Archive report: ‘Residents accuse troops of terror’ in Ballymurphy, 1971

‘Before the troops came down they just fired away without any regard for our safety’

Between August 9th and August 11th, 1971, 10 civilians were shot and killed by British soldiers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast, in what later became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

On Tuesday, following the longest-running inquests in Northern Ireland's history, Mrs Justice Siobhán Keegan found that the people who had been killed were "all entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question".

In 1971, The Irish Times reported on the story during and after the violence began. On August 12th, reporter Conor Brady - who would later become editor of the newspaper - interviewed residents of the Lower Falls area, who said they had been the target of intimidation and attacks by British troops.

The full report is published below. You can view this and other past editions of the newspaper by clicking here.



By Conor Brady, August 12th, 1971

Allegations of provocation, violence and brutality have been made by residents of the Lower Falls area of Belfast against troops of the Green Jackets Regiment who swept through the area on Tuesday afternoon.

Yesterday the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Mr Gerry Fitt, MP, said he intended to raise the matter with the British Defence Secretary, Lord Carrington.

Mr Fitt, in a statement, said that the Army was “playing the Faulkner regime game of attempting to force the menfolk into the position of defending their wives, families and homes, so that they can be battered about, then arrested in dawn swoops, and interned as “suspected enemies of the State”.

According to the people in the Lower Falls the Green Jackets came over the barricades in the mid-afternoon on Tuesday. “Everybody here was indoors, and we closed up the houses,” one man said.

“The nearest trouble was away up at the top of Leeson Street but the Army put a line of men all along through these streets and they fired away.”

At his home in Servia Street the same man pointed out bullet holes in his own front door, which he said were fired while he and his wife were in the kitchen of the house. “There was no trouble going on in the streets at all here. There was no shooting. All our people were in their houses, but before the troops came down they just fired away without any regard for our safety.”

In Grosvenor Place residents pointed out the aftermath of the troops’ presence. Along one whole side of the street of 40 houses, not one ground floor window remained intact. On the upstairs windows every fourth or fifth pane bore the characteristics of having been smashed with a rubber bullet - an oblong break through the glass. Many of the residents showed rubber bullets, which they said they had retrieved from their upstairs rooms.

One woman said she had put her six children in the front upstairs room when she heard the troops coming down the street. “They smashed in every window on the way up and every door they could knock in. We couldn’t see them, but we could hear them all the way up.”

Doors along the street bear marks that back up the woman’s story. Almost opposite her house another woman said: “Three or four of them began to batter on our front door and when they had it smashed they shouted the foulest and filthiest language through the door. They didn’t see us and we didn’t show ourselves.”

Dean Ruxton

Dean Ruxton

Dean Ruxton is an Audience Editor at The Irish Times. He also writes the Lost Leads archive series