Tragedy of young lives cut short by Troubles

The writers of a new book about the youngest Troubles victims attempted to speak to the families of all 186 children killed during the conflict.

Friday, 1st November 2019, 10:16 am
Joe Duffy pictured at Easons in O'Connell Street Dublin at the launch of the book Children of the Troubles which he co wrote with Freya McClements (centre). The book was launched by Mary McAleese (right). Pic by Brian McEvoy

Journalist Freya McClements, the joint author of ‘Children of the Troubles’ along with broadcaster Joe Duffy, said: “One of the big decisions that we made early on was to try to make contact with the families of every child who was killed during the Troubles.

“I don’t think we realised quite how big a job that was going to be but it was important that we did. The book is ultimately about acknowledgment, about remembrance.

“There are family members who have never spoken before. This isn’t a newspaper interview, it’s something for posterity, in a sense setting the record straight.”

The cover of the new book

The book is based on original interviews with nearly 100 families as well as extensive archival research.

Freya, who is originally from Castlerock and is the northern correspondent with The Irish Times, said: “There were all these children in the book who wanted to be footballers or surgeons or architects or doctors or pop stars. We don’t know what they might have gone on to be.

“I still find it at times quite hard to read because you feel like you’ve got to know all of these children, you’ve certainly got to know their families.”

She continued: “We made the decision with every child that we would start with something personal about them.”

Freya gives the example of William Temple, a 16-year-old from Donemana, who was one of the three children killed in the 1972 Claudy bomb.

The extract on William begins: “William Temple loved life. ‘He enjoyed the craic’ says his brother David. ‘He was a good man to have in a crowd because he was a good mixer, he could chat to everybody. He would have walked into a room and got on with any conversation, that was the kind of person he was’.”

Freya said: “Immmediately you start to have a picture of the person rather than the incident in which he was killed.”

She told of a poignant moment she shared with Martin McGavigan, the brother of 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, who was shot and killed by the Army during rioting in Londonderry in 1971.

Freya said: “He brought Annette’s clothes she was wearing when she was shot, her exercise books and her little stuffed toys down from the attic and we laid them out on the sofa. This was in the family home where Annette grew up.

“Martin pointed out to a wall in the back yard where Annette would sit. He said, ‘I still look out and I can see her sitting on that wall’. For a moment it was like she was there.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t affected by these stories. You feel really sad at times, but you also feel angry. Angry that any of this happened, that any of these children’s lives were lost.”

A documentary based on the book will be broadcast on RTE One on Monday night at 9.35pm.