The passing of “a fine lady” at age 93 marks the end of a generation in the family of Sir Norman Stronge, the former Stormont speaker murdered by the IRA.
Evelyn ‘Evie’ Olivier (nee Stronge), one of Sir Norman’s three daughters, died at her home in Tynan Abbey in south Armagh on May 3. Her funeral was held at St Mary’s Amport in Hampshire on May 28.
Ulster Unionist Alderman Jim Speers said: “She was a fine lady and a member of a great family which had a great affinity with that part of the world - as can be seen by the fact that she came back home for the final journey of her life,” he said.
Sir Norman, 86 and his son, James, were both former MPs, James also having been a part-time RUC officer. They were shot by the IRA at Tynan Abbey on January 21, 1981.
Evie was one of four siblings, her elder sister being Daphne and another sister Rosemary dying suddenly aged only two.
She attended Milford Girls Prep School, Co Armagh, and then Bedgeburk Park, Kent before World War II, which caused her to return to Co Armagh and join the Women’s Royal Navy Service.
After the war she spent three years in Australia and New Zealand as a nanny. Returning to Northern Ireland she met and married Brigadier Charlies Olivier, cousin of the actor Laurence Olivier. He died early in retirement and she lived in England until she began to suffer dementia in 2017, returning to Tynan Abbey for her last eight months.
Mr Speers often had reason to call at the Abbey.
“She was a very nice lady,” he said. “I knew Norman very well, he was an absolute gentleman and his son was equal in measure.”
The reaction to the murders was “absolute horror, devastation and disbelief”.
The IRA gang blew open the front doors of the Abbey, and shot father and son in the library. They then set incendiary devices which destroyed the abbey.
He added: “To kill two defenceless people in the dead of night and then burn their home down goes beyond words. However there are indications that the people which carried it out later met their Waterloo in 1987 when they attacked Loughhall RUC station and came up against the SAS.”
The IRA said the Stronge murders were a “deliberate attack on the symbols of hated unionism” carried out in response to loyalist assassinations. However Gerry Adams said the real motive actually went back decades; “The only complaint I have heard from nationalists or anti-unionists is that he was not shot 40 years ago,” he said.
But SDLP politician Austin Currie said that even at 86 years of age, Sir Norman was “still incomparably more of a man than the cowardly dregs of humanity who ended his life in this barbaric way”.
Former UUP MLA for the area, Danny Kennedy, said: “They were a highly regarded and respected people in the area. The comments of Gerry Adams were an absolutely atrocious thing to say. The statement of justification from the IRA cannot be supported. The clue to the true motivation can be found in Gerry Adams’ statement, which traced it back 40 years.”
South Armagh reconciliation worker Ian Bothell said he was “moved” to hear of Evie’s death.
“As a boy growing up near Tynan I was aware of Sir Norman – the gentleman who always tipped his hat to the ladies and spoke softly,” he said.
“It was an enormous shock to the whole community when the much loved and admired Tynan Abbey was attacked and destroyed, claiming the lives of both Sir Norman and his son James. I am sure it meant a lot to Evie to return to Tynan. It is a great tribute to the local people who provided comfort and support in her last days.”
• A thanksgiving service for Evie takes place at St Vindic’s Parish Church, Tynan on Sunday June 10 at noon.