Ballymurphy inquest: Residents asked Army for 'protection'

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Image caption, Joe Millen told the inquest he believed a bullet passed through him before striking Francis Quinn in the head

People in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast expected British soldiers to protect them during a shooting incident in 1971, but instead hid fearing a massacre, an inquest has heard.

Eilish Meehan said people had gone to an Army to "ask for protection".

"That never came, but we were shot at and nobody had a clue why," she said.

Another witness, Joe Millen, told the inquest he believed a bullet passed through him before striking Francis Quinn in the head.

Ten people, including 19-year-old Mr Quinn, were shot over three days in August 1971.

The shootings occurred amid disturbances sparked by the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland.

Stones thrown at soldiers

Both witnesses described seeing men and youths with guns in both the loyalist Springmartin and nationalist Moyard areas.

However, no witness has come forward with evidence at the inquest to suggest that shooting came from the field where Fr Hugh Mullan and Mr Quinn died.

Ms Meehan, who was then aged 19 and was helping evacuate children from the Springfield Park area, told the inquest that before the shooting started she had seen a number of boys throwing stones at soldiers based at the Henry Taggart barracks, but described that as not unusual.

Later a crowd had gathered at the back of the houses in Springfield Park.

Ms Meehan said someone shouted "they are coming in", in reference to loyalists in Springmartin, and there was a single shotgun blast, which she described as a "warning shot".

Who were the victims?

  • Father Hugh Mullan, 38, and Francis Quinn, 19, were shot in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park
  • Daniel Teggart, 44, Joan Connolly, 44, Noel Phillips, 19, and Joseph Murphy, 41, were shot near the Henry Taggart Army base near Springfield Park
  • John Laverty, 20, and Joseph Corr, 43, were shot at separate points at the top of Whiterock Road
  • Edward Doherty, 31, was shot at the corner of Brittons Parade and Whiterock Road
  • John McKerr, 49, was shot outside the old Corpus Christi Parish

She said she did not see who fired the shotgun in Springfield Park, but said she overheard someone say it was a legally held gun used for hunting.

Ms Meehan described the main shooting event that evening as "crossfire" with shots coming from two directions, including from people lying on top of flats in Springmartin.

Image caption, Ten people were killed in the shootings in Ballymurphy in August 1971

She described a "sense of disbelief" when she heard that local priest, 38-year-old Fr Mullan, had been shot.

'Mixture of loyalists and security forces'

"There was panic... you don't shoot a priest, we thought we were going to be overrun, massacred," she said.

"I thought it was loyalists were firing on us.

"Now I think it was a mixture of loyalists and security forces mainly because of the type of the weapons being used. At that time there was a lot of gunfire, you got to know the different types of rifle fire."

Giving evidence, Mr Millen said he heard Fr Mullan scream three times.

He said he started to crawl towards him but heard a shot and realised he had been struck in the back.

He asked a young man nearby for help but that man, later identified as Francis Quinn, had also been shot and was dead.

Mr Millen believed that the bullet passed through him and struck Mr Quinn in the head.

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