Estimated reading time — 24 minutes
I’ll start this account by admitting I was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the early 1970’s. I joined as a volunteer in the South Down Brigade in late 1971 and was active along the border up until my arrest and conviction in 1975.
I make no apologies for my involvement in the armed struggle, although I’m not proud of everything I did during that time, and when I look back now, I do question whether all the bloodshed was worth it.
Nevertheless, I’m not here to confess everything I did back in the day. Many of the incidents I was involved in are still technically open investigations, and I have no intention of incriminating myself after the fact. I’m an old man now, and in poor health. I can’t go back to prison at my age and I’m in no condition to go on the run.
Ultimately, I’ve come to terms with most of what I did. It was a war after all. But there is one incident that I cannot forget, an episode that haunts my nightmares to this very day. I’ve decided to tell my story now because I believe the victims should be remembered, and because their families deserve to know the truth. I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to speak out.
Well, I might as well start at the beginning. I grew up in Newry, a medium sized town located in the southern part of County Down, just a few miles north of the British-imposed border in Ireland. Newry was and remains a town with a substantial Catholic and Nationalist majority. Nevertheless, we lived within a Protestant and Unionist dominated statelet and were treated like second class citizens, discriminated against in employment and housing, and kept in our place by the RUC and ‘B’ Specials.
Our family was a poor one. Unemployment was rife in Newry back then and my father – a plasterer by trade – was often out of work. My mother would occasionally hold down cleaning jobs to supplement our meager family income, but otherwise we were dependent on the dole, the pitifully small state benefits paid out to us by the Unionist government.
I grew up with four younger siblings – two brothers and two sisters. I know how tough it was for my parents to pay the rent and keep food on the table. They did their best, but often we would have to go without.
I left school at 15 and soon realised I’d have little prospect of finding steady employment. I managed to get the odd labouring job working alongside my father on building sites. But, when work was slow (and it usually was) I would be standing in the dole queue, alongside most of my friends and contemporaries.
Even so, I wasn’t political at that age and was more interested in drinking with my mates, listening to rock and roll, and chasing girls. But things changed for me during the violent summer of 1969. Our people had been marching for civil rights for about two years by this point. Our protests were peaceful, but the RUC and Protestant extremists tried to beat us off the streets.
The situation came to a head in August ’69 when the police attempted to invade the Bogside area in Derry but were met with a mass uprising by the local people. And then, all hell broke loose on the streets of Belfast, as loyalist mobs burnt hundreds of Catholic families out of their homes, as the RUC looked on.
Soon, the British government sent in their army, deploying troops onto the streets, ostensibly to keep the peace between the warring communities. But, as far as the nationalist community of Newry were concerned, they were an army of occupation, sent over here to keep us rebellious Irish in our place, just as the English have done to us for centuries.
Things escalated over the next two years, as the Brits harassed, arrested, beat, and shot down our people with impunity. In August ’71 they brought in internment without trial, lifting hundreds of Catholic men, most of them being completely innocent. And then in October, three local men were shot down by soldiers in Newry town centre. They were all unarmed.
There was heavy rioting at the men’s funerals, with me and my friends getting beaten by baton-wielding troops. This was the final straw for me. The next day I went out and joined the IRA.
So that’s how I became involved in the armed struggle against British imperialism. Judge me if you will, but those were different times, and I felt fully justified in fighting back. In any event, I’m not intending to go into any details about my activities. Suffice to say, I was very active during 1972, which was the most violent year of the conflict. Back then, my comrades and I truly believed we were on the cusp of victory…that one final push would drive the Brits into the sea. But of course, this didn’t happen, and the violence continued without respite.
The events I will describe here occurred in October 1973. By that time, I was an experienced operative and had risen through the ranks of the movement. Unfortunately, I’d also come to the attention of the RUC’s Special Branch and – by extension – the British military. They knew my name and that I was an active volunteer from the town. They didn’t have enough evidence to convict me in court, but this hardly mattered, since I could be detained indefinitely under the Special Powers Act… if they caught me.
For this reason, I spent much of my time in Dundalk, a town just on the other side of the border and therefore outside of British jurisdiction. This didn’t stop the Brits from harassing my family unfortunately. None of my family members were involved with the IRA, but the crown forces couldn’t get hold of me, so they targeted my loved ones instead.
My family home was raided on a regular basis, with floorboards being torn up, furniture ripped open, and family pictures and religious icons smashed. My brothers were beaten up and lewd comments were directed towards my sisters.
Things took on a more sinister tone when two squaddies left a funeral wreath on my parent’s doorstep. The card attached had my name on it, along with a message reading ‘May He Rest In Pieces’.
The death threat didn’t bother me too much. Whenever I joined the IRA I knew I would be targeted by British agents and their local loyalist proxies. Nevertheless, my mother was very upset by the incident. It broke my heart, but I knew I couldn’t go to see my family until this threat had been lifted. But the Brits’ intimidation of my loved ones only increased my hatred of them, and I vowed to redouble my efforts in targeting the crown forces.
Ambushes and gun battles along the border were regular occurrences back then. However, in October 1973 the brigade command assigned me a special mission in my home town, an operation which they wanted dealt with discreetly.
Before I describe this forgotten incident, I think it’s worth adding some context about what was happening at that time. As the conflict raged on, the North of Ireland was suddenly plagued by rumours of occult practices, witchcraft, and satanic rituals.
As I recall, it began with a story in the press about an alleged animal sacrifice on the Copeland islands, off the coast of the Ards peninsula. There were reports of a clandestine gathering on the island by persons unknown, and several slaughtered sheep were found at the site, supposedly having been sacrificed in a dark ritual of some variety. The details were pretty vague, as tends to be the case in stories such as these.
Some time later, a young boy was brutally murdered in Belfast, his body burnt and dumped into the River Lagan. This was a particularly tragic killing which didn’t appear to be linked to the conflict. Some believed there was a sexual motive to the murder, but others thought the boy had been sacrificed by the same shadowy cult responsible for the Copelands incident.
Well, these rumours continued to spread, with reports of similar incidents and rituals all across the North, including accounts of young people engaging in seances in attempts to contact those killed in the conflict.
The IRA regarded these rumours with a large degree of skepticism. We believed the stories were being deliberately spread by the British in an attempt to weaken our support base. After all, we had all been brought up in the Catholic faith, and many IRA volunteers were still devout, attending mass regularly and reciting the rosary. Many of us struggled to come to terms with the violent acts we committed in the name of freedom when we remembered the teachings of the Church and the Commandments, particularly ‘Thou shalt not kill.’
It would certainly be in the Brits’ interests to encourage the idea that the violence was corrupting the youth and leading them down a path of darkness. They wanted our people to live in fear, to believe that there was something evil occurring behind locked doors, with demons and monsters lurking in the shadows, waiting for their opportunity to strike.
At the time, I didn’t believe a word of it. I considered myself a modern revolutionary, committed to building a new society free from the superstitions and prejudices of the past. And so, when an incident occurred in my home town of Newry, I was keen to lead the IRA’s investigation. I wanted to prove once and for all that this whole thing was a hoax. But what I saw and experienced over those few days in October 1973 changed my understanding of the world in ways I could never have previously imagined.
It all started one autumn night. There’s an old, ruined castle on a hillside overlooking the town. It’s what remains of a fort dating back to Cromwell’s time, and was known locally as ‘Chuckie Eddies’. The Brits spotted a fire up there one night and sent a patrol to investigate. What exactly the Brits found up there remains something of a mystery, and various different stories did the rounds at the time.
What all accounts agree on is that a group of teenagers – probably drunk or on drugs – had slaughtered a goat, hanging its body from a crudely built stand, whilst the teenagers sat in a circle around an open fire, reciting an unknown chant in unison. A teenage girl was said to have drunk a cup of the goat’s blood. Her brother had been killed during a riot the previous year and she believed she could contact his spirit by conducting this bizarre ritual.
Three teenagers were arrested at the scene – the blood drinking girl and two boys. But the Brits released them without charge a couple of days later.
Accounts of the incident soon spread around the town and the story even appeared in the local press. There were however details which the Brits never made public. We heard through our sources how the four soldiers who discovered the gruesome scene were unable to report for duty the next day. They spoke of witnessing something evil on that darkened hillside, an unnatural entity which they could not describe. All four were taken off front line duty and sent for psychological evaluation. One soldier later attempted suicide.
Bizarre and implausible as it was, the incident caused a lot of concern in the local community. Parents refused to allow their children out after dark and people started questioning whether the violence had unleashed a terrible evil upon our people.
News of the event soon reached the IRA Army Council, and they decided to launch their own investigation which I was ordered to lead. The leadership believed the entire incident had been concocted by the Brits in order to undermine our support base. Initially, I tended to agree with their assessment.
Our orders were to pick up the three teenagers and detain them for questioning. I hoped that the kids had been duped or were off their heads on drugs. If it turned out they had knowingly co-operated with the Brits, then that would become a much more serious matter. Either way, we needed to get to the bottom of this and nip the rumours in the bud.
I had two volunteers to assist me on this operation. There was my best mate Mal. We’d gone to school together and joined the IRA at the same time, sticking together through thick and thin. I loved and trusted Mal like he was my own brother.
Also with us was Seamus, 6 foot 2 and built like a brick shithouse. Seamus was one of the toughest individuals I’d ever met and was totally fearless. I once saw him take on an entire British squad with his bare fists. It took six of the bastards to eventually take him down and bundle him into the back of their Saracen APC.
Mal and Seamus were good men and brave volunteers. They both deserved much better than what happened to them. If I knew then how it would turn out I would never have involved my two friends…But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The three of us drove around Newry town, avoiding army patrols and roadblocks as we called on the teenagers and picked them up one by one. Surprisingly, we had few complaints from the families and no resistance whatsoever from the teenagers. For obvious reasons, no-one wants to get picked up and interrogated by the IRA. It usually doesn’t end well for those being questioned. But these kids didn’t seem scared in the slightest. In fact, they showed no emotion at all, and none of the three spoke a single word as we drove them to the safe house on the edge of town and marched them inside.
This was our first indication that something wasn’t right, but things only got more disturbing from this point onward. Now, I’m not going to reveal the names of the three young people. Their families still live in Newry and I want to protect their privacy. And so, for the purposes of this account, I will refer to the boys as Paddy and Mick, and the girl as Mary.
Once we had secured the safe house, we placed Paddy, Mick and Mary in separate bedrooms and began to question them. We got straight down to it, bombarding them with questions about the incident up at the castle – What were they doing there? What did they tell the Brits? And so on. And what did we get from them? Nothing. Not a single word.
All three just stared blankly at us, without a grain of emotion on their faces. It was like they weren’t even there – the lights were on, but nobody was home. I’d never seen anything like it. I’m not sure if any of the three even blinked!
This went on for several hours. Our line of questioning became increasingly aggressive, but it made no difference. At one point, Seamus lost his head and started to slap one of the lads around. He was frustrated by the lack of progress and wanted to get a rise out of the boy.
Seamus hit the lad three or four times before we pulled him away. Now, as I said before, Seamus was a big lad and strong as an ox. When he hit you, you felt it. But not this boy. He barely reacted to the hard slaps and didn’t show any signs of pain or distress. His cheek was bruised and his nose bloody, but he didn’t squeal or flinch. The wee bastard just kept on staring at us blankly, as if to say – ‘is that the best you can do?’.
We decided to call it a night at that point. Clearly, these youngsters were tougher than they looked. We thought perhaps they actually were working for the Brits and had received anti-interrogation training. In any event, we decided to let them stew overnight and start at it again in the morning.
The three of us split up for the night. We didn’t want to risk all of us being arrested together if the Brits raided the house. Mal went home to his family while I traveled to another safe house outside of the town. Seamus volunteered to stay at the house overnight and guard the prisoners. We were a bit worried about leaving him alone with them given what had happened earlier, but Seamus assured us that he’d calmed down and would be fine. He was an experienced volunteer and we trusted him. I remember not sleeping well that night. I couldn’t stop thinking of those creepy kids and their blank expressions as they glared at us in complete silence. I had a bad feeling about the whole situation. Something clearly wasn’t right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
I wasn’t present for the events of the next morning. The Brits had set up roadblocks close to the safe house I was staying and so I needed to stay put until they left the vicinity. I learnt what had happened after speaking with Mal that afternoon and could barely contain my shock and utter dismay.
Mal had arrived at the safe house on time that morning, prepared to relieve Seamus from his guard duties. He arrived to discover a disturbing scene. Seamus was upstairs, standing outside the locked door of the room containing Mary, the girl who’d drunk the goat’s blood. Mal said he could hear the girl whispering softly through the door, while Seamus stood and listened intently.
Mall claimed he couldn’t make out what she was saying, but he told me there was an unsettling tone to the whispering, sinister and almost inhuman. What was most surprising however was Seamus’ behaviour. Mal described the look on our friend’s face – pale white, like he’d seen a ghost. Seamus appeared to be stuck in some sort of trance, and Mal had to physically shake him back to reality.
Mal asked him what the hell was wrong, but Seamus couldn’t answer. He merely muttered something about having to go, and promptly did so, leaving a perplexed Mal on his own. After briefly checking on the prisoners and finding no change, Mal sat downstairs and waited for me to arrive. About two hours later, he received a frantic telephone call from Seamus’ sister. Seamus was dead, and the RUC were in the process of recovering his body from the canal.
We later spoke with several locals who’d been in the vicinity of the canal that morning and had witnessed Seamus’ suicide. They said he acted quickly before anyone could intervene, holding onto a concrete block and simply walking off the edge of the bank. Apparently, he sank straight to the bottom of the canal, making no effort to struggle or prevent himself from drowning. There was nothing anyone could have done.
Mal and I were of course devastated. We’d known Seamus since school and had been through hell and back with him over the previous few years. Neither of us had any inkling he was suicidal, and he’d shown no signs of depression up until that morning. Mal was convinced that the girl had said something to Seamus that made him kill himself. I told him this was bollocks and he needed to get a grip. Our friend’s death was a tragedy, but we were IRA volunteers and still had a job to do.
It took most of the day to deal with the aftermath of Seamus’ tragic death, and so we were unable to recommence our interrogation of the three teenagers. We brought them food and water, but they wouldn’t touch it and didn’t even react to our presence. That night, Mal and I both felt drained and exhausted. We decided that we would both stay at the safe house in case of any further incidents, sleeping on two sofas in the sitting room while the teenagers remained locked in up the stairs.
We settled in for the night and managed to get a couple of hours shut eye, only to be abruptly awoken at around 2am. I woke up first, having been disturbed by a soft whispering coming from upstairs. I froze when I realised it was the girl’s voice. I couldn’t hear the words she spoke, but there was a deeply unsettling tone to the whispers, just at Mal had described.
I feared what would come next but found myself frozen, unable to act. This went on for several moments before there was a sudden crash, followed by the sound of glass shattering. The din awoke Mal, and we both jumped up and piled up the stairs, determined to find out what the hell was going on.
We heard a ruckus emanating from the first bedroom, which held Mick – one of the teenage boys. We unlocked the door and barged inside, only to discover a horrific scene. The bedroom window had been smashed from the inside, allowing the cold night air into the room. Meanwhile, Mick lay on the floor, blood pouring from an open wound in his neck, spraying all over the worn-out carpet.
We quickly concluded that he’d used a shard of broken glass to cut his own throat. Mal and I ran to his side, holding down his thrashing body as we tried desperately to stop the bleeding, but it was already too late, and Mick bled to death within a matter of seconds. It was a terrible way to go, but, when I looked into Mick’s eyes in his last moment, I saw no pain or fear. In fact, he looked at peace.
Mal and I were deeply disturbed by what we’d just witnessed, but we quickly regained some level of composure and went to check on the other prisoners. We opened the door to Paddy’s room next, discovering his lifeless body hanging from the ceiling. The boy had fashioned a noose from electrical wiring he’d pulled from the walls, using it to hang himself. We quickly cut him down but once again we were too late. Paddy was no longer breathing.
Two suicides, both occurring simultaneously. It made no sense, but the facts were undeniable. Mick and Paddy were both dead. We checked on Mary next, expecting the worst when we unlocked the door and sheepishly entered her room. Nothing could have prepared Mal and I for what we discovered inside.
Mary was standing in the middle of the darkened room, directly facing the doorway. It was as if she was waiting for us to come to her. She stood with her hands by her side, and I noticed her nails were bloodied, with deep scratches visible on her arms and legs, as if she’d been trying to claw at something crawling underneath her skin.
Her dark, straggly hair hung loose over her face, and beneath it lay a smile as wicked as anything I’ve ever witnessed, and eyes wild with menace and hatred. I didn’t think this was Mary anymore. The teenage girl had been transformed into something monstrous, her innocence drained and replaced by pure evil.
I stood frozen to the spot, unable to avert my gaze. But Mal reacted angrily, pushing me aside and striking out at Mary, punching her hard across the face.
“You bloody bitch! You did this! You killed Seamus and those boys!”
Mary barely reacted to the punch. She merely lifted her head back up, looking Mal straight in the eye as her grin widened. And then, she began to laugh – her mouth emitting a cruel, sadistic and guttural laughter that was painful to hear.
Mal completely lost the plot at this stage. He screamed manically in a futile attempt to drown out the wicked laughter.
“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
He lashed out, attempting to strike the girl again, but this time she fought back, hurtling herself forward and physically biting Mal’s hand, her teeth burrowing deep into his flesh. Mal screamed out in agony, prompting me to finally intervene.
I darted forward, shoving Mary – or whatever she now was – back into the corner of the room, whilst simultaneously dragging the wounded Mal out through the doorway before slamming the door shut and locking it.
We retreated down the stairs, Mal clutching hold of his bleeding hand, and all the time the God-awful laughter continued, mocking us as we fled in defeat from the horrific scene.
We went to a sympathetic local doctor to get Mal’s hand stitched up and bandaged. After which, we worked up the courage to return to the safe house, knowing we needed to deal with the two dead teenage boys.
I won’t go into details here, but Paddy and Mick’s bodies were removed from the house and ultimately returned to their respective families for a proper burial. I expected recriminations and anger from the parents and so was surprised by their reactions. Both sets of parents were of course devastated, but they seemed resigned to their sons’ tragic fates. I later spoke with Paddy’s mother and she told me she knew they had lost their son already, that something evil had taken his soul that night at the castle, and so the death of his physical body came as something of a relief, as at least now he was at peace.
In any event, we still had the dilemma of what to do with Mary. She had calmed down somewhat after the earlier incident, and thankfully her sadistic mirth had stopped. Mal and I discussed our next move and we agreed to do something which would have been unthinkable just a couple of days before. We called in a priest.
This decision wasn’t taken likely. Apart from anything else, we were reluctant to bring an outsider into this already fucked up situation. Nevertheless, we knew we were way out of our depth and had no rational explanation for the occurrences of the last few days. Also, we held out a slim hope that Mary could still be saved – that whatever evil entity which had possessed her could be exorcised, and her soul restored.
The priest we reached out to was sympathetic to our cause, and – if rumours were to be believed – had dealt with similar incidences of witchcraft and demonic possession in the past. I won’t name him here, but this priest was a grizzled veteran of the Church, a devout and fearless servant of God.
He came out the next evening, equipped with a personalised exorcism kit he carried in a leather briefcase. He spoke with us for a time as we described the events of the previous few days. The father seemed confident as he ascended the staircase with his bible, crucifix and briefcase in hand.
We offered to accompany him into the room, but the priest insisted he would be safe, as God would be by his side. We didn’t argue, assuming the old man knew his business. And neither Mal nor I were in a hurry to step back inside of that room.
We remained downstairs and listened in silence as the priest unlocked the bedroom door and stepped inside. We heard him speaking for several minutes, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and reading verses of scripture. After a while, his volume decreased, and we could no longer hear his words. And then, Mary replied. We heard the same soft whispering as before, inaudible to us but laced with a sinister undertone.
Immediately, I feared the worst, remembering what had happened to Seamus and the boys. I stood up and prepared to intervene, but Mal held me back, telling me to wait and to let the father do his holy work. I should have listened to my first instincts.
A few tension-filled minutes later, all went silent, and then we heard the door open and a figure walk out, closing the door behind them. I shot up from my chair and saw the priest slowly walking down the staircase. It looked like all the blood had been drained from his face, and his hands shook ever so slightly as he grasped hold of the banister.
“Father, are you alright?” I called out in concern.
He didn’t answer and didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Instead, he pushed past me and Mal and slowly made his way to the small kitchen. Mal and I followed, trying in vain to get his attention. He made his way to the kitchen drawer and removed a fork. Before either of us could react, he raised the fork and violently stabbed it through his right eye.
“Jesus Christ!” I screamed, as I darted forward to intervene. But, before I could, the priest had repeated the savage act of self-mutilation, jamming the fork into his left eye socket, blinding himself in the most horrific way possible. He didn’t scream or cry out, didn’t even flinch. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
The next few minutes passed by in pandemonium, as Mal and I frantically tried to stop the bleeding, while all the time we could hear the familiar sadistic laughter coming from up the stairs.
I never learnt what exactly occurred between the priest and ‘Mary’ during their time alone in that room. For many years, I did feel guilty about involving the priest and for what subsequently happened to him. He was retired from the priesthood after that ugly incident and was sent to live out the rest of his days in a Church-run institution located in a remote part of the country.
Needless to say, the damage to his eyes was so severe that he was permanently blinded. It was some years later before I worked up the courage to visit him. After the pleasantries were out of the way, I asked him what happened that night, hoping to gain some insight into those horrific events.
The old priest didn’t answer me directly, but he did say this – “My son, don’t you know it’s a cardinal sin to take one’s own life? If I was not a holy man, I would have taken a knife from that drawer and cut my throat. But let me tell you son, if you had seen what I saw that night when I stared into that creature’s eyes, you would have done the same. The horrors she showed me were never meant for mortal eyes.”
I shuddered at hearing those words and asked no more questions.
In any event, on that night we managed to save the priest’s life and got a neighbour to drive him to hospital. And so, once again, Mal and myself were left holding the bag, and we needed to make a decision. We decided in that moment that Mary was gone for good, and whatever evil had overtaken her body would not stop spreading pain, misery and death. There was really only one option left to us. We needed to kill this monster.
Mal and I vowed to carry out the killing that very night. We knew there would be repercussions for going against our orders, but we no longer cared. The two of us went to a nearby arms dump where we recovered two loaded handguns. I took a 38 special revolver and Mal armed himself with a Colt 45 pistol.
I vividly remember creeping up the stairs of the safe house with our guns in hand. We moved quietly, fearing the entity locked upstairs would realise our malicious intentions. I recall how nervous Mal appeared, his bandaged hand shaking almost uncontrollably. Looking back, I should have sent him home and dealt with the situation myself, although given all Mal had been through, I doubt he would have obeyed such an order.
His hand continued to shake as he reached for the doorknob and turned. At the same time, I kicked the door open and we both rushed forward, fully prepared to pump Mary’s possessed body full of lead. But we were both frozen in shock by what we saw.
Mary – or whatever she’d turned into – was hanging from the ceiling. Her fingernails had become sharp talons, and she’d used them to dig into the plaster, allowing her to hang upside down like a bat in a cave. Her neck was bent back in a way that shouldn’t have been physically possible, and she glared down at us with inhuman eyes that were now entirely black. And she was still smiling, her mouth now filled with razor sharp teeth, like those of a crocodile.
“Jesus!” I swore aloud.
I was simultaneously awestruck and terrified. Never in my wildest nightmares had I imagined such a monster could exist. We were both frozen in fear, and our hesitancy allowed the creature ample opportunity to strike first.
She (or it) shrieked loudly and pounced, slashing out with its claws and knocking both Mal and I off our feet with an immense force. The creature had escaped its prison, and it wasted no time in tearing down the staircase at incredible speed.
I got back on my feet quickly, picking up my revolver and firing down the staircase. But I missed, and suddenly the monster had smashed through the front door and ran out onto the street.
Mall pushed past me, sprinting down the stairs and out the door.
“We’ve got to stop that bitch!” he cried.
I called out after my friend, telling him to stop. But he wouldn’t listen. And besides, I knew he was right. We couldn’t let his hideous creature escape into our community.
So, I ran after Mal, trying to keep up, but without much success. Mal had been a track runner in school and so he was considerably faster than me. We tore through the maze of back streets during the desperate chase. I lost sight of Mary but could still hear her demonic laughter reverberating through the concrete jungle.
Suddenly, we exited the estate and ran out onto open ground close to the town centre. I could see Mal running in front of me, but then I spotted several figures approaching from our left-hand side. I turned my head and was horrified to see a patrol of British soldiers, all armed with either rifles or sub-machineguns.
The Brit commander quickly spotted Mal, raising his SLR and screaming – “Halt! Drop your gun you Mick bastard!”
Mal stopped abruptly, turning to face the British officer. I don’t know what went through my friend’s head in that final moment. Perhaps he was still pumped up with adrenaline after the chase, or maybe his heart was filled with a reckless defiance. In any event, he showed no fear when he raised his handgun and aimed towards the enemy.
But the Brit had the drop on him, firing a single round from his SLR which tore through Mal’s chest. The whole world seemed to slow down as I looked on in impotent horror, watching as my lifelong friend fell dead in the middle of the street.
I screamed out in grief, unwittingly revealing my presence to the enemy. A second soldier opened fire on me, spraying rounds from his Sterling sub-machinegun. Bullets hit the ground just inches from my feet, forcing me into action. I fired a couple of shots from my revolver to cover my retreat, and I frantically sprinted back towards the housing estate.
Somehow, I made it to cover under a hail of bullets, and I escaped into the labyrinth of back streets, eventually finding sanctuary in the house of a sympathiser. And, all the time, between the gunshots and shouting Brits, I could hear the cruel mocking laughter of Mary, cutting through the cold night air.
The next day the Brits released a statement to the press, saying the IRA had unsuccessfully attempted to ambush one of their patrols in Newry, with one gunman killed at the scene, while a second escaped and remained at large. The IRA soon released their own statement, effectively saying the same thing.
The cover story made no sense. We would never have sent two men armed only with handguns to take on a larger and much better armed enemy formation. But it was a convenient lie that suited both sides to maintain. Nobody wanted to admit the truth of what really happened.
Mal received a full IRA funeral with all the trappings, including a military parade through the town and a firing party over his graveside. I couldn’t meet the eyes of his family during the proceedings. The guilt I carried was too great.
And, what about Mary? Well, she is still officially listed as a missing person to this day. Its widely believed that the IRA executed her and buried her body at a secret location. But this isn’t what happened. Over the years I’ve heard rumours and whispered stories of a young girl with black eyes who would sporadically pop up in small villages and isolated farms along the border, terrorising the local population.
It was said she would appear on your doorstep in the dead of night, her cruel laughter filling the air. Those who saw her were said to be cursed, with bad fortune coming to them or their families, Also, there were said to be spates of suicides in areas where sightings were reported.
As for me, after a tough debriefing from the IRA’s internal security unit, I was allowed to return to active service. I tried to put the ugly incident behind me but could not, and I was never as committed to the cause after that point. I got sloppy, and eventually the Brits caught up with me, arresting me with a car full of explosives and ammunition during the spring of 1975.
I was sentenced to 10 years for membership of an illegal organisation and intent to endanger life. I did my time in Long Kesh, going ‘on the blanket’ with my fellow republican prisoners in an attempt to gain political status. I saw ten of my comrades die on hunger strike during our stand-off with Thatcher’s government.
I got released in the mid-1980’s. The conflict was still going on, but the IRA leadership were satisfied that I’d done my bit for the cause, and so I was allowed to retire into relative obscurity. I saw my release as a second chance at life, one I intended to grasp with both hands. I met a girl and fell in love – marrying her and starting a family. Work was hard to come by given my status as an ex-prisoner, but I got by with odd building jobs and driving a taxi.
A few years later, the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries declared ceasefires and entered into peace talks. I supported the Good Friday Agreement when it was signed. It didn’t deliver what I’d fought for and my comrades had died for – not even close. Nevertheless, times had moved on, and I didn’t want my children growing up with the violence I’d seen. They deserved so much better.
Well, like I said, I knew I needed to tell the truth of what happened back in ’73, if only for the sake of the families. But there’s another reason too – namely, what happened to me six months ago.
I was out shopping in a supermarket in the town, picking up some sweets for my grandkids – I always like to spoil them when they come to visit. It was quiet at the time and so I had the aisle to myself, or so I thought.
I remember seeing a figure out of the corner of my eye and immediately I felt a cold chill running up my spine, and all my hairs stood up on end. I slowly turned my head and looked down the aisle, and the dread overcame me.
It was her – Mary, in her demonic form, with dark black eyes and a ghostly white skin. She hadn’t aged a day in 45 years. I stood frozen in fear, as helpless as a deer caught in headlights. And then she smiled, the same hideous grin from all those years ago, bringing back a flood of horrific memories.
I knew what was coming next. The laugh – cruel, mocking and sadistic, and every bit as horrifying as all those years ago.
Suddenly, I felt a tightness in my chest and a shooting pain in my arm. I couldn’t breathe or stand on my own two feet, and I found myself falling as the world went black. I could still hear her hateful mirth as I drifted out of consciousness.
Evidently, I suffered a major heart attack but survived. I’m currently on the waiting list for bypass surgery. I don’t know whether I’ll be around for much longer, and so I’m telling my story while I still can.
That monster is still out there. It feeds on misery, pain and suffering, and – given the way the world is going – it’s only going to get stronger. I’m too old and weak to continue the fight, and so someone else needs to take up the mantle. We need to stop this evil, before it’s too late.
Credit : Finn MacCool
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