Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy inquest heard tributes to victims Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn

Brother of Frank Quinn Pat and niece of Fr Hugh Mullen Geraldine McGrattan talk to the press outside court in Belfast yesterday on the second day of the Ballymurphy inquest. Picture by Hugh Russell

DURING an emotional afternoon of evidence, the Ballymurphy massacre inquest heard tributes to two of the 10 people killed during three days of violence in west Belfast.

Forty-seven years after their deaths, teenager Frank Quinn and curate Fr Hugh Mullan were recalled vividly in life, as their still grieving relatives gave moving testimony at Laganside Court.

Fr Mullan was shot dead "while performing his spiritual duties as a priest" going to the aid of a parishioner lying injured by gunfire in open ground.

The 38-years old was "helpful and kind", his younger brother Patsy Mullan told coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan, and loved to play his guitar for family, friends and the children of the parish.

A "very strong swimmer... (who) loved sailing", his cousin Gabriel Ellison told how "he would bring us clams from Strangford Lough to to cook on top of our range".

"When I was sailing my small toy boat off the slip in Portaferry, I was at the very end of the slip but couldn't get my boat to sail round a buoy," Mr Ellison said.

"So I leaned out a bit further to get it round and slipped into the water. I couldn't swim so I went under. Some men standing at the slip corner spotted me fall in and Hughie ran out of his house and jumped in after me and pulled me out.

"I was surely gone, only for his super actions."

To Geraldine McGrattan, her adored uncle was "a special person" and "so much fun".

"He was so easy to talk too, always interested in you and what you were doing. Never critical, always positive. Always wanting the best for you," she said.

Mr Mullan recalled the night of August 9.

"My mother got a call from him at three o'clock telling her not to come visit him that day as things were not good.

"So I listened to all the news reports and later that night I heard a priest had been shot in Ballymurphy. I knew it would be him."

Ms McGrattan said: "When he died, it was so unbelievable that another human being could take the life of this special person who would never have hurt anyone; who would happily help friends and strangers alike. I have seen people come to his door and leave much happier and comforted with his help.

"My grandmother was devastated, my own mother was in shock, neither woman ever fully recovered from his untimely, and cruel death and both would talk off him and cry for him right to the end of their lives.

"As a family we want this inquest to prove that my uncle was not a gunman as was stated in some of the newspapers at the time that he was an innocent priest going about his pastoral duties. We want to know the truth about what happened on August 9 1971."

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Frank Quinn was just 19 when he was shot as he crawled out under heavy fire to help the stricken Fr Hugh Mullan and his death left his toddler daughter Angela and unborn baby Frances fatherless.

Angela Sloane told the coroner how their mother Ann "had to do it all by herself and, more so than not, she struggled to try and give us everything".

"So many memories that we didn't get to make because someone decided that it was OK to take him from us, because he was a kind human being he went to help others.

"I have always been proud of his bravery. Many a man would have walked away."

She told the inquest his widow "never remarried, much was her love for my daddy".

"She was a single parent our whole childhood. I used to hear her crying when we were in bed and there was nothing we could do to comfort her."

His younger brother, Pat Quinn recalled him as "a practical joker... full of fun and laughter. He had a great big smile".

"I had been up to Frank and Ann's flat the week before Frank was killed. It was lovely weather and I had a great weekend having a laugh and going to the park with Frank, Ann and the child on the Sunday.

"On Monday morning Frank left me to the bus. He said: `I will see you kid.' I would never see him alive again."

One week later, on August 9, he and his parents heard on the news that internment had been brought in.

"That night my daddy, mummy and myself were in the house... watching the late bulletin on the TV news when they said that a priest and a young man had been shot dead in the Ballymurphy area.

"My mother said: `Someone is going to have a sore heart tomorrow.' She didn’t know the tragedy was coming to our door."

Mrs Sloane said for his children, their lives were marked by his absence.

"First days at school, graduations helping us to choose the right path in our careers - he wasn't there.

"Walking down the aisle to begin a new life - he wasn't there.

"Becoming parents - he wasn't there.

"We can only hope that we have done him proud."

Mr Quinn said his parents "never got over Frank's death. They had to carry on, but a broken heart can’t be mended".

"Frank missed out on walking his daughters down the aisle. He never got to watch them grow and share happiness with them. He never got to see his four grandchildren and great grandson."

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