Northern Ireland news

Daughter of Catholic woman who welcomed arrival of British soldiers 50 years ago tells how she was later shot dead by army

(left to right) Gerard Teggart, Briege Voyle, Janet Donnelly and John Teggart. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
By Cate McCurry, PA

THE daughter of a Catholic woman who welcomed British soldiers into her home with tea and sandwiches 50 years ago has described how she was later shot dead by the army.

Joan Connolly, a mother-of-eight, lived with her husband and children in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast when the Troubles erupted.

Shocked by the violence on the streets, she saw the deployment of troops as a peace-keeping exercise.

She welcomed the soldiers into her house, chatting to them as she made tea and coffee.

Some gifted her with a present when the first regiment stationed in Ballymurphy left Belfast.

Her daughter, Briege Voyle, said she has fond memories of the army being in her home.

"After the Troubles started, the army came into our estate and we thought this was great, that they were our friends," she said.

"My mummy and our neighbour made them tea and sandwiches. They used to come every night and sit and have a yarn with us and we thought nothing of it, that they were here to protect us and it was great fun.

"They were all the best of friends and they were very nice and friendly.

"My older sister actually ended up marrying a solider.

"They bought my mother a lovely present and they bought my neighbour a bunch of flowers to thank them for looking after them while they were there.

"I remember my neighbour was raging because she thought the present mummy got was better than her flowers.

"They were friendly and we had a laugh and a joke and that went on for months.

"My mummy used to say that the men were always somebody's son, but then all of a sudden it turned very nasty and things changed.

"People were afraid. The army got worse and worse."

In August 1971, Joan was one 10 people shot dead by soldiers in what later became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

Briege was 14 years old when her mother was killed.

She said: "The night my mummy was shot she went looking for me and my sister to get us into the house. But the army fired the tear gas and I did a runner. It wasn't until the next day when I heard she was shot dead.

"The army just seemed to turn. One minute they were our friends, the next minute they weren't. They just saw everyone as the enemy. They thought every Catholic was an IRA person."

John Teggart's father Daniel was also among those killed in Ballymurphy.

His first memory of the British army was soldiers firing tear gas he was nine years old.

"Before that happened soldiers were accepted and greeted in the area, but I have no memories of any good deeds that they did for us through the eyes of a child," he said.

"All I have is memories of brutality through my teenage years, especially the Parachute Regiment, who brutalised myself and my friends.

"We were no older than 13 or 14 at the time."

Janet Donnelly said she also remembers the army using tear gas in built-up areas.

Her father Joseph Murphy (42), who had served in the British army, was also shot dead by soldiers in Belfast.

"We didn't know what tear gas was, only that it burned our eyes," Janet said.

"It was painful and I remember my mummy stuck a tissue covered with vinegar in my face and told to keep it there. All I could taste and smell was vinegar and had burning eyes.

"That's something that became the norm for us when we were walking down the street.

"The army would drive past us and fire plastic bullets in our direction.

"We were stopped, searched and harassed by the army. The women had to patrol the streets at night to stop young men from getting a beating by the British army.

"It wasn't until after the cease fire that we realised none of it was normal."

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