The IRA killed my RUC dad in Omagh 40 years ago — my mum died of broken heart soon after, says son

A man whose father was murdered by the IRA 40 years ago today says his mother died of a broken heart soon after - leaving his his 21-year-old sister to bring up her four siblings on her own.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 9:04 am

An IRA culvert bomb just outside Omagh killed father-of-three John Smyth, aged 34, and his RUC colleague, father-of-six Alfie Woods, aged 50 on this day 40 years ago.

“I was 22 when we got the news,” Alfie’s son William told the News Letter yesterday. “It was the same week Charles and Diana got married. It was just like yesterday.”

Initially the RUC came and told his mum, Mary, that her husband had been in an accident.

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RUC Constable Alfie Woods was killed in an IRA bomb attack forty years ago today. His wife died of a broken heart a year later.

But then their Presbyterian minister came an hour later and told her he was really sorry to hear about Alfie’s death.

“It was a shock in one way, but in another it wasn’t.”

The army had previously arrested two well known IRA men when they found them spying on their house.

“It was a really dangerous time in 1981, with Bobby Sands and the hunger strikes. The police knew who it was,” he said of the killers.

RUC Contable Alfie Woods left behind a wife and six children.

“Dad was the main breadwinner. He also ran a small farm. All of a sudden mum was left with all these kids. They gave her a bit of a pension and that was it.

“She died a year and a week later from a heart attack. She was only 51 and was in good health otherwise.

“It killed her in a way too - from a broken heart.”

William had left home and most of his brothers and sisters were still at school - but his eldest sister, Anne, stepped in to raise her four younger siblings on her own, aged only 21.

Nobody was ever arrested for the murders but William believes two high profile IRA men who were later killed by the SAS planned them, even if they did not detonate the bomb.

A report by the Historical Enquiries Team drew a total blank on suspects, he said. He was never told if any forensic evidence was recovered although he says the killers must have lain in wait for days before detonating the bomb.

His father was killed as he was going out to sign off an insurance claim for a fire at a hayshed.

“Forty years on, we feel let down by the government in a big way. My mum got £16,000 to raise five children. That was it. They don’t really look after families at all. They never talked to me afterwards about what happened.”

“I would like to see innocent families like mine - I know there are many others like us - get proper compensation,” he said.

The memory of his father is still very strong with him.

”He was a very hard working bloke and he was very good to us. When he was not working in the police he was farming or fishing. He was very well liked - you should have seen his funeral. It was massive.”

Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services with victim’s group The South East Fermanagh Foundation, said the Woods family are well respected members within the organisation.

“They are a family - like others - who have carried their pain with immense dignity down the years,” he said. “The Provisional IRA murdered Alfie and his colleague John Smyth, but they also indirectly murdered Alfie’s distraught widow, who died of a broken heart less than a year later.

“Our thoughts and prayers and continued support is with the Woods and Smyth families on this milestone anniversary and in the months and years ahead. Alfie and John were two good family men and fine police officers who were not prepared to stand idly by and watch the Country they loved being torn asunder through terrorism. 

It is because of their sacrifices that people today are able to benefit from a level of calm and prosperity, however imperfect that peace is.” 

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