Geraldine O'Reilly (15) and Patrick Stanley (16), RIP.

Remembering Geraldine and Patrick in our prayers

Fr Jason Murphy in his bi-monthly column Let the Busy World Be Hushed remembers the young victims of the Belturbet bomb and how their loss affected their families and communities...

My great grandmother, like all grandparents, left a huge imprint on the lives of the generations that came after them and for my siblings and I who lived near hand her. She left a deep impression on all of our lives and remains very strong in our thoughts and memories these decades after her death.

She, like those of her generation, had a great love for people and gave a hearty welcome to those who crossed her threshold. Regular céilíers called to her house on different nights of the week and one céilíer couldn’t cross the other or it’d be an odious waste of a céilí if the two called the one night as she wouldn’t get asking the pertinent questions she had stored in her mind in front of the other for fear of breaching confidences and the conversation would have to wait another week.

There were other céilíer who called but once or twice a year and of course Christmas was one of those times that there’d be run of such visitors. I’d be sent for the pounds of ham and pan loaves from Robbie Magee’s shop for the making of sandwiches.

I’d also be called on to set the table and make the tea and leave the sandwiches wrapped in cellophane ready for the special visitor who called her way and often times I got staying for at least some of the céilí to hand out a half one of whiskey and listen to the conversations told of everyday lives lived in the midst of the ordinary.

One of those ceiliers who came but one or twice a year was a Mrs O’Reilly from Staghall, a woman with a gentle smile and the loveliest of faces whose husband Joe used to play music with my grandfather in days gone by.

I used to sit at the far end of the kitchen on a chair by the door that led under the stairs where the coal was stored, out of sight and mind of the women, to listen, in the semi darkness, to the stories of their lives that were told. In so doing, I garnered a love of the stories told of the ordinary and every day of people’s lives. I remember one such night in the days after Christmas that Mrs O’Reilly called, she took from her pocket a black and white photograph of a young girl, all smiling, dressed as for a wedding, a photograph of her daughter Geraldine who had died some 12 or more years before. The tears fell from her eyes as she talked on her and how those years later her heart still ached for the loss of her youngest child.

Geraldine was but 15 years of age standing at the counter in Slowey’s chip shop on the Main Street of Belturbet on the third night of Christmas as a car bomb exploded on the far side of the street between Mc Gowan’s drapery and Farrelly’s pub, as her older brother waited for her in the car outside. A young boy, Patrick Stanley, just 16, was standing in the telephone kiosk with the heavy black handset of the phone in his hand awaiting to be put through to a neighbour’s house in Clara to pass on the message to his mother Teresa that the Calor Gas lorry he was travelling in wouldn’t make it home that night and not to worry for both he and Pat Jennings, with whom he was working, would stay in Belturbet until the next day.

But there was to be no next day for Patrick or Geraldine, a boy and a girl, one the eldest of a family and the other the youngest.

Two children, living lives in the midst of the ordinary and the everyday, one awaiting a bag of chips, the other awaiting to be put through to home, both to be struck down in the blink of an eye by a cowardly and indiscriminate car bomb laid that night on the main street of a border town to do nothing but kill the unsuspecting innocent as they went about their ordinary lives in the days after Christmas. The perpetrators who parked the car outside the telephone kiosk drove off into that Christmas night without a thought or a care for the heartache and the years of torture that they would leave in their wake.

Two families left bereft, the Stanleys that we often used to pray for as children but did not know and the O’Reillys of Staghall for whom the pain of losing their daughter was carried deep in their hearts in a time that such atrocities were not spoken of, for fear of repercussion or reprisal. All that remained for the years thereafter were two headstones in two different graveyards over which two sets of parents wept bitterly year after year, as they gazed on the names of their children etched forever in stone.

For the people of the town the bombed-out sites of Farrelly’s pub and Slowey’s chip shop stood as reminders of all that happened that night, people who carried with them the scars, both physical and emotional, for the years that followed, remnants of the bomb of that December night.

Each year on that night as people climb to their beds, they remember in their prayers the names of those two children, etched forever in their memory as an eerie silence hangs over the town as it seems that even the stones and bricks of the shops and houses that lined the main street, remember.

So, 50 years on, we remember Geraldine and Patrick, two innocent child victims of the Troubles, we remember too their parents Joe and Teresa Stanley and Joe O’Reilly and his wife Mary Kate who bore the searing pain of loss in their hearts and the hurt of justice not done for the loss of their children, for all their remaining years until they too joined them in death many years after the night of the Belturbet Bomb.