In the case of the deaths of trainee Garda Sheehan and Private Kelly, a jury in 1984 returned verdicts in the case of both victims that they had been killed by “person or persons unknown.” What happened in Leitrim that day was tragic and, of course, there would have been no need for a security situation had Don Tidey not been kidnapped.
That the Provisional IRA were directly responsible for these deaths might seem assured. However, difficult questions remain. At the trial of Brendan McFarlane in 2008, in connection with this incident, it was reported that spent cartridges from weapons used by the IRA — an AK-47 and a Heckler & Koch — were recovered at the scene. However, cartridges discharged from weapons used by the gardaí and army were also amongst those recovered. At McFarlane’s trial, several soldiers recounted how they were disarmed and taken captive by the IRA during that brief encounter, rather than shot out-of-hand. To my knowledge, the verdict reached by the jury in the 1984 inquest was arrived at without ballistics reports ever being issued relating to the deaths of the two men at Ballinamore. That the army later that evening shot a civilian in the head when they opened fire on a car containing the victim and his wife went largely unreported and attests to the tension and nervousness of the day. To a large extent, the killings at Derrada Wood, Ballinamore, were brushed up by the then-government, who sought no in-depth investigation; nor did they seek to query why trainee gardaí from Templemore were sent in unarmed to flush out an IRA unit thought to consist of key, experienced men. To date, Magill magazine, Tim Pat Coogan and Póilín Ní Chiaráin are the only corners of mainstream Irish journalism to call for transparency from the government and security forces regarding the events of that winter’s day in 1983. I, for one, hope that the incident involving David Kelly in Athlone provides a real push to shine a light on this obfuscated incident. The horror of the Troubles all-too-often led a lack of appetite for investigation and openness.
Gearóid Ó Faoleán