Remembering the Murder Of Majella O'Hare

In August 1976, a young girl, Majella O`Hare, was shot dead by a British paratrooper on her way to Confession at Whitecross.

And at a special Mass in St. Malachy's church, Ballymoyer, the congregation included relatives of the three Reavey brothers, fatally wounded by a loyalist gang at their home near Whitecross, just six months earlier.

A booklet was produced by Monsignors Denis Faul and Raymond Murray, relating eye-witness accounts. They also blessed a roadside memorial to the dead schoolgirl.

Two newsmen, Fabian Boyle and Hal 0`Brien, had motored to the scene of the shooting, and by good fortune encountered, Jimmy Reavey, father of the dead boys, who had been an eye-witness to Majella`s murder.

His evidence was crucial in refuting the British army claim that the girl had been killed in cross-fire between the IRA and the British soldiers.

Jimmy, who died five years later, had gone with one of his sons to the cemetery adjoining Ballymoyer church. They were accompanied by a nurse, who was to have married one of his dead sons on that day. They were planning to lay a wreath on his grave.

Initially, the Army Press Office stated that the IRA had been responsible for Majella`s death. Later, they stated that she had been killed in crossfire, when soldiers came under gun-attack.

But a number of witnesses, including Mr Reavey, informed the Newry court, where a soldier was accused of murder, that the victim had been shot by a member of military patrol. The soldier was acquitted. On the basis that the shooting had not been intentional.

Nurse Alice Campbell, who had been in the graveyard overlooking the, described how she had noticed a number of soldiers emerging from a laneway, and then saw a group of children heading for the church.

“As one of the paratroopers was speaking to Seamus Reavey, I heard a loud bang, and thought there had been an explosion. Then I thought they had shot Seamus.

“A soldier shouted: `That`s an Armalite.’ Mr Reavey said: “But there`s children down there. But the solder responded: `No, lie where you are.”

“When one of the soldiers came up the road and said that a child had been hurt, I pointed out that I was a nurse, and pleaded to be allowed to go down, but he refused.”

Nurse Campbell added that, after about five minutes, the soldier brought her to the scene, and shouted for bandages.

“A young girl was lying on her back, and a wound was visible on her abdomen. Her father was with her. She was semi-conscious and groaning. Father Hughes then arrived and said prayers over her. An officer ordered the girl`s father from the scene; but a soldier with a green beret carried him up the road, laid him down and offered him some water.”

About ten minutes later, a helicopter landed, in order to take the victim to Daisyhill Hospital, where Nurse Campbell was on the staff.

She recalled: “The father was put in first. Then the girl was put in, head-first, with her legs dangling. This was the wrong thing to do, as it cut off her air-supply. I got in with a lot of difficulty, and started giving her the kiss-of-life.”

Mr O`Hare, who died a few years later, was lying alongside his daughter in the helicopter. He later described how she was “moving her hand, trying to ease herself. She was hurting badly. Then she took her hand up along my chest and said: `daddy, daddy’ in a very faint voice, and just died.”

On landing, Nurse Campbell spotted a surgeon and called him, carrying Majella into the casualty department. One of the doctors gave oxygen, another applied a stethoscope and said: “She`s gone.”

“Majella`s mother came in through the main entrance, as I was leaving. She kept asking: `Tell me please, honest, is she dead?’ I couldn’t tell her, Father Hughes then arrived, and he gave her the grim news.”

The O`Hare family receive £1,500 for the loss of their daughter. Over 30 years later, they are still awaiting some expression of regret from the Northern Ireland Office or the British Army.

[UPDATE] March, 2011: British Ministry of Defense offers apology to Majella's mother, accompanied by a letter correcting the British Army's account of the incident and acknowledging that the soldier's courtroom account was "unlikely".

© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008