Northern Ireland news

Unfounded rumours linked BBC's Rosin McAuley to shooting of soldiers in Ligoniel in 1971

Broadcaster Roisin McCauley. Picture by Darren Kidd / Press Eye
Mairead Holland

BROADCASTER and novelist Rosin McAuley has recounted how the BBC considered sending her to England at the height of the Troubles due to an unfounded rumour that she had been involved in the murder of three soldiers.

Ms McAuley, who presents BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme, was a recent guest on the station's Vinny Hurrell show 'When I was 25', which asks interviewees what advice they would give their 25-year-old selves.

Describing the incident in the early 1970s, which she said she didn't recall having talked about before, Ms McAuley painted a picture of an era when sexism was rife, sectarian strife permeated the country and having a name like Roisin was problematic.

The murder she refers to was the shooting of three Scottish soldiers in Ligoniel on March 10, 1971 by the IRA. Two of the victims were teenage brothers and the third was aged 23.

Read More: Scottish MP refuses to apologise for ‘insensitive' remarks on IRA soldier murders

The soldiers had been off duty at a bar in Belfast city centre when is is believed they were lured away by young women, in what is known as a 'honey trap', with promises of going to a party.

Joseph McCaig (18)

Instead they were taken to White Brae, off the Ligoniel Road, and shot dead. A memorial erected there has been vandalised repeatedly over the years.

Ms McAuley explained how she had begun her career with the BBC in Belfast as the first female, Catholic newsreader but said she felt more "exposed" being a Catholic as people took "more note of that" than her being the first woman.

"The name Roisin, in those days that immediately said Catholic," she said. "And those years between '71, '72, '73 were absolutely the worst."

Shortly after the "terrible" murder of the soldiers, Ms McAuley, who had moved from news reading into producing radio programmes, was told by her sister of a rumour that she (Ms McAuley) had stopped reading the news because she was "wanted in connection with the shooting of those soldiers".

John McCaig (17)

"And I thought 'don't be ridiculous'," she said.

However, a reporter in the news room told the controller of the BBC that she had also heard the same rumour on the Shankill Road and that her colleague's life was "on the line".

Said Ms McAuley: "So I was called to a meeting of the controller, the head of programmes, people from police intelligence. .. The first suggestion was to send me to England ... to work for the BBC.

"And the controller said that's madness because that doesn't do away with the lie. So he said come in and read every single bulletin for the next five five days, and that's what I did ... and the rumour died.

Dougald McCaughey (23)

"People forget the febrile atmosphere that was around in the early '70s. Those were the absolute worst days -Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, the Claudy bombs, sectarian assassinations. When I look back on it, I think heavens above, how did we survive."

The advice she would give to herself in her 20s, she said, was that "it's going to be alright ... you are going to have an amazing time, you are going to be reporting all over the world ... and you will write books".

And she added: "But what I would really also want to say is - this is hell at the moment, in every other respect, because the country you grew up in is being torn apart, the land you feel connected to, the people you feel connected to, they are all having a bad time ... I would want to say to myself this will get better too, you know, ... there will be light."

The memorial to the three Scottish soldiers at Ligoniel

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