FIFTY years ago, at 10:28pm two teenagers in Belturbet had only seconds to live.
Schoolgirl, Geraldine O’Reilly, aged 15, was on her Christmas holidays from school, had got a lift into the Co. Cavan town close to the Fermanagh border in her brother’s car to buy chips.
Nearby, 16-year-old Paddy Stanley who was also on his Christmas holidays from school in Clara, Co. Offaly. He had taken a holiday job as a helper on a Calor gas delivery lorry.
While making a delivery in Belturbet there was a problem with the lorry and the driver decided they should stay in Belturbet overnight. Paddy went to a public phonebox on Main Street, to call his parents to tell them he would not be home.
It was at this point as Geraldine was waiting to be served her chips and as Paddy was dialling his parents’ phone number that a Loyalist bomb exploded and killed both of them. Geraldine’s brother Anthony, who had been waiting in his car for his sister was seriously injured but would survive the attack.
Today, the people of Belturbet gathered at noon at the memorial statue of Geraldine and Paddy in the centre of town to pay tribute to them on the 50th anniversary of their murders.
A number of guest speakers will be in attendance – Frank Shouldice, who directed the RTÉ Investigates programme ‘Belturbet: A Bomb That Time Forgot’, Cathaoirelach John Paul Feeley, will address the event on behalf of Cavan County Council and Margaret Urwin of Justice for the Forgotten, who has advocated on behalf of the families of Geraldine and Paddy.
Urwin states that while Belturbet will rightly be remembered this week, the attack on the town was part of a three-pronged Loyalist operation that saw two other towns near Fermanagh’s borders being bombed that night.
She said: “It wasn’t just Belturbet that was targeted. The first bomb exploded in Clones, Co. Monaghan at 10:01pm. The second bomb struck Belturbet at 10:28pm with the third bomb at Mullnagoad near Pettigo in Co. Donegal exploded at 10:50pm.
“It was a very well-planned attack from the perspective of the perpetrators.
“Unfortunately, while no one was killed at Clones and Pettigo, at Belturbet, two teenagers were killed – Geraldine O’Reilly and Paddy Stanley.
“Geraldine sustained massive head injuries from flying shrapnel and died instantly. Paddy suffered massive head injuries and was killed instantly as well.
“While no one near the Clones bombing was directly killed, on January 4, 1973, a man called Pat McCabe fell off a ladder off a roof while repairing the bomb damage on the roof of a building affected by the explosion. He was killed instantly after falling, leaving behind a widow and eight children. He was an indirect victim of the Clones bomb.
“With the bomb near Pettigo, there were no victims but the pub, owned by Hugh Britton, where the bomb was close to had to be pulled down.”
No one has been brought to trial for the bombings. However, 50 years on, the families were given the news that a new investigation was underway that may hopefully result in those responsible, finally being convicted.
Urwin added: “As to who carried out the attack, we are to led to believe that it was a Loyalist cell in Fermanagh who also had assistance from Belfast. The day before the bombing, a car was stolen in Belfast – the registration plates of it showed it to be belonging to an RUC officer. Those plates were found on another car stolen that night – this particular vehicle being from Belturbet.
“That car had been found in Crumlin, Co. Antrim before the end of the year and had been burnt out. This car was the getaway vehicle for those who had planted the bomb in Belturbet.
“The car had been stopped at a checkpoint on the North/South border with a Derrylin address being given – which didn’t check out when investigated much later on.
“A name was also given to those manning the checkpoint and it was one of a known Loyalist – who wasn’t from Derrylin.
“The families are happy that the Gardaí have launched a new investigation and has set up a new incident room at Ballyconnell. But you wonder why such an investigation could not have been done in the immediate aftermath.”
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