50 years of silence broken: sisters tell of anguish over IRA murdering their brother in bed

Below are the accounts of the siblings of Denis Wilson, writing on the half-century anniversary of his murder near Caledon, south east Tyrone. It is the first time they have spoken publicly in all those years (edited by Adam Kula).

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 10:45 am
Denis Wilson, and the graveyard of Minterburn Presbyterian Church - his final resting place

>> Iris Clarke:

At 10.30pm on December 7, 1971, a knock came to the front door. My brother-in-law opened it and immediately three men burst in.

Two went upstairs and the other one went into the living room where the rest of the family were. They were held at gunpoint.

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Denis was gunned down by the two men who had gone upstairs. Fortunately there was no one in the adjoining room or they would have been killed also, for the bullets penetrated the wall into the adjoining room and hit the mattress.

How can one be so evil and cruel to shoot someone who is lying in bed? All I can say about this is that I would rather be in the shoes of Denis than in their shoes. They will have their Maker to meet on the Day of Judgement.

Denis was an only son, who went to bed early that night as he had not been feeling very well. He was a real gentleman, who would never have harmed anyone. He was particularly patient, generous, and thoughtful.

Denis was a member of Minterburn Presbyterian Church which he attended every Sunday unless duty called on the farm.

Denis was a keen darts player and was involved in both the badminton club and the bowling club of Minterburn Presbyterian Church. He won many trophies.

Sunday December 5, 1971, was Denis’s last time to stand in his place of worship. Days later he was carried into the church, carried out again, and laid to rest in the family plot.

We can look back with fantastic memories. They are all we have, until one day we’ll all be together again. We will never forget Denis.

>> Madlyn Fleming:

On December 7, 1971, our lives and hopes for the family farm were changed forever.

The hope that it would be in the Wilson name for years to come ended that night.

The death of Denis broke our father’s heart and he died a few years after this, and mum was left to carry on.

We know Denis was one of the first of many to be killed, and we’ll always wonder why.

He was a very caring person. No one has ever been convicted of Denis’s death and at this stage this is unlikely to ever happen.

We miss Denis so much and think of him every day of our lives.

>> Maureen Maguire (Remarks from a recent remembrance service at Minterburn)

Denis served in the B Specials and in 1971 joined the UDR as a part-time soldier because he wanted to do his duty to protect his country and his fellow citizens.

He started service with the 6th (Co Tyrone) Battalion. One week before he was killed, he had moved to the 8th (Co Tyrone) Battalion, which had been formed seven days earlier on December 1, 1971.

At the time of his death, Denis had been promoted to Lance Corporal.

Our only comfort is in knowing that he died instantly, therefore we can only hope that he did not suffer.

We went from being a happy family to one that continually started looking over our shoulders, suspicious of the world and those around us.

We could not stop asking ourselves: Why? What? Who?

Why did God allow this to happen?

Why pick on our family?

What harm had Denis or anyone of us done to others?

Who hated Denis so much?

Who ordered this to happen and who were the men who carried it out?

The days and weeks after his death were a mist; we just couldn’t take in that he was no longer there.

We believe Denis was murdered by the PIRA because he was an only son, a Protestant farmer who lived close to the border, and was a member of the UDR.

While it was, and still is, tragic and cruel to think about Denis leaving us, he left a lifetime of memories that we remember and cherish.

His death affected my parents in different ways.

My father returned to farming but sadly passed away three and a half years later with a broken heart, whereas my mother became more reserved and did not show that she was hurting. Although she thought of Denis all the time, she only spoke about him occasionally, I think just because it hurt too much.

Martin Luther King Jr once said: “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

I believe this is what carried the family through those dark days. God gave us strength when ours was depleted, He gave us hope in darkness when we couldn’t see the light, He walked by our side and gave us the strength to carry on, and He was with us when we took each step.

Faith in the Lord comes at a time like this, because without it, there is nothing. We had to believe, and still do, that Denis is in heaven where he is at peace and in no more pain.

We believe our grandparents, and now our parents, are looking after him and we know that one day, we’ll meet again.

This belief is the only way to continue to live, in order to survive each day. We can look back with fantastic memories, it is all we have, until one day, we will all be together again.

We will never forget our big brother, Denis.

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