Ballymurphy massacre

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Ballymurphy massacre
Part of the Troubles
A mural in Belfast commemorating the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre.
Ballymurphy massacre is located in Greater Belfast
Ballymurphy massacre
LocationBelfast, Northern Ireland
Coordinates54°34′30″N 5°58′26″W / 54.575°N 5.974°W / 54.575; -5.974Coordinates: 54°34′30″N 5°58′26″W / 54.575°N 5.974°W / 54.575; -5.974
Date9–11 August 1971
Attack type
Mass shooting
PerpetratorThe Parachute Regiment, British Army

The Ballymurphy massacre was a series of incidents between 9 and 11 August 1971, in which the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment of the British Army killed at least nine civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of Operation Demetrius (internment without trial). The shootings were later referred to as Belfast's Bloody Sunday, a reference to the killing of civilians by the same battalion in Derry a few months later.[1][2] The 1972 inquests had returned an open verdict on all of the killings,[3] but a 2021 coroner's report found that all those killed had been innocent and that the killings were "without justification".[4]


Belfast was particularly affected by political and sectarian violence during the early part of the Troubles. The British Army had been deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969, as events had become beyond the control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

On the morning of Monday 9 August 1971, the security forces launched Operation Demetrius, the main focus of which was to arrest and intern suspected members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Parachute Regiment was selected to carry out the operation. The operation was chaotic and informed by poor intelligence, resulting in a number of innocent people being interned. By focusing solely on republicans, it excluded violence carried out by loyalist paramilitaries. Some nationalist neighbourhoods attempted to disrupt the army with barricades, petrol bombs and gunfire.[5] In the Catholic district of Ballymurphy, ten civilians were shot and killed between the evening of 9 August and the morning of 11 August, while another died of heart failure.[6]

Members of the Parachute Regiment stated that they were shot at by republicans as they entered the Ballymurphy area and returned fire.[7][8] The press officer for the British Army stationed in Belfast, Mike Jackson, later to become head of the British Army, includes a disputed account of the shootings in his autobiography, stating that those killed in the shootings were republican gunmen.[9] This claim was strongly denied by the families of those killed in the shootings, including in interviews conducted during the documentary film The Ballymurphy Precedent.[10][11] The claim was found to be without basis by a later coroner’s inquest, which established that those killed were "entirely innocent".[8][12]


Commemoration plaque in a remembrance garden in Ballymurphy, Belfast

Six civilians were killed on 9 August:

  • Francis Quinn (19), shot while going to the aid of a wounded man.[13][6]
  • Father Hugh Mullan (38), a Catholic priest, shot while going to the aid of a wounded man, reputedly while waving a white cloth to indicate his intentions.[13][14][15]
  • Joan Connolly (44), shot as she stood opposite the army base. It has been claimed she was shot by three soldiers and that she might have survived had she been given medical attention sooner, but she lay injured in a field for several hours.[13][16][17][15]
  • Daniel Teggart (44) was shot fourteen times. Most of the bullets entered his back, allegedly as he lay injured on the ground.[13][1]
  • Noel Phillips (20), shot as he stood opposite the army base.[13][18]
  • Joseph Murphy (41), shot as he stood opposite the army base.[13] Murphy was subsequently taken into army custody and after his release, as he was dying in hospital, he claimed that he had been beaten and shot again while in custody. When his body was exhumed in October 2015, a second bullet was discovered in his body, which activists said corroborated his claim.[19]

One civilian was killed on 10 August:

  • Edward Doherty (28), shot while walking along Whiterock Road.[20]

Another three civilians were shot on 11 August:

  • John Laverty (20) and Joseph Corr (43) were shot at separate points at the top of the Whiterock Road. Laverty was shot twice, once in the back and once in the back of the leg. Corr was shot several times and died of his injuries on 27 August.[13][21]
  • John McKerr (49), was shot in the head by an unknown sniper while standing outside a Catholic church and died of his injuries on 20 August.[6][22][23] While a number of eyewitnesses stated that soldiers were seen shooting towards the area,[6] the 2021 inquest could not establish who had killed him.[24] The coroner noted that a more specific finding was not possible, in large part, due to an "abject failing by the authorities to properly inquire into the death of [McKerr at the time]".[25][26]

An eleventh civilian died on 11 August, following an altercation with a group of soldiers:

  • Paddy McCarthy (44), McCarthy's family allege that an empty gun was put in his mouth and the trigger pulled, he suffered a heart attack and died shortly after the alleged confrontation.[27][28]


In February 2015, the conviction of Terry Laverty, younger brother of John Laverty, one of those killed, was quashed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.[29] He had been convicted of riotous behaviour and sentenced to six months on the eyewitness evidence of a private in the Parachute Regiment. The case was referred to court because the sole witness retracted his evidence.[30]

In 2016, Sir Declan Morgan, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, recommended an inquest into the killings as one of a series of "legacy inquests" covering 56 cases related to the Troubles.[31][32] These inquests were delayed, as funding had not been approved by the Northern Ireland Executive. The Stormont first minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party deferred a bid for extra funding for inquests into historic killings in Northern Ireland,[33] a decision condemned by the human rights group Amnesty International.[34] Foster confirmed she had used her influence in the devolved power-sharing executive to hold back finance for a backlog of inquests connected to the conflict.[33] The High Court said her decision to refuse to put a funding paper on the Executive basis was "unlawful and procedurally flawed".[35]

In January 2018, the coroner's office announced that the inquest would begin in September 2018.[36] On 11 May 2021, this coroner's inquest found that the 10 civilians killed were innocent, and that the use of lethal force by the British Army was "not justified".[8] The circumstances of the 11th death were not part of the inquest, since Paddy McCarthy died from a heart attack, allegedly after being threatened by a soldier.[19] Following the inquest verdict, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, apologised for the deaths at Ballymurphy in a phone call to Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill. The lack of public apology was criticised by some relatives of the victims and Northern Irish politicians.[37]

In May 2021 families of those shot dead by British soldiers in Ballymurphy urged the Irish government to oppose any attempt to prevent the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed crimes during the Troubles.[38]


The killings are the subject of the August 2018 documentary The Ballymurphy Precedent, directed by Callum Macrae and made in association with Channel 4.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McDonald, Henry (20 June 2010). "Were Bloody Sunday soldiers involved in 'Ballymurphy massacre'?". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  2. ^ Moriarty, Gerry (5 November 2018). "Ballymurphy massacre inquests set to open next week". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Ballymurphy inquest findings to be published in Belfast in May". The Irish Times. 26 March 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Ballymurphy inquest: 10 innocent people killed without justification, coroner finds". Sky News. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  5. ^ Carroll, Rory (11 May 2021). "The Ballymurphy shootings: 36 hours in Belfast that left 10 dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Cobain, Ian (26 June 2014). "Ballymurphy shootings: 36 hours in Belfast that left 10 dead". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Ballymurphy families meet First Minister Peter Robinson". BBC News. 18 February 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "Ballymurphy Inquest: Coroner finds 10 victims were innocent". BBC News. BBC. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  9. ^ Jackson, Mike (2007). Soldier: The Autobiography. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0593059074.
  10. ^ "Massacre at Ballymurphy". Channel 4. 8 September 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  11. ^ "The Film". Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  12. ^ "Ballymurphy inquests: Use of lethal force by British Army in 1971 shootings 'not justified', coroner rules". Journal Media Ltd. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Sutton, Malcolm. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (9 August 1971)". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Ulster University, Magee. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  14. ^ "Fr Hugh Mullan". Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  15. ^ a b "Woman recalls horror moment she discovered British army shot her innocent mother". Irish Mirror. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Joan Connolly". Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  17. ^ "A powerful documentary on a horrific moment during The Troubles is on TV this weekend". 7 September 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  18. ^ "Noel Phillips". Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  19. ^ a b Moriarty, Gerry (27 October 2015). "Bullet found in body of exhumed Ballymurphy massacre victim". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  20. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (10 August 1971)". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Ulster University, Magee. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  21. ^ "Joseph Corr". Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  22. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (11 August 1971)". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Ulster University, Magee. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  23. ^ "John McKerr". Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  24. ^ Carroll, Rory (11 May 2021). "Ten people shot dead in Ballymurphy were innocent, inquest finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  25. ^ "Innocent victims of Ballymurphy killings vindicated by coroner's findings". Belfast Telegraph. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2021. The coroner said she was unable to deliver a finding on who had shot Mr McKerr due to weaknesses in the evidence [..] "This abject failing by the authorities to properly inquire into the death of a civilian on the streets has hampered me greatly"
  26. ^ "'Entirely innocent' What happened at Ballymurphy?". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 15 May 2021. she was unable to determine who killed the 10th victim - John McKerr - in large part because of the "abject failing" of authorities to investigate at the time
  27. ^ CAIN - Index of Deaths - Sudden deaths due to heart problem during an incident, Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  28. ^ "Paddy McCarthy". Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  29. ^ "Ballymurphy conviction: Terry Laverty cleared of rioting". BBC News Online. 10 February 2015.
  30. ^ McDonald, Henry (10 February 2015). "Belfast man cleared of rioting during 1971 Ballymurphy unrest". The Guardian.
  31. ^ Kearney, Vincent (18 January 2016). "The Troubles: Judge begins review of inquests". BBC News. London. Retrieved 4 May 2016. There are 56 cases involving 97 deaths. ... The stalled inquests into the Army shootings of 10 people in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971, and of five more civilians in nearby Springhill a year later, were examined on the opening day in Laganside Courts.
  32. ^ "Legacy inquests in Northern Ireland 'can be dealt with in five years'". BBC News. London. 12 February 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2016. After a review of more than 50 outstanding cases it has been decided that all are suitable for inquest.
  33. ^ a b "Arlene Foster wrong to defer bid for legacy inquest funding, says judge". The Irish News.
  34. ^ Kearney, Vincent (3 May 2016). "Lord Chief Justice legacy inquests plan put on hold". BBC News. London. Retrieved 4 May 2016. A radical plan by Northern Ireland's most senior judge to deal with inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles has been put on hold.
  35. ^ "Arlene Foster will not pay damages over blocking legacy inquest funding plan". Belfast Telegraph.
  36. ^ McHugh, Michael (19 January 2018). "Coroner in Ballymurphy shootings' inquest appeals for witnesses to come forward". The Irish News. Press Association.
  37. ^ "PM 'apologises for events in Ballymurphy' in 1971". BBC News. 12 May 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  38. ^ "Ballymurphy families press Government to oppose amnesty for UK soldiers". Press Association. 25 May 2021. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  39. ^ Clarke, Cath (20 August 2018). "The Ballymurphy Precedent review – touching personal accounts of the Troubles". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2019.