Mother who served soldiers tea and sandwiches shot dead by Army months later

Mother who served soldiers tea and sandwiches shot dead by Army months later

The daughter of a Catholic woman who welcomed the arrival of British soldiers in the North said she was shot dead by the Army months after serving them tea and sandwiches at her family home.

Joan Connolly, a mother-of-eight, lived with her husband and children in a predominately Catholic area in west Belfast when the Troubles started.

Shocked by the violence that was erupting on the streets of Belfast, Joan saw the deployment of British troops as a peace-keeping exercise.

Joan Connolly was one of the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre (Ballymurphy Massacre Community)
Joan Connolly was one of the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre (Ballymurphy Massacre Community)

She welcomed the soldiers into her home, chatting to them as she made tea and coffee.

Some of the soldiers gifted her with a present when the first Regiment stationed in Ballymurphy left Belfast.

Her daughter, Briege Voyle, has fond memories of the Army being in her home as the Troubles flared across the North.

“After the Troubles started, the Army came into our estate (Ballymurphy) and we thought this was great, that they were our friends,” she said.

“My mummy and our neighbour made them tea and sandwiches. They used to come every night and sit and have a yarn with us and we thought nothing of it, that they were here to protect us and it was great fun.

“They were all the best of friends and they were very nice and friendly.

“My older sister actually ended up marrying a solider.

“They bought my mother a lovely present and they bought my neighbour a bunch of flowers to thank them for looking after them while they were there.

“I remember my neighbour was raging because she thought the present mummy got was better than her flowers.

“They were friendly and we had a laugh and a joke and that went on for months.

“My mummy used to say that the men were always somebody’s son, but then all of a sudden it turned very nasty and things changed.

“People were afraid. The Army got worse and worse.”

But in August 1971, Joan was one 10 people shot dead by soldiers in what later became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

It happened during an Army operation in which paramilitary suspects were detained without trial, known as internment.

Briege was 14 years old when her mother was shot dead by the Army.

She said: “The night my mummy was shot she went looking for me and my sister to get us into the house. But the Amy fired the tear gas and I did a runner. It wasn’t until the next day when I heard she was shot dead.

“The Army just seemed to turn. One minute they were our friends, the next minute they weren’t. They just saw everyone as the enemy. They thought every Catholic was an IRA person.”

John Teggart, whose father was shot dead by soldiers in 1971 during an incident referred to as the Ballymurphy Massacre (Brian Lawless/PA)
John Teggart, whose father was shot dead by soldiers in 1971 during an incident referred to as the Ballymurphy Massacre (Brian Lawless/PA)

John Teggart’s father Daniel, was among those killed in Ballymurphy.

His first memory of the British Army was soldiers firing tear gas into his community when he was nine-years-old.

“Before that happened soldiers were accepted and greeted in the area, but I have no memories of any good deeds that they did for us through the eyes of a child,” he added.

“All I have is memories of brutality through my teenage years, especially the Parachute Regiment, who brutalised myself and my friends.

“We were no older than 13 or 14 at the time.”

Janet Donnelly said she also remembers the Army using tear gas in built-up areas.

Her father Joseph Murphy, 42, who had served in the British Army, was also shot dead by soldiers in Belfast.

“We didn’t know what tear gas was, only that it burned our eyes,” Janet said.

“It was painful and I remember my mummy stuck a tissue covered with vinegar in my face and told to keep it there. All I could taste and smell was vinegar and had burning eyes.

“That’s something that became the norm for us when we were walking down the street.

“The Army would drive past us and fire plastic bullets in our direction.

“We were stopped, searched and harassed by the Army. The women had to patrol the streets at night to stop young men from getting a beating by the British Army.

“It wasn’t until after the cease fire that we realised none of it was normal.”

- Press Association

Army’s presence in Northern Ireland was ‘reassuring’

Mother who served soldiers tea and sandwiches shot dead by Army months later

A man whose father was shot dead by the IRA as he walked home described the presence of the British Army on the streets of Northern Ireland as “reassuring”.

The special operation, known as Operation Banner, lasted for almost 40 years and involved over 300,000 British army personnel.

Troops were deployed in Northern Ireland as the Troubles flared across the region.

Martyn McCready, whose father John was shot dead on his mother’s birthday in north Belfast in 1976, was among those who welcomed troops.

John McCready with his son Martyn during a family holiday (Family handout/PA)
John McCready with his son Martyn during a family holiday (Family handout/PA)

He said the arrival of British soldiers changed the atmosphere “for the better”, adding that he felt “reassured” by their presence.

He said: “The feeling was great because everybody wanted to see the troops in.

“The Army changed the atmosphere here for the better. They were sent here as a peace force to look after both sides.

“But one side thought they were looking after the other more.

“I never had any bother with the Army, if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide.

Martyn McCready said the arrival of British soldiers changed the atmosphere ‘for the better’ (Liam McBurney/PA)
Martyn McCready said the arrival of British soldiers changed the atmosphere ‘for the better’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I felt reassured by them being here. I just felt sorry for the Army because they were put here and they didn’t know the streets they were going to and how people would react to them.

“They just wanted to help people.

“The soldiers left their homes in England and thought they were coming over to keep the peace and the next thing they were being shot at and blown up and murdered.”

Martyn, who lives in Dundonald, said he always “admired” the courage of the soldiers, describing them as people who were “just like us”.

He added: “They wanted to get back to their families and unfortunately they were piggy in the middle.

“The soldiers did a fantastic job with very limited time and equipment. When people were putting up barriers around Belfast, they cleared streets and made sure the city was still running.”

- Press Association

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