‘He pointed his rifle at me and asked me my name’
An ‘Irish Times’ report from 1977 has helped confirm that two trainee teachers were not to blame for the Belfast shootings in which one of them died
Victim: trainee teacher Patrick Magee
The 6pm angelus bell was ringing at St Peter’s Cathedral in west Belfast when the British army fired on Frank McGuinness and his friend Patrick Magee, who died in the attack.
McGuinness, a former head of Trócaire in Northern Ireland, will be on O’Connell Street in Dublin this afternoon for a vigil aimed at pressurising the Irish and British governments to do something about the North’s past, such as implementing the stalled Haass proposals.
Today he’ll particularly recall April 17th, 1972. Two days earlier Joe McCann, an Official IRA leader, had been shot dead in the Markets area of Belfast. On April 16th the Official IRA killed Lieut Nicholas Hull of the Royal Anglian Regiment in revenge.
On the evening of April 17th there were no buses in central Belfast because of rioting and shooting. McGuinness and Magee, 20-year-old trainee teachers at St Joseph’s College, had been in the city centre and were trying to make it back to McGuinness’s home, skirting the danger zones.
The two were on Divis Street, heading towards Falls Road; shooting began as they neared St Comgall’s School. McGuinness and Magee took cover there, not realising the shooting was coming directly at them from a British army post on Percy Street.
They threw themselves on the steps of the school, and almost immediately Magee was hit. McGuinness was wounded a short time later. “The shooting became so frightening that I cried out aloud, ‘Mother of Perpetual Succour, stop this shooting,’ ” McGuinness says “I tried to say prayers for the dying, for both Patrick and myself.”
Eventually, some people came to his aid, and medical assistance was called. Two ambulances arrived, one for him, one for Magee. But the drama wasn’t over. McGuinness recalls a paratrooper opening the back door of his ambulance. (McGuinness suspects the fatal shots may have been fired by a member of the Parachute Regiment, which was also active in the area.)
“He pointed his rifle at me, cocked it and then asked me my name. He told me that I was the unlucky one, that I should have been f***ing shot dead too. I invited the soldier to shoot me too, since he had plenty of practice killing innocent people in Derry [on Bloody Sunday]. He walked away. Only at that point did I realise that it had been the British army who had shot us.”
The army directed that the ambulances be driven across the peaceline into Beverley Street. “A loyalist crowd mobbed the ambulance and tried to overturn it . . . But then when Patrick’s ambulance arrived the crowd, which by now was hysterical, opened the back doors of Patrick’s ambulance as well and pulled Patrick’s remains out on to the street. We could see a clergyman in a dog collar remonstrating and fighting with the crowd. I was terrified.”