IRA victim’s widow: McGuinness family had time to prepare – I got a knock on door

Betty Clarke at the roadside memorial to her husband Willie who was murdered by the IRA on April 2, 1977
Betty Clarke at the roadside memorial to her husband Willie who was murdered by the IRA on April 2, 1977

A woman whose husband was murdered by the IRA “for being a Protestant” has lamented that Martin McGuinness’s family had time to say their goodbyes whereas she only got “a knock on the door” as a warning.

Willie Clarke, 31, a digger driver and father of four, was abducted and murdered on April 2, 1977 in south Armagh.

Willie Clarke was murdered 'for being a Protestant'

Willie Clarke was murdered 'for being a Protestant'

At his funeral a Presbyterian minister said he had not been in the security forces nor any terror group.

A television report, said to have originated with the IRA, claimed that he had been involved in murder.

But SDLP representative Paddy O’Hanlon disagreed.

“He was murdered by the IRA because he was a Protestant as well as being a man who worked for a living,” he said.

“The perpetrators of this foul deed, like their compatriots in the UVF, would crucify Christ if he appeared in the north of Ireland this week, and the leadership of the IRA would show no hesitation in supplying the nails.”

Willie’s wife, Betty, has fond memories.

“He was a very easy man to talk to and would always have a bit of a joke for you,” she said. “He had no enemies who I know of, because no matter who asked him to do something for them, he would have gone and done it.

“He was a just a jolly man and he loved his children and was all excited about the fourth one coming.”

The couple were living in Newtownhamilton.

Willie had “a pile of Catholic friends, that is why we can’t understand [his murder]”.

One day there was “a knock at the door”.

“The police asked could they come in, and told me.

“I said ‘no’ and they said, unfortunately it was true. It was desperate.”

A mother of four, she was left under severe financial pressure.

Their children were 10, seven, four and the fourth was born soon afterwards.

Their eldest girl, Wendy, was the only child who understood. “She was inconsolable.”

“The boys just asked, where was daddy and when was he coming home? It didn’t seem to sink in.”

All four were still “devastated” at a memorial service for their father on Sunday.

Nobody was ever questioned about his death.

She feels her loss more keenly in light of Martin McGuinness’s recent death.

“They knew that Martin was going to die – I didn’t know Willie was going to die. They were all prepared for it.

“He didn’t confess anything before he did go. I just got a knock at my door one day to tell me about my husband.

“Martin got to live his life and died naturally instead of having his life taken away from him.”

She hopes for peace in the future but notes her husband’s roadside memorial has been destroyed twice.

Each time leaves her feeling “dreadful”.