Speech for the 40th Anniversary Commemoration

Dia daoibh agus fáilte romhaibh, welcome to the families and thank you very much for joining with them tonight to commemorate the lives of those we lost in the McGurk’s Bar Massacre, 4th December 1971.

My name is Ciarán MacAirt. I am a grandson of John and Kathleen Irvine.

I am especially glad to speak here as it gives me the opportunity to thank you all. So many of you have leant your support over these last four decades, though, that if I forget anyone, please forgive me.

Straight away a special thanks to the local community who have bestowed a great honour on the families by naming their street McGurk’s Way. We also thank friends from the New Lodge, North Belfast, Greater Belfast and beyond.

We welcome our local religious leaders from the Protestant and Roman Catholic faith who will lead us in prayer in a few minutes. I also see around me families from other campaigns – the likes of the Ballymurphy, Loughinisland and New Lodge 6 families to name but a few. We welcome you all and give you great thanks as we have gained great strength from all of your support.

We are eternally grateful too to our local politicians who campaign hard for us and the local media as well.

Tonight we are joined by representatives from the Pat Finucane Centre and British Irish Rights Watch. We are extremely lucky to count the likes of Paul O’ Connor and Jane Winter as great friends and supporters. Without their help I dread to think where we would be today. I also extend thanks to the other organisations continue to help our struggle.

My warmest welcome and thanks, of course, go to our families who have campaigned ceaselessly for two generations. They have chipped away at a monolith of State intransigence and lies.

This fitting monument has been created due to the very hard work of the McGurk’s Commemoration Committee: especially Gerard, Alex and Robert and Tommy. Our families have been down here every day for weeks to create what we will see in a moment. I should also include, of course, renowned Irish artist Risteard O’ Murchú who has done an amazing job for which he should be very proud. As too should the volunteers who helped us at various stages with the hard graft and fundraising.

I think that this great piece of art will stand as testimony not only to the lives of those we commemorate tonight but also our families’ campaign for truth. Anyway special thanks to all the campaigning family members as you have been great heroes of mine since I was a child.

Kitty, as her family and friends called her, was one of fifteen innocent civilians, women, men and children, who were slain in the McGurk’s Bar Massacre, 4th December 1971. Over a dozen injured were lucky to escape with their lives. It was the single greatest loss of civilian life in Ireland since the Nazi Blitz of World War 2 but we have had to fight for our story to be heard.

The bomb attack was carried out by Loyalist extremists of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) but blamed by the authorities on a Republican bomb-in-transit. Therefore, the innocent victims were despoiled of not only life, but also their good name. Successive administrations have withheld the full truth from us for two generations. Our families have had to campaign relentlessly, constitutionally and with great dignity for nearly four decades to clear the names of our loved ones.

It is a fight that continues to this very day.

My grandparents were enjoying a quiet drink with old friends, Edward and Sarah Keenan in the family-run public house, McGurk’s Bar. McGurk’s Bar was a old-style bar, passed from father to son, which was frequented by those members of the north Belfast community who were more interested in a punt or a pint rather than the sectarian politics of the day. As the family home was in the rooms upstairs, Mr. And Mrs. McGurk had created an environment that was not only fitting for a well-run pub, but also one that was appropriate for the raising of their children.

Looking across the bar and into the main lounge Kitty recognised every single one of the customers who sat around talking or reading a paper. She would have smiled and nodded acknowledgement to anyone whose eyes she happened to meet. Thomas Kane, Robert Spotswood and James Smyth had taken up their usual seats along the bar. Further along, Thomas McLaughlin, his uncle and two of their friends were busy chatting and laughing. Behind them, Philip Garry, who even at 73 still kept himself busy as a school-crossing patrolman, was having a quiet pint. Near to him Francis Bradley and David Milligan relaxed after labouring week-long in the docks. In the corner she could not see, Edward Kane was entertaining his friend, Roderick McCorley, and 80 year-old Mr. Griffin with lively chat over a quick drink before heading home to his young family.

That night, as the regular customers chatted and laughed amongst themselves, upstairs the McGurk boys and a young 13 year old friend, James Cromie, were having a raucous game of table football. Mr. McGurk’s brother-in-law, John Colton, was getting ready to help out in the bar below when his sister, Philomena McGurk arrived home with the McGurk’s only daughter, 14 year old Maria. They were returning home from confession in nearby St Patrick’s Church.

A bomb ripped through this scene, bringing walls and roof down upon everyone. Those who were not crushed or slowly asphyxiated by masonry were horrifically burned when shattered gas mains burst into flames beneath the rubble. The lifeless bodies of fifteen innocent men, women and children were dragged from the ruins. Thirteen others escaped with their lives.

Such was the carnage of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre.

I was at this point that our Campaign for Truth began as we had to fight against State disinformation from the moment the bomb exploded.
[There followed a thoughtful and moving speech by Reverend Bill Shaw]

If I may read out the names of the loved ones we lost before a two minute silence in their honour:
James Francis Cromie (13 years old)
Maria McGurk (14 years old)
Edward Laurence Kane (29 years old)
Robert Charles Spotswood (38 years old)
Elizabeth Philomena McGurk (46 years old)
Thomas Kane (48 years old)
John Colton (49 years old)
David Milligan (53 years old)
Kathleen Irvine (53 years old)
Thomas McLaughlin (55 years old)
Sarah Keenan (58 years old)
James Patrick Smyth (58 years old)
Francis Bradley (63 years old)
Edward Keenan (69 years old)
Phillip Garry (73 years old)
All those who were injured
The victims’ only crime was their faith.

Our Campaign for Truth is not simply about closure for fellow human beings. This is about historical and moral rectitude.

History informs the present and from it we learn our mores as a society. Without the truth regarding our recent conflict, our shared future together cannot be ensured. I fear, you see, that the present authorities may prove that they too are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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