Campaigners against cover up now feel vindicated

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at eircom.net
Sat Dec 21 11:55:07 MST 2002


Campaigners now feel vindicated



  Claudy was the forgotten atrocity though rumours about Fr James Chesney
persisted, writes Suzanne Breen, Senior Northern Correspondent

Immediately after the Claudy bombing, the rumours began. The speculation in
Derry city and county was that a Catholic priest played a leading role in
the explosions, which killed nine people.

But it was only in recent years that Father Jim Chesney has been publicly
named. There was talk too of a cover-up involving the pillars of society.
For 30 years, the allegations persisted but those making them were generally
marginalised.

The Provisional IRA to this day denies responsibility for Claudy. The idea
of a priest being involved in the IRA, and the state then colluding to hide
it, was dismissed as the stuff only of hard-line unionist dreams. Still,
some people kept campaigning for the truth.

They continually came up against a wall of silence from the Catholic
hierarchy, Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. Three weeks ago, a letter
writer to the Irish News appealed to anyone involved in the IRA in Derry in
1972 to come forward "in the spirit of reconciliation". He also asked Sinn
Féin's Martin McGuinness for help. He did not expect any assistance from the
church.

After years of no success, campaigners received a major boost in September.
A letter purporting to be from a Catholic priest, who signed himself only as
"Father Liam", was sent to a local newspaper and to the Ulster Unionist
deputy mayor of Derry, Ms Mary Hamilton, who was injured in the bombing.

"Father Liam" said he had studied at Maynooth College with Father Chesney
and that shortly after the Claudy bomb, he had confessed his involvement to
him. "Father Liam" said he was now based in England but if the Police
Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O'Loan, opened an investigation, he would come forward.
The Catholic Church challenged the authenticity of the letter.

But former civil rights leader and minister, Mr Ivan Cooper, spoke about
Father Chesney, whom he had known. He said he had found out, through
republican sources, that Father Chesney was OC of the Provisional IRA's
south Derry unit on the day of the bombing. Unionist politicians demanded a
public inquiry; nationalists remained largely silent.

The following month, the Chief Constable, Mr Hugh Orde, announced he had
appointed Chief Insp Pat Steele to lead an inquiry into the bombings. The
interim report of that investigation was released yesterday and campaigners
now feel fully vindicated.

Claudy was the North's forgotten atrocity. The five Catholics and four
Protestants killed never received any public recognition until a statue was
unveiled in their memory two years ago. It is of a young girl kneeling, her
head bowed in grief.

Representatives of the Catholic Church attended the ceremony.

Mrs Merle Eakin, whose daughter Kathryn (9) was the youngest victim, said:
"Claudy was the same year as Bloody Sunday in Derry and Bloody Friday in
Belfast and everybody forgot us. "

There was no high-profile murder investigation on the scale of the Omagh
bomb. No paramilitary group even admitted responsibility, let alone offered
an apology. No film or football stars visited Claudy.

Counselling wasn't even offered to the bereaved.

It was a bright summer morning on July 31st, 1972, when the three no-warning
car-bombs exploded. The first went off at 10.15 a.m. outside McElhinney's
pub and petrol station. The second exploded outside Beaufort's Hotel five
minutes later as people ran screaming from the first bomb. The final device
went off outside the post office. In less than 15 minutes, six people lay
dead. Three died later from their injuries.

With a population of just 410, everyone in Claudy knew those killed. The
village had no history of inter-communal strife. Kathryn Eakin had been
cleaning the windows of the family's grocery shop when the bomb went off.

Mr Billy Eakin didn't realise the extent of his daughter's injuries. He
recalled carrying her to the local medical centre in his arms. "I started to
get a bit wobbly and another man took Kathryn from me and I walked behind
them. Then the second bomb went off and I was blown to the ground.

"Kathryn was eventually taken to hospital in a local factory van. I met my
father there and he said to me, 'It's all over.' Our daughter was dead and
our house was wrecked in the bomb. We couldn't even bury Kathryn from her
own home. Everything was gone. We had no clothes to wear to her funeral."
The Eakins received £58 compensation for their daughter.

No one was ever charged with Claudy. The Provisional IRA was widely believed
to be responsible. Hours before the bombing, the British army had mounted
Operation Motorman in an attempt to smash "no-go" areas in Derry. Thousands
of soldiers moved into the Bogside.

Bombing Claudy was an attempt to draw troops from the Bogside. The telephone
to be used to deliver the warning wasn't working.

The names of the dead are: Kathryn Eakin (9); Joseph McCloskey (39); Rose
McLaughlin (52); Artie Home (38); Willie Temple (16), who was on his first
day at work on a milk round; Elizabeth McElhinney (59); Joseph Connolly
(15), who was on his way to a job interview at Desmond's factory; James
McClelland (65); and David Miller (60). Mr Miller was helping people from
the first bomb to the medical centre when he was caught in the second blast.
He was blown into his own garden.




© The Irish Times




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