Justice at last for the forgotten victims of sectarian murder in Dundalk
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Revised: January 02, 2007 .
The following account of the Dundalk bombing of 1975 is largely based upon an article from the local Dundalk Democrat newspaper, dated Saturday, 21 August 1999.
19 December 1975 will forever remain ingrained in the memories of the Watters and Rooney families of Dundalk, County Louth, and the fourteen people who were injured by the Loyalist car bomb which exploded on the street outside Kay's Tavern public house at 6.22 pm.
Less than six months later the Ludlow family of nearby Mountpleasant would likewise suffer the trauma of a loved-one taken from them by a Loyalist murder gang, with connections to the British forces in the North, and they too would suffer appalling lack of concern from the Irish authorities.
Like Seamus Ludlow (47), shot dead by Red Hand Commando and British Army Ulster Defence Regiment gunmen, after leaving a Dundalk bar, on Saturday 1 May 1976, Hughie Watters and Jack Rooney, who were killed by the bomb of 19 December 1975, were totally innocent and random victims of state violence.
Their Loyalist killers have never been brought to justice in either jurisdiction, even though, as it is now widely known, they have long been identified.
All three families have demanded public inquiries to establish the full truth of these murders, and finally put to rest the many questions arising from the state authorities' apparent collusion with or condoning of murderous strikes into the Irish state by pro-British murder gangs.
The families of the two Dundalk men killed by the no warning bomb of 19 December 1975 spoke exclusively to the Dundalk Democrat's Anne Campbell, about that tragic evening and the horror of its aftermath. They also spoke about their anger and frustration with their then 24 year wait for answers. Both the Watters and Rooney families had serious questions that they wanted answered - particularly as to the hows and the whys of the bombing and its aftermath.
Brother and sister, Gerard and Margaret Watters recounted that their late father, Hughie Watters, aged 60 years, was a well-known tailor in Dundalk with a premises on Francis Street.
Margaret recalled, "I had been helping my Daddy in the shop. We had been really busy in the run-up to Christmas". That Friday, Dad was so busy that she had brought him up his lunch to the shop and stayed with him in the afternoon and helped him with the large workload.
Margaret then met her sister at around 5pm, and the two girls then went to the Dundalk Shopping Centre. Margaret distinctly remembers seeing her father from the first floor shop window and waving up at him as he smiled down at her.
Gerry Watters, Margaret's brother, was working as a policeman in England at that time. He was home on a break from work, when the awful news flashed that there had been a bomb in Dundalk and that one man had been killed. Gerard was immediately worried, and justly so, because by 9.30pm that night it was confirmed that his father was dead.
It appears that Mr. Hughie Watters had left his Francis Street shop and gone to deliver suits and clothing to people at Kay's Tavern public house on Crowe Street. He was caught by the bomb explosion, and his family was told that he died almost instantly.
Members of the Watters family went to Dundalk's Louth County Hospital to seek information about the whereabouts of their father. They could not get into the hospital, they say, but one sister, Ruth, did manage to get in.
Ruth Watters returned some time later to break the devastating news to the family that their father and husband was dead, murdered by the bombers who brought tragedy to Dundalk. He would have been 61 years old in February 1976.
Maura McKeever the daughter of the late Jack Rooney (60), the other murdered victim of this Loyalist bombing of Dundalk, also recalled her story of that tragic day. She was 23 years old and had just recently got married.
Jack Rooney was a lorry driver for the Council, having retired from the Fire Service. He started work that Friday at 5am and was finished, as usual, at lunch time. He would usually go for a drink and then go home. He did not drink in Kay's Tavern, but a chance meeting that day resulted in his being caught up in the blast.
According to Maura McKeever, her father Jack was making his way up the town after work when he met a lady who was laden with parcels and Christmas presents that she was going to post. Jack Rooney, "being the decent man that he was", says his daughter Maura, said that he would help her carry her parcels to the Post Office. It was on his way back from this that he was injured in the bomb blast. He was taken to the nearby Louth County Hospital.
The Rooney family grew worried when their father did not return home as usual after the explosion. They went to the hospital, and Maura's husband went to try and find out where his father-in-law was. Maura says that her husband saw a list of the dead and injured. Jack Rooney's name was not on it.
Mr. McKeever spotted one name, Mooney, on the list, and he begged the hospital staff to let him see the man identified as Mooney, just in case it was Jack Rooney. One glance was all that Mr. McKeever needed. It was his father-in-law Jack Rooney.
Though the Rooney family were hopeful that Jack would recover and get well again, they were given the devastating news three days later that he had died as a result of his injuries. He was buried on Christmas Eve.
Every Christmas since 1975 has been very hard for the Watters and Rooney families. Both families say that they received no offers of help or counselling in the aftermath of this Loyalist atrocity. The two families are extremely upset about this.
The families also claim that they did not see a senior officer of the Gardai team that investigated the bombing of Dundalk on 19 December 1975. No-one ever told them how the investigation into their fathers' murders was going or if there was a chance of an arrest. Both families agree that this was wrong.
Maura McKeever spoke about her anger; "We just waited and we just hoped for justice. But it didn't come. It felt as if they weren't trying. It felt that after the bombing and the funerals, we just didn't exist".
The Watters family agree. Gerry Watters said that he wanted to stay in Ireland with his family after the bombing and maybe try to use his police expertise to help find out who was responsible for his father's murder. It was only after his mother begged him to go back to England and make the best of himself there, that he reluctantly agreed to leave Dundalk.
The two families are also angry about the financial arrangements after their fathers' deaths. Both families have described how they had to fight for every penny that they were legally owed.
Mrs. Watters was even summoned to a Tribunal in Dublin to justify her keeping her widow's pension and was vindicated. The last thing that a family who have been devastated in this way want was to struggle for money that is rightfully theirs, the families say.
Why are the families re-opening the wounds of the past and raising public awareness about the Dundalk bombing after so long? This is the question that so many people are asking. There is a simple answer.
In December 1998, the two families were in contact with the Irish Victims Commission in Dublin, headed by Dr. John Wilson. In their contacts with the Victims Commission, both the Rooney and Watters families went through the horror of the events of 19 December 1975.
As Gerry Watters puts it: "It was like a field. The sharp and hurtful stones are buried deep under the layers of soil that have built up over the years. When someone comes along and ploughs the field, the stones are churned up to the top and are exposed. The field is our emotions and the stones are the feelings that we thought we had buried for good. The Commission ploughed up these feelings and it hurts".
The Victims Commission's report which also included the Seamus Ludlow murder of May 1976 and the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of 1974, was set up to be an independent report into the effects of the bombings and murders on the families involved. It also sought to explore the issues that they thought were important and was to make possible recommendations to the State.
It was recommended that there be a private inquiry into the Dublin/Monaghan bombing and a similar recommendation in the Ludlow case. Dundalk got what could be generously called a "brief mention". No recommendations were made.
The Watters and Rooney families were hurt by the report of the Irish Victims Commission. Not only do they feel let down by the original investigation into the bombing in 1975, they also feel that they have been badly let down by the Commission that they fully co-operated with. The Ludlow family of Mountpleasant, just north of Dundalk, have also voiced objections to the Victims Commission's proposal for a private inquiry in their case.
Both Dundalk families agree that they have re-opened the wounds within themselves for the sake of getting an outcome from this report. They feel that they have got nothing from the Victims Commission.
Says Anne Campbell, in the Dundalk Democrat: "Feelings have been rekindled. The anger, the fury, the frustration helplessness and determination to bring this horrible chapter to a close has come to the fore in these families again. This time they are wanting answers to their questions. they want to know the role of the Gardai in the inquiry into the Dundalk Bombing. They wish to know what was the extent and/or the remit of the original investigation. Where is the file of evidence that is always there in an inquiry of this nature? Can they have access to it?
"Of course, the other question is why there was a bomb in Dundalk and why after 24 years the investigation has been unfruitful.
"These people want to keep the awareness of their case to the forefront of the nation's minds. The families make the point that to move forward into peace in this country wounds have to be healed. The only way to do this is the painful reopening of cases and success in closing the 24 years long chapter of pain."
At this time the families of Hugh Watters and Jack Rooney were adopting a "wait and see" attitude to the private Hamilton inquiry into the Dublin/Monaghan and Dundalk bombings, that was announced at the end of 1999. It remained unclear how deep the report into the ongoing Dublin/Monaghan inquiry, which was due for publication around November 2000, would go into the facts and responsibility for the bombings.
The Dundalk families' solicitor James McGuill and Maura McKeever spoke to the Dundalk Democrat's Anne Campbell in June 2000.
Mr. McGuill explained: "At the minute, we have adopted a wait and see attitude to the enquiry which was announced by the Department of Justice at the end of last year". "We would like to see a full, open, public enquiry into the murder of these two men", said Maura McKeever. However, the two families were definitely not ruling out going into the Hamilton Inquiry, but they would first like to see what happens with the Dublin/Monaghan inquiry.
Maura McKeever remains as determined as ever to bring the perpetrators of her father's murder to justice - the justice that they have been protected from since December 1975: "We have waited a very long time just to get this far", she said. "It's not over yet. We will keep going until there is justice".
Update: The Hamilton Inquiry was interrupted by the sudden death of Mr Justice Hamilton, who was succeeded by former Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Henry Barron, whose report was finally published on 5 July 2006.
Copyright © 2007 the Rooney, Watters and Ludlow families.
All rights reserved.
Revised: January 02, 2007 .