Monica McWilliams recalls university's ‘cold-hearted' approach to 1974 murder

Monica McWilliams has spoken of her dismay at the reaction of Queen's University to the murder of her friend Michael Mallon in 1974
John Monaghan

FORMER MLA Monica McWilliams has recalled her dismay at the "cold-hearted" reaction of Queen's University to the murder of a student during the Troubles.

Professor McWilliams, an academic at Ulster University and the founder of the Women's Coalition party, made the comments in 'Space for Grace', a book containing memories of the Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen's from former students and clergy.

In May 1974, 20-year-old Catholic student and university GAA player Michael Mallon was murdered by loyalists as he was travelling back to Belfast from his home in Toomebridge, Co Antrim.

Mrs McWilliams, a fellow student and friend of Mr Mallon, said that she was warned that she "wouldn't be considered for a resit" if she attended his funeral instead of an exam that day.

She recalled how she was asked by an invigilator where Mr Mallon was.

"I had to tell him that he'd been murdered and he said 'right', ticked the box and went on. I went on to do the exam and I remember thinking how cold hearted all of that was.

"Queen's was kind of taking the view that no matter what went on outside, it would continue as some sort of sanctuary."

"I believe it was in denial about what was happening around it."

She later recounted the story at a conference in the Whitla Hall to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Queen's was now portraying itself as a model of conflict resolution and yet in the height of the conflict it hadn't really acknowledged to us students, just what we were living through, to the point where one of their own students had been killed."

Clergy also spoke of how walking from St Malachy's seminary to the university at the height of the Troubles involved a dangerous walk or a lengthy detour.

There are light-hearted memories too, with former chaplain Fr Joe Gunn recalling how a GAA team bus he blessed caught fire on the M1 a short time later.

He said: "My bus blessing career came to an abrupt halt."

Lady Brenda McLaughlin, a student from 1965-70 and a former Pro-Chancellor, jokes that the chaplaincy was "an informal dating agency."

Author Dominic O'Reilly said that the chaplaincy was "a home away from home" for many students which offered a "a haven of safety."

"There is a constant engrained perception that a student is one who will sleep with anybody or be roaring drunk around the Holylands.

"We are individuals who, yes have flaws, but who are striving for greatness, look at the new Trócaire group or the student council. Student life is about more than the message that is presented."

Mr O'Reilly, who is planning a children's book and a book on Lourdes and St Bernadette, has said that 20 percent of all revenues from sales will go into a fund for aspiring writers.

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