It should have been a normal Sunday morning. The sun was shimmering through a partially open unlined set of curtains allowing the room to be filled with warm shards of light. But today was different. Different and life changing. My name is Shane, I am a retired former principal of two post primary schools here in Northern Ireland. Just for clarification, I do not say that out of any sense of superiority or to try to elevate my status in any shape or fashion. I say it because it is important to know that I am the evidence that the trauma and grief experienced as a result of the loss of a loved one through criminal terrorist actions is no respecter of social or employment status or indeed personal economic viability. Position and status are irrelevant in the context of the events of 16th July 1972. I am through no fault of my own inexorably and inextricably linked to the conflict we often refer to as the troubles. Like so many others who have hitherto remained silent, I am a victim by default. Today I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about a year and a date which no doubt will mean very little to most of you. In fact none of you were even born in 1972 and therefore you are probably unaware that 1972 was the worst year for killings during the whole of the troubles in Northern Ireland. In total, 3,531 people were killed in northern Ireland between 1969 and 2001. But 1972 was the worst year by far in terms of fatalities. Of the 497 people killed, over half were civilians. The deaths were also concentrated on certain hotspots. 40% of deaths that year occurred in the greater Belfast area and of those, 75% occurred in west and north Belfast. My brother Robert was just one of them! I was 10 years old. Robert was 18 ..really just out of what we might consider childhood. Robert had left his apprenticeship with Monsanto in coleraine to pursue his passion for policing. He joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He was proud and as his little brother and youngest of our family of seven I was also proud. Robert was only a rookie, just out of the training depot in Enniskillen. At 12.03am on July 16th Robert was technically just off duty. However An emergency call to his station, a call for help from a member of the public in an exclusively nationalist area of north Belfast required the immediate attention of the police. Operational requirements meant that three police officers were needed in each patrol car and as there were only two available on this occasion, my brother eagerly jumped into the back seat. He was needed by someone and it was his job to go and help. Five minutes later he was fatally shot by terrorists hiding in a hedgerow in what was a planned ambush! I do not want to dwell on the impact and effects his death had upon my widowed mother and my other family members .. suffice to say it was a life changing moment for all of us and not least for our mother and provider! Life was different from that moment on for me. Our home was harassed. New security measures were required. I was regularly physically targeted.. you may call it bullying! My early education suffered. Choice of schools was limited. Participation in sport curtailed due to my mothers trauma. Career choice restricted. I could go on. The strong Christian Faith of my mother had a massive impact on our family. We were consistently reminded to love our neighbour even those that hurt you or offend you. We were reminded that Jesus Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice for us and we should take our lead from the love he showed. The lessons from my early childhood and upbringing stood me in good stead. I became deeply interested in community relations and decided that as a part of my teaching career education for mutual understanding and building cross community relations would be part of my studies and my focus. Later when I became principal of my own schools I considered it paramount to establish relations between my schools and those considered to be more nationalist in their approach. I am proud to say that through the sharing education programme I was able to sign off on a shared education campus amounting to over £8million pounds in the town of Limavady where that groundwork is ongoing and helping to create a better understanding of the differences which we can celebrate and not feel threatened by. I am happy to commend the work and support which I have only recently received from SEFF in relation to the trauma I have suffered through my brothers tragic death and to declare that his sacrifice does not define who I am today, and more significantly to declare that the silent voices of many thousands of people, whose stories until now have remained untold must be heard, and that they should not be confined to the dustbin of rewritten histories and the narratives of terrorists and their latter day apologists. I would like to conclude by sharing two poems with you: the first is based on a murder of an off duty soldier and the children caught up in the attack: and the second is for my brother Robert;
Delivering Shadows 28th Jan 2018
It was a December day
Bright, but a cold northwesterly breeze
Delivered it’s icy blast.
Two kids in t shirts played kerby,
Oblivious to their goose pimpled forearms
And, the darkly clad figure hurrying past.
Milk bottles clinked on their concrete resting place,
Delivered diligently, daily,
As midday sunlight cast
A good delivery,
And the heavy leather ball
Rebounded, for another score.
None of them heard the deafening cracks
Of the automatic rifle
Making its own despicable despotic
Delivery of death..
No more milk today
From part time Tommy,
And air gurgled from the leather ball
And blood filled lungs
As from this life he passed.
Two kids lay on the road,
Oblivious to their goose pimpled forearms,
And the darkly clad figure,
The rotten fruits,of his ill gotten labour.
Now casting their own tragic deathly shadows.
Poem Forget me not !
Robert David LavertyR.U.C, murdered 16th July1972 aged 18 years ….Forget Me Not.
Forget me not
I didn’t choose to die at eighteen years
My time was chosen for me
Not for me some grandiose battle plan fought out o’er foreign fields.
I did not go to war
Nor to defend some great ideal…
I just went to work in a bitter urban landscape.
There were many good people…
But the cowards sought me out
Lurking in the darkness they carried out their poor misguided act,
Another piece in the endgame jigsaw ..or so they thought .
‘’Ourselves alone’’ this puzzle will never be complete,
For there are no straight edges
And over three thousand pieces are missing.
Forget me not.
My hour of darkness came in a blinding flash.
Was there time for pain or perhaps a solitary tear?
No time for last goodbyes.
Where is my mothers hand?
My brothers loving eyes?
My sisters caring smile?
For I cannot pass this way again and memories are all you can have.
Unlike those who put me here
Was it I who broke the law or they?
Yet they live to fight another day.
Don’t grieve for me.
For at the outset my time was chosen
But not by the ‘’brave men’’of darkness who shot and ran,
By the Creator of all men, before whom all men unjustified
Will stand in final judgement.
Until That Day Forget Me Not
Remember My sacrifice