Young Terry Herdman from West Belfast was abducted, tortured and murdered in County Cavan, and accused of being a “tout” despite no evidence of his being an informant.

For someone Terry Herdman was a liability

The summer’s sun shone through the window as I sat in the chair and looked to the bend in the road that the young man walked on that evening fifty years ago, waving goodbye to his grandfather, his tall figure silhouetted by the evening sun. He disappeared out of sight down the incline of the hill as his grandfather turned to clear the plates from the table as he walked past Curry’s house on the corner of the Drumalee road that brought the young man into the town of Belturbet on that summer’s Sunday evening in the month of June. A young man but seventeen years of age, never to return to his grandfather’s house as he walked to the town to meet with a friend on an ordinary summer’s night in 1973.

Michael Carlin had first introduced the young apprentice to the small group of assembled toolmakers that gathered in the Erne Tool & Die workshop on Castle Hill but twelve months before, tall in stature but quiet in demeanour, he watched intently on as the lads familiarised him with the lade, the drill and the milling machine on his first day of work. They were enamoured with his thick west Belfast accent but asked little questions of the young man who had joined their ranks. He had come to live with his grandfather Paddy (Hector) McDonald, an ex-Irish army man who had joined the Free State forces shortly after the foundation of the state and after the death of his wife had bought a cottage, a mile and a half outside of the town where he came to stay at intervals, as a break from the tensions in his native Belfast in those days of trouble in the early 1970s.

The young apprentice, Terry Herdman, was one of two sons born to young Irish emigrants, Big Peter Herdman and Marie McDonald who had come to Canada to make a new life far from their native Belfast, in 1956. But some years later they returned to live amongst the familiar streets of their youth in Riversdale Park South in West Belfast where Terry and his younger brother Peter Jnr grew in the midst of friends, not far from young men whose names became synonymous with the Troubles such as the infamous double agent Freddie Scappaticci who lived just around the corner and was well known to the Herdmans.

Emerging from childhood into teenage years, armed British soldiers patrolling their streets became a familiar sight to the young brothers and their friends as oft-times they were stopped and searched, and left standing barefooted on the street as the soldiers walked, giggling, on. The indignity of it all irked the young Herdman boy who thought deeply on such things as he watched neighbours not much older than he, being dragged from their homes in the middle of the night not to be seen for months on end with the introduction of Internment in the early days of 1971.

He spoke openly about the injustice of what he witnessed on the streets around his home, the indiscriminate beatings, the ransacking of houses, the plight of interned prisoners as he sat at the kitchen table in the evening and as anger raged within his young heart, his mother feared that he might join the ranks of the Provisional IRA as he teetered around its edges. So the decision was made to get him out of the tinder box that was Belfast and send him to his grandfather to live beneath the hawthorn hedges outside the border town of Belturbet until such a time as the Troubles had quelled.

In leaving the streets of his native Andersonstown he left his girlfriend Libby Dornan, pregnant with his little daughter Lisa in the sure hope that when things had eased they would be reunited to build a life together. In the months that followed he immersed himself in his work, eager to learn a new trade, making new friends amongst his fellow apprentices and workers in the small toolmaking workshop. He became acquainted with my parents, recently married, my father being a toolmaker in the workshop and it became a ritual that he joined them for the evening tea every Monday evening. Life seemed to take on a rhythm for Terry, living with his grandfather, working each day with a half day off on Saturday, meeting up with friends, making a phone call home of a Sunday night to his mother and his girlfriend from the telephone kiosk on the Diamond in the town. In Belfast there were some who enquired of his mother as to where it was he had gone, where had he disappeared to but she tried to fob them off time and time again but one day let it slip to a friend as to his whereabouts.

On the night of December 28th 1972 Terry was hanging out with some friends on the Diamond of the town when a red Ford Escort car pulled up on the Main Street between the Post Office and Farrelly’s Pub with a number of men seated within, it contained a loyalist car bomb which exploded at 10.28pm killing two teenagers, Patrick Stanley from Claragh Co. Offaly who was in the telephone kiosk that Terry often used, ringing home to his parents and Geraldine O’Reilly who was standing in the chip shop across the way. Terry gave an eye witness statement in the days after to the Gardaí as to the description of the car and its occupants.

In the months that followed the people of the town lived in fear of what would happen next, so too did Terry; this quiet town to which he had come to seek refuge had been catapulted to the centre of the Troubles and something stirred within him causing him to feel uneasy, knowing he had stared into the eyes of occupants of the car, the night of the Belturbet bombing.

The months passed as Terry continued gaining new skills as an apprentice toolmaker until the summer came with its long evenings to spend with friends after work. On the evening of June 3 1973, a summer’s Sunday evening, having had his tea and washed and shaved, Terry left goodbye with his grandfather to walk in to the town to meet with friends and having reached the town, he turned left at the Parochial House to walk down the incline of the Fair Green. As he dandered along a car pulled up beside him, Terry recognising the faces of those who were seated within, realised his fate and with some resistance was bundled in and the car drove off at speed.

Terry Herdman, at just 17 years, was never seen alive again. His grandfather Paddy fretted the whole night long and each hour of the day after that his grandson Terry had not returned home. The following morning his workmates wondered why he hadn’t turned up for work but the radio on the Tuesday morning in his grandfather’s kitchen and in the workshop on Castle Hill, told of how the body of a young man, having first been tortured, his hands bound with his own bootlaces, was found dead along a laneway outside of the town of Clogher, a fatal gunshot wound to his temple. Murdered by the IRA, on his chest was pinned a piece of paper with the word ‘tout’ emblazoned for all to see. A shiver ran up the spine of his grandfather and a silence fell over the workshop as the radio told of the discovery of the young man’s body. Two of Terry’s work comrades were asked to identify him as the news was relayed to his parents and girlfriend with child, at home in Belfast.

Nobody ever told Terry’s parents why he was tortured over the course of a day and eventually shot and left lying like a dog on the side of the road. The Historical Enquiries Team many years later concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever that Terry had been a tout but for someone Terry was a liability, perhaps he had he seen something he shouldn’t have, perhaps he had seen someone he knew in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps someone who just lived around the corner from him. Will we ever know? Somebody somewhere out there knows why Terry Herdman was shot in cold blood at just 17 years of age, a young man trying to escape the Troubles beneath the Hawthorn bushes where on a June evening, fifty years later I sat looking out the window, with his cousin, thinking of his tall figure, waving goodbye to his grandfather, as he disappeared beyond the incline of the hill, silhouetted in the evening sun.


The bell tolls for Rose