Ahead of September’s inquest we continue our series on each of the victims of the
JOAN Connolly was the only woman to have been murdered during the Ballymurphy Massacre.
The devoted mum-of-eight was born on October 28 1926 to Michael and Mary Ellen O’Hara. She was the second youngest of eight children.
At 16 years of age Joan met her future husband Denis Connolly, a fluent Irish speaker from Monaghan. They married in St Paul’s Church, Cavendish Street on October 10, 1946. Joan was 20-years-old.
Joan and Denis lived in the Shore Road, their house became too small due to their expanding family and they jumped at the chance of getting a bigger house in Ballymurphy. In the summer of 1965 the Connolly family moved into 91 Ballymurphy Road, life was good for the young family and Joan made many friends among the Ballymurphy community.
On August 9th 1971 the Connolly family’s lives changed forever when the British Army Parachute Regiment murdered Joan. Her family believe she was shot four times. Her injuries were so severe that part of her face was blown off, Joan bled to death. She was 45-years-old.
The Andersonstown News met with three of Joan’s daughters, Briege Voyle, Philomena Morrison and Irene Connolly to find out how their young lives were impacted by their mother’s death.
“On the 9th of August mummy went out looking for me and my sister Joan and it wasn’t until the next morning that we found out she was dead,” said Briege.
“Our oldest sister was home from England, she had married a soldier the year before and she came home to get her son christened. We were all sleeping on mattresses in the front room because we were all afraid, it was around 6am the next morning that we realised mummy hadn’t come home and our sister and her friend went out looking for her.”
Briege said her daddy eventually phoned the hospital.
“He came back in a terrible state and said, ‘There’s only one person with red hair and she’s in the morgue.’ The neighbour took him down and he identified her.”
Recalling that period Philomena said: “I remember my big brother Paul taking me away on Monday the 9th about 12 noon, the nuns evacuated about 30 of us kids to Kilkeel. I was 15 at the time.
“I can remember my two friends looking at me and crying during that time, I asked them what was wrong and they said they weren’t well. It was only looking back I realised they knew my mummy was dead but couldn’t tell me.
“My mummy was killed on the Monday and I wasn’t told until about 2am on the Friday that she was dead, the nuns woke me and told me that mummy had been burnt in a fire. They drove me home, I remember we got to St John’s Chapel and it was pouring down, I saw all people outside. I climbed out of the car with my wee suitcase, people stepped aside and I walked up the aisle, I saw my mummy’s coffin sitting there in front of my brother.”
Soon after the children were sent to a refugee camp and then stayed with relatives.
Briege continued: “We all came home between August, September and October. Philomena was at home with daddy. Our relatives had planned on keeping us but my aunt later told me that I was crying every night to get home. I was only 14, I wanted my home and my friends.
“We truly believed that we were going home to the way our lives were before we left. We had been told our mummy was killed, but we didn’t have the chance to experience being home without her. You come back thinking life will be the same but it wasn’t, it was a complete nightmare.
“Our daddy wouldn’t let us out after six anymore, this went on for months but he was too afraid to let us out of his sight. We had to grow up overnight.”
Irene was only three years old when her mother was murdered, leaving her older sisters to take on the job of raising her.
She said: “I don’t remember my mummy at all. In my mind I had a happy childhood or so I thought, I mean it’s hard to miss something you don’t know.
“When I went into First Year that’s when I started to feel different. I made all new friends and whenever they asked about my parents I had to tell them that my mummy was dead. Then I started feeling different on the likes of Mother’s Day, my friends would all have mummies to buy for but I bought cards for my sisters Philomena, Briege and Maura.
“The biggest impact was when I had my own kids, I suddenly became very over protective. I had a recurring nightmare that I was chasing after my mummy and I couldn’t catch up with her. I spoke with Briege’s husband Davy and asked him to speak to Briege for me, I wanted to know everything about my mummy but I was afraid of upsetting Briege by asking her.
“Briege asked me what I wanted to know and I said everything. What height was she? What build was she? What shade of red was her hair? Did she wear glasses? Did she smoke?’ I asked every question under the sun. Who was she? Do I have her ways? Have I the same nature as her? I was clinging to all these answers.
“I had a constant fear that something would happen to me and my children would have no memory of me. I brought them everywhere with me, I wouldn’t socialise because they couldn’t come with me. I couldn’t understand why I was so protective. It was only when I went through counselling with Relatives For Justice that I found out I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I had never grieved for my mummy, I never had the chance to mourn her. I had to ask my sisters if I cried for her?”
The day after Bloody Sunday January 31, 1972 Joan’s husband Denis suffered a nervous breakdown.
Briege said: “I remember the snow was on the ground, we were all kept off school because of it. My daddy came into the room and he was screeching, he was making this strange sound. I started laughing because I thought he was messing about. My brother jumped up, daddy was put in a car and taken away.
“I didn’t go to school for the next eight weeks. I had to make dinners and keep the house. I believe that when my daddy found out about Bloody Sunday it just all came back.
“Seven years ago we were told they were opening our inquest, we were delighted thinking we were finally going to get the truth.
“Seven years later the MOD is still trying to stop us from getting the truth, the lies they are telling are ridiculous, Saying our mummy was a gunwoman and they were returning fire, all lies, what are they covering up? Then they can’t trace soldiers, they can’t find evidence, they can’t find addresses, anything to prevent us from getting justice. The soldiers who did the damage during Bloody Sunday did the damage in Ballymurphy. Find them and you’ve found your answers.”
Briege added: “We are a close family, we look out for each other, we have our ups and downs but we try to do the right thing. We all try to live in a way that would make mummy proud. We want people to look at us and say ‘there’s Joan Connolly’s daughters’.”