Life

Wednesday 13 November 2019

'I was an alcoholic for 10 years, blaming myself for her death' - Retired builder (69) discovered his sister's body on the floor

A family photo that features Anthony O'Reilly (second left), his sister Geraldine (standing on the table)
A family photo that features Anthony O'Reilly (second left), his sister Geraldine (standing on the table)
Geraldine O'Reilly

Claire Mcneilly

"I still see her lying dead on the ground. I knew her by her clothes. That's the image that always comes to me when I think of her."

It's almost 46 years since Anthony O'Reilly lost his 15-year-old sister Geraldine in the Belturbet bombing in Cavan on December 28, 1972, but to him "it still seems like yesterday".

He was 22 when his sister, the youngest of eight, was murdered when a car bomb planted by loyalist terrorists exploded on the main street in the Co Cavan border town.

Another teenager, Paddy Stanley (16) from Co Offaly, died in the blast, believed to have been carried out by the UVF, with eight others seriously injured.

Mr O'Reilly said: "Geraldine was standing at the counter waiting to pay for a bag of chips when the bomb went off.

"The chip shop we normally went to at the top of the town wasn't open that night so that's how we ended up at the one in the centre of town.

"I was double-parked, waiting in the car. The next minute cars were on fire.

"I didn't know what had happened. I didn't hear the bomb."

Mr O'Reilly (69), a retired builder, recalled how he had to identify Geraldine's body on the chip shop floor by torchlight.

"Last thing at night and first thing in the morning, that image still comes back to me. It's not something you get over," he said.

Prior to the bomb attack Anthony had given a lift home to another sister Frances and her husband, leaving them feeling guilty over their baby sister's death.

"I blamed myself and Frances blamed herself too," he said.

"I've managed to get over that a bit as the years have gone by, but I turned into an alcoholic for about 10 years."

Mr O'Reilly recalled how wife Marie (68) saved him from the drink.

He said: "If it hadn't been for my wife I probably would have sold everything and drank it but I quit drinking, went to AA and I haven't touched alcohol for 15 years."

The Northern Ireland Office has asked for views on how a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) - which would have a caseload of about 1,700 Troubles-related deaths and aim to complete its work in five years - would operate.

But the O'Reilly family will be excluded from the process because Geraldine's murder took place in the Republic.

He said it's not fair that his family doesn't have access to the HIU, adding: "I'm not happy. We should have the same rights as people in Northern Ireland."

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said there were 115 Troubles-related deaths in the Republic, with at least 87 of the victims not involved in terrorist organisations, while "between 540 and 550 murders committed along the borderlands were of a cross-border nature".

"The failure to propose a comparable unit in the Republic to the HIU and to not even yet have a set-aside legacy unit within An Garda Siochana illustrates how serious that State is about dealing conclusively with these issues," he said.

Mr Donaldson said that innocent victims in the Republic have been denied truth and accountability redress and have been prevented from obtaining practical support enjoyed by their northern counterparts.

"The reality is that the Republic of Ireland is in breach of Article 2 requirements as per the European Convention on Human Rights and there has been a muted response from that State as to how it proposes to address those deficiencies."

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