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‘Nobody knows my Philip’s name’: Telling the stories of the Children of the Troubles

A new book by Joe Duffy and Freya McClements seeks to tell those 186 stories.

Tony Diamond (12) was shot and killed accidentally while playing with a gun.
Tony Diamond (12) was shot and killed accidentally while playing with a gun.

AS JOE DUFFY describes the research that went into his new book Children of the Troubles, he explains a tragic problem he encountered when writing his previous one.

In 2015, the broadcaster wrote Children of the Rising and discovered how difficult it is to find details about children who died 100 years ago. 

“Children don’t have children. Children don’t have direct descendants,” he says. 

“Of course, their parents or siblings will never forget them as long as they live, but they don’t have the direct connection to the present.”

Duffy said it was this that made it clear to him that now was the time to write a similar book about The Troubles, remembering all of the children who died in the violence before their 17th birthday.

The result is an at-times upsetting but always fitting tribute to the 186 children that were killed.

The book does not hold back in describing the violent circumstances of the children’s deaths, but is also tries to paint a picture of how they lived during their short years. 

“He would always buy my mother a bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream, he called
it her dark secret,’ Daniel Hegarty’s sister Kathleen told Duffy and the book’s co-author Freya McClements. 

Daniel Hegarty, from Creggan in Derry, was 15 when he was shot twice in the head by a British soldier in 1972. 

The book has many moments like that, when it allows you to connect with the innocence of a young child before abruptly reminding you how that innocence was silenced. 

McClements, who is the Irish Times’ Northern Correspondent, was brought into the project by Duffy when he initially conceived the idea as a documentary. 

In the end, both the book and a documentary were produced.  

McClements says the pair complemented each other really well.

Obviously he’d done this before with Children of the Rising. But also I’m from the north, I work there day-to-day and would be kind of used to, not just interviewing families and how to go about that, but also just being familiar with a lot of the background. Because there’s some of the stories, most of them the children, I would have reported on as well.  

PastedImage-34210 The cover of the book.

Duffy says that when funding for the documentary was knocked back by the BAI he pitched to McClements that they push on.

I said ‘Freya, I think you get this project I think you know this project is about the lives of the children, not the deaths’. I said I’m willing to give it a go if you’re willing to give it a go. We do it together as a joint enterprise and we try and get a publisher and we try and go again at the TV project.

McClements explains that when it comes to The Troubles, it’s often the incident that gets talked about and not the victim. People will be associated with the how they were killed, referred to as dying on Bloody Sunday or in the Omagh bombing, for example.

Here, each of the 186 children get their own place in the book and a picture if available. Each entry lists the child’s name, their age, where they were from and the date of their death.  

Then you get stories about their childhood, often told by their parents.

Open it at random and you get one, such as James Morgan’s father speaking about the first time he saw his 16-year-old son drinking – even though he reckoned it wasn’t his first pint.

McClements says this is what they set out to achieve. 

“Suddenly James, who was murdered by loyalists, in a really, really brutal murder in Co Down in 1997, suddenly when you talk about James in that context, you get a sense of James the person. You know it’s not about what happened to him. So we can we decided that every single entry was going to start off like that.”

And because it’s based so much from individual interviews with family members, inevitably, I think it also says something about family and something about grief and loss, and says something about the trauma of The Troubles.

PastedImage-6221 Derry girl Kathleen Feeney (right) was 16 when she was shot by the IRA as a British patrol drove across the road.

Terrifyingly, the book describes how 10% of the children who died during the violence were in their own homes at the time.

Some from a stray bullet, like the first child to die in 1969, nine-year-old Patrick Rooney.

Or two-year-old Ann Gilligan, who was killed during a game of Cowboys and Indians when the children found their father’s gun.

Many other children died in their own gardens or on the streets next to their home.

“You can’t tell me my son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in his own home when he was shot dead,” Patrick Rooney’s father told the authors. 

Philip Rafferty is another child whose story is told. He was abducted while walking to band practice and then beaten and shot in the head by the UDA. 

His mother Maureen didn’t speak about her 14-year-old’s death for 25 years. 

“When Philip was murdered I didn’t lose one son, I lost my whole family, because I was afraid for them and I encouraged them to go away so they would be safe. I’m still scared, that’ll not go away. I want the world to know my Philip’s name,” Maureen says in the book. 

McClements adds that Maureen has another story about a woman who lived across the road and not knowing that she too had lost a loved one.

“Because people often didn’t talk about it, people often couldn’t talk about it,” she says. 

“Today, there are people who still can’t talk about it and, that’s fine, that’s their choice and that’s how they cope with it.” 

But while some people don’t talk much about what happened, Duffy says everyone he spoke to wanted the book published. 

While convictions may not come as a result, fewer than 15% have come so far, many families just want the truth told.

“Not one of them said please don’t do this book, it was the opposite,” he says.

“When you interview people and they get upset you say ‘I’m sorry, am I bringing this up again?’. They say hang on a minute, how can you bring up something that’s never gone away?”. 

Children of the Troubles is one of six books nominated for the TheJournal.ie Best Irish-Published Book of the Year at the upcoming An Post Irish Book Awards. 

You can vote for favourite here and see all the shortlisted books across all the categories at the Irish Book Awards website

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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