Category: Archive

Blood of Innocents

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

The deaths of the three young brothers, Richard, 11, Mark, 10, and Jason Quinn, 9, in Ballymoney at the weekend, the victims of a loyalist firebomb attack, have once more highlighted the fact that the children of the Troubles have too frequently been its most tragic victims.

They have died as the result of bombing attacks and ambushes, killed by plastic bullets during riots or when they got in the way of murderous attempts on their parents. Occasionally, they have been slaughtered with their parents: entire families have been wiped out.

One of the very first victims of the Troubles was 9-year-old Kevin Rooney, shot dead as he sat up in bed, disturbed by the riots that gripped the Falls Road area in the early hours of Aug. 15, 1969. A bullet from a heavy machine gun struck him in the head as the police peppered the walls of the Divis Flats. A few hours later, a loyalist sniper shot dead 15-year-old Gerard McAuley, a member of the IRA’s junior wing.

Unfortunately, they would not be the last children to die at the hands of adults making war. About 87 children under the age of 15 were murdered in the ensuing years. If the age limit is raised to 17, that number would more than double.

As the violence escalated throughout the early 1970s, so did the number of kids killed. Desmond Healey, a 14-year-old, was the first child to die in 1971, when British troops shot him in Lenadoon, West Belfast, during street disturbances that followed the introduction of internment on Aug. 9. Another four children under 15 died that year, including 1-year-old Angela Gallagher, shot dead in her carriage by an IRA sniper firing at a British patrol in West Belfast on Sept. 3. Two children, aged 14 and 13, were killed when a loyalist bomb wrecked McGurk’s Bar on Dec. 4. Exactly a week later, an IRA bomb on the loyalist Shankill Road claimed the lives of a 2-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy.

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The worst year in the Troubles’ history, 1972, was also the worst in terms of the number of children who were killed. Seventeen were victims of the violence, including the youngest fatality, Alan Jack. On July 19, in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, an IRA car bomb claimed his life when he was only 5 months old.

1972 also saw one of the most brutal attacks against children. Members of the Ulster Defense Association left a car bomb near where two young girls, Paula Stronge, aged 6, and Claire Hughes, 4, were skipping on Halloween night, killing them both.

Most of the children who died violently were accidentally killed. But in January 1973, two children were deliberately murdered. On Jan. 29, UDA gunmen shot dead Peter Watterson, 15, as he stood outside his mother’s shop. A day later, they kidnapped 14-year-old Philip Rafferty, drove him to a lonely spot outside Belfast, and shot him in the head. The same year, the IRA “executed” a 15-year-old boy, Bernard Taggart, who they accused of being an informer.

In 1974, bombs wiped out two families. On Feb. 4, an IRA bomb exploded in a bus carrying British soldiers along the M62 in England. Among the dead where Lee Houghton, aged 5, her brother Robert, 2, and both parents. Four months later, loyalist car bombs in Dublin killed Jacqueline O’Brien, 17 months, and her 5-month-old sister, Anne Marie, along with both parents.

Street violence continued to claim children’s lives throughout the Troubles. On Aug. 30, 1975, a plastic bullet killed 10-year-old Stephen Geddis in the Divis Flats. He is one of seven children who lost their lives thanks to plastic bullets fired by the security forces.

In August 1976, the deaths of three children of the Maguire family – Joanne aged 9, John, 3, and Andrew, 6 months – gave birth to a short-lived peace movement. That same month, another family was wiped out. Loyalist firebombers claimed the life of 10-month-old Brigeen Dempsey and both her parents, as they would later claim the lives of the Quinn boys in Ballymoney.

The year 1976 proved one of the worst years in the Troubles for children, with 13 of them dying violently.

Indiscriminate attacks also continued to take their toll. On Oct. 26, 1989, IRA gunmen in West Germany riddled the car of RAF officer Maheshkumar Islania and killed his 6-month-old daughter, Islania. Three years later, in an attack on a betting shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, UDA gunmen murdered 15-year-old James Kennedy, along with four other Catholics. This was one of the incidents that finally convinced the British government to outlaw the UDA.

The following year, 1993, was the turning point of the Troubles, as it seemed possible that talks between John Hume and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams might bring about a rethink of the IRA’s commitment to violence. Four children were killed that year. IRA bombs in England killed Jonathan Ball, 3, and Tim Parry, 12. Loyalist gunmen murdered 15-year-old Brian Duffy. Leanne Murray, aged 13, died in an IRA bomb attack on the Shankill Road that claimed eight other lives, including that of the bomber. She had just returned from a Project Children trip to the U.S.

Their deaths became a powerful incentive for all sides to bring the slaughter to a halt. Perhaps the deaths of the three Quinn brothers will have a similar, salutary effect.

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