Legacy Scandal: ‘No group even claimed the loyalist bomb in Cavan that killed my sister’

Geraldine O'Reilly, 15, in the centre of this picture with her family smiling at the camera, was murdered not long after in a loyalist bomb in Belturbet in 1972. Her older brother Anthony stands towards the left of the picture at the back, behind his wife Marie who is looking at a boy
Geraldine O'Reilly, 15, in the centre of this picture with her family smiling at the camera, was murdered not long after in a loyalist bomb in Belturbet in 1972. Her older brother Anthony stands towards the left of the picture at the back, behind his wife Marie who is looking at a boy

In the latest essay in the series, ANTHONY O’REILLY says it is unlikely anyone will be brought to justice for the murder of his sister in Belturbet (Anthony’s wife MARIE also comments further down):

My 15-year-old sister Geraldine was one of two young people murdered in the Belturbet bombing in Co Cavan on December 28, 1972 in an attack attributed to loyalist terrorists.

Patrick Stanley who was murdered aged 16 in the loyalist bomb in Belturbet, Co Cavan, December 28 1972

Patrick Stanley who was murdered aged 16 in the loyalist bomb in Belturbet, Co Cavan, December 28 1972

There were eight of us and Geraldine was the youngest of the family. She was 15.

I left my elder sister Frances and her husband out home that night and Geraldine came with me to get a bag of chips.

There was a chipper at the top of the town and it wasn’t open that night, so we came on down to the other chipper in the centre of the town and Geraldine got out and went in.

I was sitting in the car, I was double parked, just waiting on her and next thing I didn’t know what had happened.

Memorial in Belturbet to the teenagers who were murdered in the loyalist bomb, Patrick Stanley and Geraldine O'Reilly

Memorial in Belturbet to the teenagers who were murdered in the loyalist bomb, Patrick Stanley and Geraldine O'Reilly

I thought I was after falling asleep and dreaming, when I came to it I was half out of the car and the car in front of me was on fire and I think the car behind me was on fire, so I got out and ran down the street.

I was staggering about, I didn’t realise what had happened at all.

After a wee while, I went back up the street and I was calling Geraldine, I had realised that Geraldine was with me and I couldn’t hear any sound of her at all.

The car was in bits, there must have been steel that went in through it and out through the roof and I don’t know how I came out of it because there wasn’t a window left in the car or anything.

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

I didn’t realise what had happened.

I hadn’t heard the bomb and I was only 10 feet away from it.

I was even double-parked so I was nearer to it.

It must have lifted the car up with the blast and that’s what saved me probably.

Anthony O'Reilly and his wife Marie from Belturbet at the Memorial Quilt exhibition at Stormont. Anthony's sister Geraldine, 15, was killed in the loyalist bombing of Belturbet in 1972.'Picture by Stephen Davison, Pacemaker

Anthony O'Reilly and his wife Marie from Belturbet at the Memorial Quilt exhibition at Stormont. Anthony's sister Geraldine, 15, was killed in the loyalist bombing of Belturbet in 1972.'Picture by Stephen Davison, Pacemaker

Then the doctor and the guards came and brought me in to identify Geraldine, it was her that lay there murdered.

It was something you weren’t expecting, just a couple of days after Christmas.

I was angry because you wondered who it was and people would have come to me and said, ‘I know it was such a ones’, but I couldn’t be sure.

After the funeral, things settled down a bit and my father was glad we weren’t all killed. But we started to kind of get on with our lives.

It was very hard but my father and my mother just couldn’t talk about it, they just kept it in the back of their minds.

There was no support really.

I was always kind of depressed.

My children had a big interest in Irish music and we were in Dundalk one weekend at a fleadh and there was supposed to be a bomb in the hotel, so that triggered it all off again.

It was about 10 years later and they evacuated us all out on the street and I started to panic in case there was a bomb in the car on the street instead of in the hotel.

I didn’t know where to turn and I was thinking more about it than other people.

I never drank at the time but after the bomb I started to take a drink and next thing I started to drink too much and I turned into an alcoholic for about 10 or 15 years.

Everything nearly went, and only for my wife Marie I probably would have sold everything and drank it but I quit, I went to AA and I’ve stopped drinking 15 years now.

I was depressed and blamed myself and Frances was the same, she’d say, ‘why did I go out that night?’ or ‘why did I get up at that time to go home?’

But when the monument in Belturbet went up, it did take a lot off Frances and myself because at least it was recognised.

It was an awful job even to get the monument.

And only for Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail, they got it up along with the council in Belturbet. It was great to get that done.

It is a crime that’s unanswered but at this stage it is unlikely there will ever be anyone brought to justice.

You just wonder why it was never claimed.

If you even got a bit of justice and they said somebody did it and why they never claimed it, but as for getting anyone for it, I don’t think there will be anyone ever got.

My own government has not done enough to support victims in the South whether that’s our needs for justice and truth or our more practical needs and that all needs to change.

The way the past has been dealt with to date is not good enough, families like ours have been failed and I would question whether these new proposals will bring any comfort to us.

It is a scandal, when will we be the focus instead of those who carried out the violence?

And Anthony’s wife Marie (Geraldine’s sister-in-law) adds:

It was a big shock to the community and the community seemed to stand still after that, it was never spoken about; no one talked about what happened.

It is a pity no one was ever got for this. No one ever claimed it; it seemed to have come out of the blue.

Usually, someone would own up when they do something.

Maybe it’s because of who was killed, the two innocent young people, and my heart goes out to the Stanley family, because it was their eldest son, Paddy, who was killed (just 16 years) he was from Clara, Offaly and was just visiting the area.

I believe his body was burned with the blast because he was right beside where the bomb went off.

The memorial in the town now gives us a sense that Geraldine and Paddy aren’t forgotten.

It is there now for everybody to see.

I see people even now going up to it and bending down and looking at it and saying, ‘we never knew there was a bomb in Belturbet’.

Anthony and I and his family in Belturbet especially were really happy that there was recognition that this did happen to two young innocent people who had nothing to do with terrorism.

It just goes to show that, where there is terrorism, it’s not the guilty that suffer, it’s always the innocent.

For other essays in the legacy series, click here