The Irish Times view on child victims of the Troubles: never again

The stories of the dead and traumatised children bring home the importance of avoiding a return to violence

Maureen Rafferty, whose son   Philip was abducted by a UFF gang in January 1973 as he made his way to band practice. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Maureen Rafferty, whose son Philip was abducted by a UFF gang in January 1973 as he made his way to band practice. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

 

The horror and pointlessness of the violence which disfigured Northern Ireland for so long is captured vividly in a new book, Children of the Troubles, by Irish Times journalist Freya McClements and RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy, an extract from which appears in today’s Irish Times.

At least 186 children aged 16 or under lost their lives in the Troubles, yet their stories have remained largely unknown. Thousands more children had their lives blighted by the violent death of a parent or loved one while countless others were deprived of normal childhoods by living in constant fear of violence and death.

The stories of the dead and traumatised children bring home just how important it is that everything possible is done to ensure no return to the violence of the past

One of the heartbreaking stories in the book is the account of how 14-year-old Philip Rafferty left his home in west Belfast to go to band practice one night in 1973. His mother, Maureen, made sure he was wearing his new winter coat, but the next time she saw it was in a plastic bag at his inquest, saturated with blood. On January 30th, 1973, Philip was on his way home when he was abducted by loyalist paramilitaries. He was taken to the Giant’s Ring, outside Belfast, where they hooded him with his coat, beat him and then shot him several times.

Maureen Rafferty is now in her 80s. Her other children all live in England, encouraged by her to leave Belfast so they would be safe. When she goes into Belfast city centre to shop today, she is struck by the fact that many visitors to the city go on the Troubles tours which gives them a small taste of what went on there in the past.

The impact on so many children who lived through those dreadful times is highlighted by Seamus Mallon. He recalled teaching English at St Catherine’s College, a girls’ school in Armagh, during the 1970s where he had one small class in which every one of the girls had somebody belonging to them killed. The stories of the dead and traumatised children bring home in a way no political argument can just how important it is that whatever happens in the Brexit saga, everything possible is done to ensure no return to the violence of the past.

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