corpus Christi Chapel on Westrock Drive and, since they were family friends, they nodded to each other.

She walked along the pavement about 15 to 20 feet behind him.

Moments later, she said, a shot rang out and Mr McKerr pitched forward on to the pavement, shot in the head.

"I just said 'this is not happening. I have been though all this before'," she said.

Mrs Meehan described how others saw to the wounded man, so she ran home to her mother.

Even though she knew Mr McKerr well, she was in too much shock to tell her mother, who had been hit by gunfire.

Mrs Meehan said she later made statements about what she saw because "you just got a feeling it didn't happen. That's why I continue to talk about it. It was just ignored".

'Saw Mr McKerr fall'

Another eyewitness, Tommy Ireland, told the court that he heard the crack of a gunshot and saw Mr McKerr falling to the ground.

He told the court he was 21 at the time, and had been walking to the funeral of his lifelong friend, Martin O'Hare, in Corpus Christi Chapel.

Mr O'Hare had died in a drowning accident two days earlier.

As Mr Ireland arrived he heard the shot and saw Mr McKerr fall.

A few moments later, he said, soldiers arrived in an armoured car and he saw two of them standing beside it.

He cannot remember if they wore the red beret of the Parachute Regiment.

Image caption John McKerr's daughters Agnes Bond, Anne Ferguson and Maureen McKerr

Neither witness remembered any particular trouble or rioting in the area before the shooting.

Mr Ireland said a friend had shouted to him earlier that snipers were firing from the nearby Corry's timber yard, but although he took cover for 20 minutes, he had not heard any shots.

All the witnesses to this incident have insisted it was widely understood by local people that the Army often used the yard for sniping or as an observation post.

Neither witness could be sure where the shot which hit Mr McKerr might have come from.

Several witnesses have told the inquest that gunfire in the area echoed around the nearby hills, making it difficult to tell where it came from, or how many shots there had been.

'Thumbs-up signal'

Later the Inquest heard from a civilian witness known only as C2.

The witness's name cannot be reported for legal reasons.

They described standing in their home at the time and observing the area from an upstairs window.

They told the court they saw at least two soldiers in two local gardens close to where Mr McKerr was shot, recognising them as paratroopers by the wings on their uniforms.

They described watching one give a thumbs-up signal to the others, moments before the shot rang out.

However, they were unsure where the shot might have come from.

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