Relatives of teenage bomb victim ‘reach out to stop history repeating itself’

Geraldine O'Reilly was just 15 when she died in a loyalist bomb attack in Belturbet in 1972
Geraldine O'Reilly was just 15 when she died in a loyalist bomb attack in Belturbet in 1972

A woman whose sister-in-law was killed in the loyalist bombing of Co Cavan town Belturbet says the presence of her name on a memorial quilt has brought comfort to her family and helped them draw closer to victims of terrorism on the other side of the community.

Geraldine O’Reilly, 15, and Co Offaly youth Paddy Stanley, 16, were both killed in the Belturbet car bomb attack on December 28 1972, believed to have been carried out by the UVF. Nobody has ever been charged with the murders.

Anthony and Marie O'Reilly holding a photo of his sister (her sister-in-law) Geraldine

Anthony and Marie O'Reilly holding a photo of his sister (her sister-in-law) Geraldine

The families have repeatedly pressed for a public inquiry.

Last year a patch dedicated to Geraldine and Stanley was unveiled on a memorial quilt at the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF). But this year Geraldine’s sister-in-law, Marie, is helping to construct another quilt, this time dedicated specifically to ‘Children of the Troubles’.

Marie and her husband Anthony, Geraldine’s brother, will see the latest quilt after it is formally unveiled at Fivemiletown Methodist Church during SEFF’S annual service this Sunday.

Geraldine was 15 at the time of the bomb, and used to go almost everywhere with her brother. He was five years older and already married to Marie at the time.

A patch on a memorial quilt to victims of the Troubles, marking the murder of Patrick Stanley,16, and Geraldine O'Reilly

A patch on a memorial quilt to victims of the Troubles, marking the murder of Patrick Stanley,16, and Geraldine O'Reilly

“She was the youngest of the family [of eight],” Anthony said. “I was pretty fond of her and she kind of looked up to me. She was a very shy kind of a girl, a nice girl.”

His sister hoped to become a nurse or a teacher.

He often wonders how she would have grown up, if she would have had her own family and what would have become of their friend Patrick, who was also killed.

On the night of the bomb Geraldine went with Anthony to leave their eldest sister, Frances, home to the other side of town. On the way home Geraldine went into the chip shop while Anthony waited in the car.

“I thought I was after falling asleep and dreaming,” he said. “When I came to 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’.”

He added: “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.”

He was angry at whoever was responsible but although he heard names, nobody was ever charged.

Afterwards he blamed himself and has successfully battled a decade of alcoholism and flashbacks.

A group called Justice for the Forgotten successfully lobbied for a monument to the two children in Belturbet, which was a huge lift for the families. Anthony said the symbolism of the memorial quilt has also been a balm.

“It was good that they were recognised like that, it was a good comfort to us,” he said.

It began when SEFF asked Anthony and Marie to come and tell their story to other SEFF members – and to join the quilt project.

Marie said: “We thought what Geraldine was like, her personality and what she enjoyed and the same with Patrick Stanley. We did just a little bit of what he was involved in, which was football and the hurley. And Geraldine was involved in Irish dancing and schooling. And we put a picture of the memorial in Belturbet in it as well.”

After the bomb in 1972 a deathly silence fell on the town about the murder of the two teens. “At that time, with the Troubles and that, people were probably afraid to say anything or do anything.”

Cross-border relations in the area had been quite friendly at the time but the bomb “kind of blew all that relationship out ... a lot of distrust then arose”.

Marie added: “I am just glad to see that there is a sharing between the two communities again. And we have come to know ones down there in the SEFF office – all the different people that are there – and realised that both sides suffered.

“And for generations to come [we hope] that it is not forgotten and that what we have gone through, hopefully nobody else will have to go through it in the future.”