17 November 2005

The day Belfast mourned


Roisin McManus speaks to Robert McClenaghan about his quest for justice for his murdered grandfather

BBC photo

The grandson of an elderly man killed in the attack on McGurk’s Bar in North Queen Street on 4 December 1971 says that he won’t rest until the truth is known about the bombing.

Robert McClenaghan from West Belfast is a spokesman for campaign group An Fhirinne. His grandfather Philip Garry (75) was killed in McGurk’s Bar. The campaign group will travel to Brussels on 6 December to lobby politicians at the European Parliament in a bid to shine an international spotlight on the issue of collusion between the British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

The loyalist bomb at McGurk’s Bar killed 15 people including children and pensioners. After the bombing official sources claimed that the bombing was an IRA “own goal”. However seven years later a UVF man was convicted of the bombing and received 15 life sentences.

Robert was a 13-year-old schoolboy when his grandfather was murdered. He clearly remembers the events unfolding.

“Philip Garry was my grandmother’s second husband. My biological grandfather had died when my father was very young,” says Robert.

“Philip had been a merchant seaman and had fought during the Second World War. I think he came home basically to enjoy his retirement and the rest of his days in Belfast.

“He was one of those people who was always very bubbly,” he added.
Robert says he remembers hearing the explosion from his family home on the Springfield Road.

“It wasn’t until the next afternoon, when all our family were sitting watching the highlights of the football, the next thing it came on to say they were interrupting the programme because of the bombing and they started to name the names of those who had been killed the night before in McGurk’s,” said Robert.

“The names came up on the TV screen and my mother started to squeal and my father jumped up to grab his coat. It was a massive shock,” he added.
Three days of funerals followed and Robert vividly remembers his grandfather’s funeral.

“He was buried from St Patrick’s chapel in Donegall Street and I remember that as the funeral came to the bottom of the Shankill there were loyalist mobs waving Union Jacks and they were singing a song ‘Bits and Pieces’.

“Even as a child I said to myself, there is something wrong with this.”
Political reaction to the bombing and media coverage angered the family who were overcome with grief.

“What outraged the family was the lies,” said Robert. “Unionist politicians at the time, the RUC, the British army and almost the entire media – and all of a sudden from being a 75-year-old innocent civilian my grandfather suddenly became a bomber and that’s what hurt and deeply affected the family.

“For years to come there was the stigma that my grandfather along with 14 other men, women and children were somehow responsible for the explosion at McGurk’s Bar on that Saturday night.”

Robert says that as he grew older he started to ask questions about why the truth was concealed about the bombing.

“Who were they trying to protect and why were they trying to protect them with such outlandish lies?” he said.

Robert says that the lies surrounding the bombing ate away at his grandmother Lily who died a few years ago.

“I remember sitting one night and we were having a cup of tea. I was involved with the An Fhirinne campaign and I asked her, ‘What would you consider justice?’ and she said if only they would say he was innocent, if only they would say he wasn’t a bomber. Basically that was it, she didn’t want a long drawn out thing, she just wanted the truth. If one thinks about collusion, collusion started for our family that night on 4 December 1971,” he added.
Robert says that his own family want to find out from the British government what information they have on the McGurk’s Bar explosion.

“Realistically up to now we have had nothing but intransigence and a brick wall as far as the British government openly admitting they colluded with loyalist death squads, and we are taking it to an international level.

“I firmly believe that the only way the truth about collusion will ever come out is if we have some sort of international, independent, judicial public inquiry which would compel senior members of the RUC, Special Branch, senior members of British military intelligence and members of the Northern Ireland Office, senior members of the British government, to compel them to give evidence under threat of prosecution.

“I believe that those are the only circumstances under which the truth of collusion will be revealed,” he added.

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