I wouldn’t have survived without my children, says Troubles widow

Marie Newton (Toland)
Marie Newton (Toland)

A woman whose husband was shot dead by the UDA in his own pub has said she would not have survived without her children.

Marie Newton (Toland) was 35 when her first husband and father to their seven young children, John Toland, was gunned down in the Happy Landing in Eglinton in County Londonderry in November 1976.

The gunmen later wrongly claimed he was an informant for the IRA.

She said: “My children have never been back to the pub, but they are thinking about going there together at some stage, just once. Maybe they could go into the Happy Landing.

“They could have a drink to mark their daddy’s birthday, and you never know, I might go with them.

“Because of everything we’ve been through, I think I’m a very strong, hardy woman, and I have instilled that in my own children, too. I can see John’s strength in all of them - they’ve inherited that. I know I would never have survived without them.”

Now a grandmother and great-grandmother aged in her seventies, Ms Newton described how her first love was riddled with bullets by his killers.

“They shot him in the neck and blew the roof out of his mouth, they shot him in the stomach, which got his kidneys, the lot, and then a third time in his chest, too.

“He was destroyed, shot to bits. He was only 36.

“If I had been there that night, God knows what would have happened. Both of us could have been shot, and then who would have looked after our weans?”

She said the incident stole the life from her family home.

“It was always filled with craic, life and laughter, but it became empty. We were like shells of people.

“Danny (their son) became the man of the house, and all the children took on a role and became responsible. They had to grow up fast.

“I lined all the children up after John was buried, and warned them, ‘If one of you ever join an organisation and get into bother, it’ll be the death of me.’

“None of them did, thankfully. I’m sure they struggled, but nobody took it further. They listened to me.”

A ground-breaking anthology capturing 28 lost stories from women directly or indirectly affected by the Troubles was launched in Londonderry on Tuesday.

Edited by award-winning writer, Julieann Campbell, Beyond the Silence was the first publication to focus exclusively on the experiences of women who have suffered through the conflict but have been forgotten in the peace process.

The emotionally-charged collection evolved from a unique oral history programme, Unheard Voices, with support from Creggan Enterprises and the International Fund for Ireland.