The Daily Telegraph
A widow’s story
‘My husband was murdered by the IRA’
On May 17 1991, my husband Dougie was murdered by the IRA. He was just 41 years old, a father of three whose only crime had been to serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment and work parttime as a reservist in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
His employment meant he was always under threat, and just months before he was killed, our neighbour Cullen Stephenson, a retired police officer, was shot dead outside his home. We heard the gunshots from our dining room and the RUC security forces urged us to move house, because Dougie’s job had made him a target. Weeks later, we uprooted our family from Brookeborough to the next town in County Fermanagh, Lisbellaw.
Three months later Dougie was killed by an under-car booby trap. It happened on a Friday lunchtime when I was at work and both our teenage sons were at school. Our 10-year-old daughter Angela, who was feeling unwell and spending the day nearby at her aunt’s house, was the last person to see him. He had dropped her off and she still remembers how he cheerily gestured to her through the window, to say he would be back soon to pick her up.
His car exploded as he reversed it in the driveway of our home. By the time he was taken to the nearest hospital, he was dead. I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw the police officers who had come to talk to me. But it wasn’t until I saw the expression on the sergeant’s face that I knew the worst had happened: they had come to tell me that I would never see my husband again. The man I had loved for more than 15 years was gone, leaving me a 34-year-old widow with three children to bring up.
Today, more than 25 years have passed, and I still miss everything about Dougie. When I heard of Martin McGuinness’s death this week, I was struck by the same overwhelming grief and raw anger that I felt all those years ago. McGuinness, a former highranking officer in the provisional IRA – the organisation that murdered my husband – died at the age of 66. It is the exact age that Dougie would have been today had he not been ripped from our lives.
I would never take any pleasure in anyone’s death, but it is undeniable that he has had a long, fulfilled life compared with my husband and the many, many others. Unlike these men, McGuinness raised a family, saw his children marry, and had the chance to spend time with his grandchildren.
His wife Bernadette outlives him, but the obituaries got it wrong saying he left behind a widow. He left behind hundreds of us – mothers and wives who never had the opportunity to bring up our children alongside our
McGuinness died at 66, the exact age Dougie would have been today
husbands; there are children whose only memories of their fathers are from faded childhood photographs, and there are parents who have been forced to deal with the unnatural tragedy of losing their offspring. Because the IRA didn’t just murder adults, they took the lives of children, too.
This week, all of those who lost their loved ones at the hands of the IRA will be feeling the effects of McGuinness’s death. Those who suspect that he was directly involved with the deaths of their relatives will have watched all the pomp and ceremony of his funeral attended by high-profile figures such as Bill Clinton and Alastair Campbell.
McGuinness could never take back the past, but he could have helped alleviate the pain of dozens of families by sharing the information he knew; but those secrets have gone to his grave now. He stayed silent, and left widows like me waiting for justice that looks increasingly unlikely to appear.
No one has ever been truly punished for Dougie’s murder. Three men were said to be responsible, but two of these are said to still be “on the run”, while a third was arrested, only to be released early under the Good Friday Agreement, which McGuinness helped to broker. It means the only people serving a life sentence for Dougie’s murder are me and our children.
The atrocities of the Troubles have not ever been forgotten and many of us have been forced to confront difficult memories. Many widows like myself feel that our own personal tragedies are glossed over in the public eye.
I will never forget having to tell the children that their daddy was dead. They were taken out of school to go to their aunt’s, and all they knew was their daddy had been injured. I had to rush home from the hospital to tell them he wasn’t coming back. It was horrific. I still remember their little faces looking at me that day. As a mother, you try and protect your children from the worst, but I hadn’t been able to stop their daddy from being killed.
The years after Dougie’s death were difficult. Angela had been a daddy’s girl, while Andrew was just 13 and Derek 14 when he died, young boys just starting their teenage years. There were times when I needed help to guide them as they grew up into men.
I made sure they knew not to be bitter or seek retaliation for their father’s death, and I was lucky because none of them ever rebelled the way other teenagers did. If anything, they did what their dad had always wanted for them; to work hard at school and go to university. They threw themselves into school and sports, and dealt with their grief so quietly that at times I worried that there should have been more stomping around. Looking back, I think they were trying to protect me.
The only people serving a life sentence for his murder are me and our children
I had always been the homemaker and had only just taken on a part-time job when Dougie died. Their father was the main breadwinner, and the head of the house in every sense. I really struggled on an emotional and practical level. It was all so new to me; I hardly knew how to set the fire, let alone look after the finances.
No matter how much we try to move on from the past, it is still there. Every time a grandchild is born, or there’s a special event, I can’t help but think how proud Dougie would have been. Our children have gone on to do incredibly well – Andrew is an orthopaedic consultant, Derek is an engineer and Angela is a GP. All have married, and between them, have given me seven lovely grandchildren – two of whom are named after the grandfather they never met.
Yet for all their successes, it hasn’t always been easy. At every stage, from birthdays to graduations and weddings, I wished he was there. I have never remarried, and we have all made sure that the children know about granddad and visit his grave. It’s important they know about the man behind the tragedy – the easygoing, affable father who came home whistling, and swept me off my feet back in 1975. No matter what, he will never be forgotten, and nor should all the widows that McGuinness and the IRA have left behind. As told to Radhika Sanghani