Ethnic cleansing fears remain

An IRA man displays a weapon during the Troubles
An IRA man displays a weapon during the Troubles

A south Armagh man has told how his experience of IRA ethnic cleansing during the Troubles still leaves him with fear and nightmares today.

He was speaking after veteran republican Colm Murphy – who was convicted but later cleared of the Omagh bomb atrocity – revealed IRA plans for what he considered ethnic cleansing.

A IRA man displays his weapon on the Falls Road in Belfast during a Sinn Fein march to Casement Park in 1979.

A IRA man displays his weapon on the Falls Road in Belfast during a Sinn Fein march to Casement Park in 1979.

The aim, he said, was to “rid the area of unionists by targeting high profile people and burning them out”.

In the News Letter this week one border Protestant told how the IRA brutally assaulted his family in their home and told them to leave.

Today another neighbour tells how growing up as a child on the border instilled in him fear which still remains today.

“My school friend’s father was murdered by the IRA,” he said. “We could all sense the fear. And my uncle was murdered outside our house in the 1970s. He was part time UDR.

“I went to bed as a happy six-year-old but woke up to pandemonium – people screaming and police and soldiers everywhere.

“If you were in the UDR, security forces or connected to the loyal orders – you were a ‘legitimate target’,” he said.

IRA attacks such as the Kingsmills massacre and Tullyvallen attack drove fear into the minority Protestant community. Ten were killed in the former atrocity, five in the latter.

On his daily school bus trip the minority Protestant children were subjected to sectarian abuse, he said.

“We had fantastic Catholic neighbours but because of the IRA we did not feel we could trust them.

“The people the IRA targeted were those that were doing very well for themselves or those with good farms. It was a clear strategy. The aim was to drive Protestants out.”

At least a dozen farms around his own had fathers or brothers murdered.

There is not the same fear today, he says, but if something spooks him he still has nightmares about his uncle.

“No loyalist murders ever took place in our name. In our family we never used derogatory terms about our Catholic neighbours.”

When he was visiting his aunt, aged seven, it emerged that her neighbour - a part-time police officer - had been abducted by the IRA.

“Everyone immediately went out to look for him, but he was murdered. The punchline I grew up with was: ‘I wonder who is going to be next?’”

There were fears of a backlash against Protestants during the hunger strikes when he was 13.

“We are still isolated. There is still a fear of dissidents. The Protestant community has stayed and farmed and have not been driven out. But it has not made them bitter. They do not show hatred to their Catholic neighbours.”

The south Armagh man has never discussed the bloodshed and fear of the Troubles with his Catholic neighbours.

“You do not discuss religion or politics in south Armagh. It will take a long time to get over the hurt – maybe in the next generation. But the biggest obstacle is the lack of justice. So many people were murdered but so few held accountable. The journey to forget is very difficult.”