‘The truth lies buried with our loved ones – it may never be unearthed’
I spent Monday evening this week in the garden of remembrance of the Wave Trauma Centre in Belfast, during its Evening of Reflection; an annual event to allow families from all sides to spend a quiet moment remembering their loved ones who were killed during our casually-referred-to ‘Troubles’.
I was honoured and humbled being asked to light a commemorative lantern to remember all those killed, specifically during the 1980s. Others lit the remaining lanterns to remember those killed needlessly during the other decades of that stain on our blighted history.
All mothers’ tears are the same, and as I lit the lantern I naturally remembered my own mother’s silent tears for her son, my brother, John – who was brutally murdered in my family run ice cream parlour, Barnam’s World of Ice Cream, on October 11, 1988.
I buried my dad on that same date one year later, and my mum a few years after dad. Both died from broken hearts, no matter what their death certificates state. The gunman who killed John effectively killed them as well.
I thought of all the other people who lost their lives during the 1980s. All those mothers’ tears. The lights that were forever dimmed in so many homes by men and women with an insatiable appetite for evil. People so blinded by their own bigotry and unfathomable hatred of their fellow man, woman, and even children, whom they deemed acceptable collateral damage in their quest for whatever cause they believed in. The pain, the hurt, the grief they inflicted apparently was justified in their minds as they skulked in the shadows. And for what?
One particular name was with me in my head and my heart as I lit that lantern. Mr Jimmy Hasty, a well-known one armed local football player, killed in a tit-for-tat shooting for simply being a Catholic.
As I cradled Mr Hasty on the cold pavement in Brougham Street that morning as he died, I didn’t care what religion he was. I simply saw a man on his way to work dying because of someone else’s actions, and if I couldn’t save him at least I could ensure he didn’t die alone. That he knew someone cared about him.
Of course, ironically, I didn’t realise that my brother John would be killed on that exact same date, October 11, 14 years later for simply being a policeman (off duty) and a Protestant.
I have written to many editors over the years and to various Chief Constables who have come and gone, and to the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team, Police Ombudsman and even to politicians. All with one aim.
Accepting that I am unlikely to get justice in this place, I reluctantly settled for being told the full truth. It is the least we all deserve. It was not to be. Sadly getting to the truth here is an endless and often futile task.
I’ve listened and believed the many promises that were made, only to realise that those who genuinely wanted to help were prevented from doing so. And those who knew the answers parroted well-rehearsed phrases that were proved to be hollow promises and in many instances downright lies.
The truth for many in this place is so deeply buried, along with our loved ones, it is unlikely we will ever unearth it in our lifetime, no matter how hard or how deep we dig.
Those in authority, the keepers of the dirty secrets, hope we all die before they ever have to reveal the truth.
Of course there is someone who can tell me the complete truth and why. The person who killed John and effectively my mum and dad.
It will be 33 years this October since John was killed. At 72, now I have no way of knowing how long I have to live. No doubt the gunman who killed John has also had time to reflect on what he did that night and how he spent his life.
Perhaps he doesn’t have any regrets and would do it all again. Perhaps he believed it was a worthy cause. Just an inevitable paving stone – or, more appropriately, headstone – on that long road to whatever goal he believed in at the time.
Maybe in hindsight he sees that the mistakes we can all make in life, particularly when we are young and less worldly-wise and easily--influenced, has allowed him to reflect that his life could have been better spent.
I don’t know the answer to that, and I have stated often that I will never forgive him for killing my brother, and effectively my mum and dad. He knows that. That is an unChristian stance many will disagree with.
I can live with that. Victims and their families should not have the added burden of feeling guilty if they do not wish to forgive.
But I would still like to have the whole truth before I die. And I don’t care where that truth comes from.
I hope Wave Trauma Centre’s lanterns not only stand as beacons of remembrance for those who were killed but that they shine a light on the disgraceful aftermath of our ‘Troubles’. The heartless way the Victims’ Pension has been delayed is just one example. It is disgraceful.
I just hope that all our grandchildren learn from the mistakes we made and that the ‘Troubles’ we lived through are never repeated. There has to be a better way than inflicting pain and grief on our neighbours.
I hope our grandchildren don’t have to light future lanterns of reflection and remember their mums or dad or brothers or sisters whom they never got to hold again – they deserve a better future.
– George Larmour is author of the book They Killed the Ice Cream Man
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