Springhill Massacre

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Springhill shooting
Part of The Troubles
Springhill massacre.JPG
Poster demanding an inquiry in the Beechmount area of Belfast
LocationBelfast, Northern Ireland
Date9 July 1972

The Springhill Massacre was an incident in which five Catholic residents were killed by the British Army on 9 July 1972 in the Springhill estate in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. Three of the victims were teenagers, two of them with republican paramilitary links; one was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army's youth wing and the other was a member of the Official Irish Republican Army’s youth wing. The incident took place during The Troubles.[1]


Civil sectarian conflict, caused by ethno-nationalist divisions, civil rights grievances, and Revolutionary Marxist politics, augmented with escalating violence between paramilitary factions and the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, had been ongoing in the United Kingdom province of Northern Ireland since 1969, with several hundred people having been killed or injured. The area of West Belfast was particularly stricken with violent confrontations between elements of the residential community and the police and military forces of the British State, given its Irish population concentration amidst a broadly Ulster Scots city demographic, and comparative endemic economic poverty. West Belfast was increasingly a problem area for the police and the army given the open hostility of the population towards their presence, and activity from Irish Republican paramilitary forces in the neighbourhood, with the Provisional Irish Republican Army becoming increasingly aggressive in its attacks at the time that the Springhill shooting incident occurred.[2]

Shooting incident at Springhill[edit]

Provisional IRA version of the event[edit]

According to a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) statement, on 10 July 1972, British Army "snipers" from the Parachute Regiment took up a position in Corry's timber yard at Springhill, West Belfast, and were seen to be reinforcing it with sandbags. Two cars subsequently drove into the vicinity, and the British Army detachment were observed to open fire upon them, firing two shots at the vehicles. One of the cars at this drove away at speed, whilst the other one drove a short distance and then stopped, the occupants getting out. On the occupants exiting the vehicle the British Army post opened fire upon them. One of the stopped car's occupant was hit by a bullet in the head and fell seriously wounded. A local resident, Brian Petticrew, nearby seeing the incident, ran over to help the wounded man, but was also fired upon and hit in the arm, and this man's brother and a friend ran to the downed occupant but both were also wounded by gunfire in the process of doing this.

At some point during the incident a 13-year-old girl, Margaret Garan, was fatally shot. A parish priest, Father Noel Fitzpatrick, and Patrick Butler - a passer-by, both ran to her assistance, Fr. Fitzpatrick was reportedly seen to be waving a white cloth above his head to display himself as a non-combatant, but they were also fired upon and killed. All of the victims were unarmed.[3]

British Army statement pertaining to the events[edit]

The British Army disputed the PIRA statement of the events, claiming that its troops were fired upon first by Provisional Irish Republican Army gunmen, ending a temporary ceasefire in the West Belfast area at that time. A British Army spokesman stated that: "There had been a heavy exchange of fire between the IRA and troops, some of the dead and wounded were undoubtedly caught in a crossfire." The next day, on the 10 July 1972, the British Army stated that terrorists at the scene had been engaged and killed in the cross-fire with its detachment. (Two of the five dead at the scene, who were occupants of the stopped vehicle, John Dougal (16), and David McCafferty (15), were reported to be members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army's Youth Wing, "Fianna Eireann").[4]

Inquest verdict[edit]

An open verdict was recorded at an inquest into the event.

Campaign group[edit]

Over the several decades since the incident there has intermittent pressure group campaigning by the relatives of the casualties for a new legal inquiry into the event.[5][6]

Irish Republican media has sought to use the issue through the years for political propaganda purposes,[7] and Sinn Fein, as the politically elected representatives of the area, has also associated itself with the matter, with the former British Member of Parliament for West Belfast Gerry Adams, issuing a public commentary upon it.[8]

Legal developments[edit]

In 2014 the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin Q.C., announced that new inquests have been scheduled into the deaths that occurred in the incident.[9]


The dead commemorated in a republican garden of Remembrance in Ballymurphy, Belfast
  • Margaret Gargan, 13 years old, gun-shot wound in the head.
  • Patrick Butler, 39, shot in the head.
  • Father Noel Fitzpatrick, 40, shot in the neck.
  • John Dougal, 16, gun-shot wound to the chest, Fianna Éireann (member of Provisional Irish Republican Army Youth Section).[10]
  • David McCafferty, 15, shot in the chest, Fianna Éireann (member of OIRA Youth Section)[10]


  • Martin Dudley, shot in the back of the head
  • Brian Petticrew, shot in the arm and the back.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ RTÉ News. "Springhill survivors demand independent inquiry", 2 August 1999; retrieved 22 March 2011
  2. ^ English, Richard (2003). Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. Pan Books. p. 136. ISBN 0-330-49388-4.
  3. ^ 'Looking back on the unsolved case of the Springhill massacre', 'Vice.com', 9 July 2016. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exk7n4/springhill-massacre-44th-anniversary
  4. ^ 'Looking back on the unsolved case of Northern Ireland's Springhill Massacre', 'Vice.com', 9 July 2016. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exk7n4/springhill-massacre-44th-anniversary
  5. ^ 'Springhill Massacre families to relaunch their campaign in fight for truth and justice', 'Belfast Media Group', 19 February 2019. http://belfastmediagroup.com/springhill-massacre-families-to-relaunch-their-campaign-in-fight-for-truth-and-justice/
  6. ^ 'Springhill Massacre' film produced by Springhill residents, published on Youtube 24 November 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDYKQXYCx_M
  7. ^ 'The Springhill Massacre, 1972', 'An Phoblacht', 1 October 2010. https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/317
  8. ^ 'The Springhill Massacre' by Gerry Adams, 28 February 2019. Published on the 'Leargas' website (2019). https://leargas.blogspot.com/2019/02/the-springhill-massacre.html
  9. ^ 'New inquest on 1972 Army killings', 'Belfast Telegraph', 24 December 2014. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/new-inquests-on-1972-army-killings-30861890.html
  10. ^ a b Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 August 2017.

External links[edit]