Northern Ireland news

Ann McKernan: Sister of Guildford Four's Gerry Conlon has 'left behind a very tough life', priest tells mourners

Ann McKernan's coffin is carried to St Peter's Cathedral for her funeral. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

ANN MCKERNAN, who fought for the release of her brother and father after their wrongful convictions, has "left behind a very tough life", mourners have heard.

Large crowds gathered at St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast yesterday to pay their final respects to Mrs McKernan, who died on Monday aged 58, just months after being diagnosed with cancer.

She had fought tirelessly for the release of her brother Gerry Conlon, one of four wrongly convicted of the IRA bombing of two pubs in Guildford in 1974, in which four British soldiers and a civilian were killed and 65 others injured.

Their father Guiseppe Conlon, and members of the Maguire family - known as the Maguire Seven - were also arrested and wrongly convicted in connection with another IRA pub bombing in Woolwich in London the same year.

Guiseppe Conlon, who was jailed in 1975, died in prison five years later from ill-health.

Gerry Conlon and the other members of the Guildford Four were finally released in 1989 after spending 15 years behind bars.

In 2005 then British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly apologised to Gerry Conlon and the others who had been wrongly convicted. Mr Conlon died in June 2014 at the age of 60 after a battle with lung cancer.

Among the mourners at yesterday's funeral was Richard O'Rawe, who recently wrote a book about Gerry Conlon to which Mrs McKernan contributed.

Before her death, the mother-of-four had passed on the quest for justice over the bombings to her sister Bridie Brennan.

Mrs McKernan had applied to the Surrey coroner to reopen the inquests of victims of the 1974 attacks. Those responsible have never been prosecuted and the inquests have never been concluded.

Fr Martin Graham told the congregation that "although she may not forgive me for saying it, Ann looked older than her years".

"Because Ann's life was not an easy one. She had to grow up quickly, leaving school at just 15 to help her mum Sarah after Gerry was arrested and sentenced, followed by their dad Guiseppe just a couple of years later," said Fr Graham.

"The prison sentences of Guiseppe and Gerry were not only their sentences; they affected the whole family. Ann was a woman who raised her head with dignity, with her jaw firmly set, when others may have kept their heads down.

"Ann fought year after year, even after Gerry's release, to ensure that no-one else was ever going to be in the same situation."

The brother and sister had a "strong bond" with the younger Ann often telling Gerry "what to do", Fr Graham said.

"She may have been a slightly built woman, but her big brother knew never, ever to mess with her."

The priest described how, as her illness progressed in recent weeks, there were many moments when it was thought she may not last the day.

"All that was to be done in the last few weeks was to sit and wait and pray, but that time spent with Ann was precious," said Fr Graham.

"Ann's party piece was singing and dancing to the song Spirit in the Sky and finishing it off with a cartwheel - I would love to have seen it.

"Finally, on Monday, after a tough couple of weeks, Ann gave in and let go.

"She has left behind a very tough life and now, we pray that, laying down her crosses in this life, that God will grant Ann eternal peace and eternal joy with her beloved Mum and Dad and of course with Gerry...and maybe even do a cartwheel."

Following Requiem Mass, Mrs McKernan was buried at Milltown Cemetery.

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