THE CRAIC (1998)
- Extract 2
I talked to two victims of the Troubles, men whose experiences
would have made the news for a moment thirty years ago, but
were still living with their loss and pain ...
Just over three months after Bloody Sunday, on the 4th May 1972,
a little boy of ten had been taking his usual walk home from
school in the Creggan. It was through a field and the playground
of St Joseph's secondary school, then up past the army lookout
post. Which, he remembered, was corrugated iron with sandbags
behind, 'and there was like the porthole of the soldiers' lookout
in the middle, and barbed wire in front.'
He ran past it, as he always did, and when he was 'about ten
feet away, for some inexplicable reason a soldier decided to
fire a rubber bullet at me. And it struck me on the bridge of
the nose from about eight feet.'
The sandbags were the last thing Richard Moores saw. For when
he woke up on the school canteen table he couldn't see. 'I kept
saying, "I didn't do anything, I didn't do anything."
So I was obviously aware of what had happened to me.'
He was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
'And I can remember the ambulance man saying to my daddy, "There's
a woman out here looking to get into the ambulance, will I let
her in, who is she?" And I heard me daddy say, "It's
his mother, don't let her in."
'I spent two weeks in hospital and
during those two weeks I thought I just couldn't see because
of the bandages on my eyes. And I'm sure it must have been very
difficult for my father and them because, you know, I kept talking
about, when I get the bandages off my eyes, as if I was going
to be able to see, and they knew that that wasn't going to be
'After I got out of hospital my brother Noel took me for a walk
in the back garden. "D'you know what has happened to ye?"
he asked. And I says, "All I know is I was shot and all
that." And he says, "But do you know what damage has
been caused?" And I said, "No." And at that point
he told me I had lost one eye and I wouldn't be able to see
with the other one.'
Now, twenty-five years later, I sat over the desk from those
useless eyes. The right one just a wide open socket of pale
pink skin; the left had a fractional circle of redundant iris
visible in the tiny triangle between the eyelids. They were
shaded from too close a view by tinted glasses.
'I'm not bitter,' Richard told me
repeatedly, as he took me through the stages of his later, blind
life. 'Even when my children were born, I have never felt bitter
about what's happened, I've just felt a sense of loss.
'My daughter Niamh made her First
Communion last year, and she was wearing her wee dress and everybody
was telling me how beautiful she looked and she was sitting
on my knee and I was walking with her and all that sort of stuff.
I realized that there is something special about being able
to see that situation, and I haven't got it.
'I suppose I was philosophical in the sense that I would think
about the soldier and think, "Does he realize?" There's
two people, me and him. I've thought about meeting him, I've
thought about how he's feeling. I mean, there was a day in his
life, in the space of one minute - dramatically - I wonder,
has it changed his life, because he's no different from you
or me, and if I'd done something like that twenty-five years
ago, and I was aware I'd blinded a young boy, then I don't think
I could ever run away from that memory.'
Now Richard worked for a charity called Children of Crossfire,
which helped, as the name suggested, children who were victims
of war worldwide. Not that he'd gone straight into it. As a
young man he'd run a bar for a while, but now he felt more content
helping others. He laughed, self-deprecatingly. 'I don't mean
that in a charity kind of way, the selfish thing is I just get
more pleasure out of doing that than I did running my own business.'
Micky English was less forgiving. He had lost two of his four
sons in the Troubles, and though he seemed to have accepted
the loss of the second he hadn't at all accepted the loss of
the first. He sat in the front room of his little house in Bogside,
chain-smoking and visibly trembling as we leafed through the
papers and photographs that documented his fatal day, which
was Easter Sunday 1981.
After the annual march to commemorate
the 1916 Rising his eldest son Gary had gone off before the
orations to play in a football match. The pitch was right beside
the Catholic Cathedral up on the edge of the Bogside.
And on that day there'd been a bit
of sporadic rioting on the junction that had become known, after
the Battle of the Bogside, as Aggro Corner. The joint RUC and
army forces on the ground had shifted the riot up to a quieter
junction by the football pitch, where they would try, Micky
explained, and get a pincer action going so they could grab
and arrest the rioters in between.
The football match was over and Gary and his friends had been
having a kickaround. And when the riot had appeared they had,
out of curiosity, joined the large crowd that had gathered to
watch. Micky had never, incidentally, had any trouble with Gary,
in regard of rioting. 'He was a responsible young man, a worker,
meticulous about his appearance, never went out without polishing
his shoes, no matter where he was going.'
Now while they'd been standing watching, two army Land Rovers
had sped down into the crowd, 'on a gradient that's something
like 1 in 6, travelling at about 70 miles an hour.'
People were running away from them
but one had struck his son, knocking him to the ground. It had
then stopped and, in the eyewitness accounts of 90 per cent
of the people who were there, reversed back over his son's body,
This was the point at issue, for the soldier in charge of the
Land Rover had denied this second manoeuvre.
The case had gone to court in Belfast,
it having been decided by the powers that be that the soldiers
wouldn't get a fair trial in Derry, and there, their story backed
by the trial pathologist, the soldiers had been acquitted of
reckless driving and causing two deaths.
But Micky English was certain of his facts. He still had Gary's
shirt with the W-markings on the fabric (the Land Rover's tyres
had been W-tread Goodyears). He had the photograph of his son's
body, with that wheel-thick band clearly marked, a diagonal
right across his back. The soldiers' evidence was that the first
impact of the Land Rover had knocked the son under the front
axle, he had been pushed along with the vehicle. But if that
was the case, asked Micky, why were there no abrasions on his
front? Why were the knees of his trousers unmarked or in any
way torn? Why were there no dragging marks?
Micky English had gone on a speaking
tour throughout mainland Britain. He had fought for and eventually
been granted an inquest, engaging an independent pathologist
who totally disputed the trial pathologist's findings; an opinion
that was backed up by another British pathologist, who, according
to Micky, couldn't believe that anybody could come to the conclusions
arrived at during the trial.
Helena Kennedy and Michael Mansfield
had agreed to act, for free, on the English family's behalf,
but the Northern Ireland Bar Association (whose Chairman was,
coincidentally, the barrister employed by the Minister of Defence
in this case) ruled that because these two distinguished champions
of human rights had not taken the Northern Irish bar exams,
they could not appear. 'I mean,' said Micky, 'we're supposed
to be British, part of the British legal system, and they were
told they couldn't do that case.'
Nonetheless, and despite facing a
jury from North Tyrone, 'with not one Catholic on it', English's
family had won two out of his three points. But Gary was still
dead, the soldiers were still acquitted and Micky was left with
a burning sense of injustice.
A year later Micky learnt that his next oldest son, Charles,
had joined the IRA. He was eighteen years old. 'I sat here with
him, on this very chair I'm sitting on now, till the dawn was
breaking, and we were arguing the pros and cons of why he shouldn't
do this. I was giving him one particular set of arguments, that
that's effectively the end of his life. I said, "There's
three ways you can go: you can come in, like your brother, in
a box; you can spend the rest of your life being hunted or on
the run; or you'll spend the best part of your life in a prison.
What happened to all that time you spent training, playing football
for the junior clubs, with the prospect of taking your career
'He says, "Look, I went with you down the line. I went
to the extent of putting on my brother's clothes at an inquest
and standing and showing exactly where he was struck and all
the relevant things. I watched you, and I watched me Ma, and
the rest of us, slowly being drained away, and at the end of
the day who was listening? What do they listen to? They don't
listen to people like us. They don't listen to reasonable argument.
They protect themselves. They kill us. And that's your answer.
'"I'm going to get into a position to defend myself, and
that's the only way I can defend myself because they don't know
anything else. The only way they will move, the only way that
we'll get concessions is through force. We've come down the
line this far."
'He gave me,' Micky said, 'from his
perspective as good arguments for taking up the life that he
had embarked upon as I was giving him for not doing it.' He
would stand by his son, he said, as would the rest of the family.
'"Because what you're embarking on I can understand to
a degree. I don't condone it, and I wish you wouldn't do it,
I wish you'd change your mind and see if there's another way
to go, but at the end of the day we'll stand by you, you're
doing what you're doing because of how you feel, what you've
experienced, and where your heart is, you're not being paid
for it. And if anything happens I will bury you as a soldier,
because to me you're as much of a soldier as anyone who joins
the British army, or the American army, or the Republican Army
of the 26 counties."'
A year later Charles was dead, blown up by his own bomb while
on active service. 'He was stepping though the door,' said Micky,
shaking his head ruefully as he gazed down at the carpet, 'and
he tripped. And we always used to call him - one of his nicknames
in the family was Charlie-Muddle. He was lanky and big and he
was always tripping over his own two feet.'