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17 Aug 2022

Torchlight procession for Tobias Molloy

50th Anniversary of Strabane teenager shot with rubber bullet

Torchlight procession for Tobias Molloy.

Torchlight procession for Tobias Molloy.

At midnight last night (Friday), a young Strabane man fatally wounded by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier, was remembered by a poignant torchlight procession.

On July 16, 1972, Tobias Molloy (18) was shot in the chest as he walked from his girlfriend's home in Lifford, to his own home in Strabane. Earlier that evening, the couple had attended a dance at the Inter County Hotel in the Donegal town.

Tonight's torchlight procession will leave Daly's Filing Station – An Siopa Beag, on Coneyburrow Road in Lifford and make its way to the former Camel's Hump site, retracing the steps Tobias took on that fateful night.

Speaking to Derry Now, Tobias' cousin, Anne Caldwell (née Molloy) said she was “not hopeful” the campaign to obtain a new inquest for him him would be successful.

An inquest was held into Tobias' death on July 22, 1972, by Deputy Coroner for East Donegal Mr Larry Coyle, at Lifford Hospital, six days after the incident. There was no inquest held in the North.

Tobias was the second of three people to die from the use of rubber bullets during “the troubles”. The first was Francis Rowntree (11), who died in April 1972 and the third person to be killed was Thomas Friel (21), who died in May 1973.

A fresh inquest was held into the death of Francis Rowntree, following a direction from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, in November 2017, by Coroner Mr Brian Sherrard who found: “There was no justification for the use of lethal force at the time Francis Rowntree was shot. The force ultimately used far exceeded that which was absolutely necessary to achieve Soldier B’s stated objective.”

According to the Pat Finucane Centre, an application for a new inquest was made by the Molloy family to the Attorney General NI and he determined in 2019 that it was “less likely that Mr Molloy died in Northern Ireland than he died in Ireland” and therefore could not grant a fresh inquest as “the jurisdiction of the Coroner in Northern Ireland does not extend to deaths that occur outside Northern Ireland”.

Commenting on the application, solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh said: “The original inquest proceeded in the absence of a an investigation into the death of Mr Molloy by An Garda Siochána or the RUC. Holding the inquest six days after his death meant there was not a sufficient amount of time for an investigation to be properly conducted. In fact, we received correspondence from An Garda Síochána in 2016 which confirmed that there was no record at all of a Garda investigation into the death.

Tobias Molloy.

“The investigation carried out by the RUC was manifestly inadequate and the inconsistencies in the statements of soldiers and witness accounts were never challenged by the military investigation or by the RUC. In particular discrepancies over whether Mr Molloy was deliberately targeted and reports that the rubber bullet was aimed directly at Mr Molloy were not properly addressed.

“New evidence, including multiple new statements recorded after a press appeal by the Pat Finucane Centre, media reports, a draft HET [Historical Enquiries Team] report and an expert report from Dr Laurence Rocke have been lodged with the Attorney General to support this application.

"A fresh inquest could also benefit from the evidence of the potential lethality of the baton round which was addressed in Judge Sherard’s findings in the Francis Rowntree inquest.

“I would submit, in the circumstances, that this new evidence makes the holding of a new inquest advisable.”

Recalling her cousin, Anne said: “I was two years older than Tobias. His mother, Mary, was very protective of him as he was only nine or ten when his father, Tobias, died. It was just him and his mammy for a long time. They very, very close.

“Tobias became very interested in Civil Rights. He actually attended the Bloody Sunday march in Derry [January 30, 1972]. He would have been 17. He had turned 18 when he was killed. When the news filtered back about what had happened in Derry, his mother was in an awful state. Little did she know, later that year he was going to be killed too.

“Tobias worked in a factory repairing machines. At the time of his death, he was working in a factory in Castlefin. On the night he was killed, he had been at a dance in the Inter County Hotel. At the dance, a rumour went around there was rioting in Derry and people had been killed.

“People were walking home from the dance, to Strabane, over the Camel's Hump. Tobias was near enough last, except for a few stragglers. He was on his own and he was struck by a rubber bullet in the chest. A few people that were coming along and went to his aid. They were afraid to leave him and let the army come and lift him and take him away or anything like that, so they flagged down a car coming from Strabane to Lifford and they took him in the car over to Lifford hospital, where he was pronounced dead,” recalled Anne.

Tobias' post mortem was done in Donegal and his remains were brought home later that day.

Anne said: “When they were bringing his remains home to his mammy, the soldiers at the checkpoint where he was killed, fired rubber bullets again.

“I was so reminded of this when it happened recently to the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. I thought, 'Oh my God, her funeral was attacked, was disrupted. So many years on and they are still doing this'. I know it has happened at funerals in Belfast and Derry too.

“My father and brothers were there and one of my brothers, he was only about 10 or 11, ran back into Lifford and my father had to go back looking for him.

“The day Tobias was buried, I can safely say there has not been as big a funeral from then until the Hunger Strikers, possibly because of the way his remains were treated coming home and because of the fact he and his mother were respected. That particular day was extremely hot. I remember the tar on the road was bubbling up. I turned 20 that day [July 19, 1972],” said Anne.

Anne remembered walking behind her cousin's hearse.

She said: “There were so many people who either didn't go to work or left their work to attend the funeral. They just walked the whole way. The hearse went slowly to allow them to walk behind it, from Strabane to Doneyloop in Donegal, where Tobias was buried. We walked well over three miles in the blazing sun.

“When we went out there, there was a big of Garda presence. They did not interfere with us but it was just a wee bit intimidating, to say the least. They were standing about and you sort of thought, 'Does nobody care? Does nobody care about the injustices that are happening to us in the North?' I remember being very, very angry that day and being very sad when I saw that.

“Tobias' mother was so, so devastated. She grieved for him until the day she died. She never really got over it so she didn't. There was an inquest of sorts held in Lifford. Tobias' mother was paid some sort of pittance, an insult really. From that on we have just kept his memory alive and and tried to attend as many events as possible.

“Then the Pat Finucane approached us and said they had been in London and files had been released stating the bullets deployed in the North were not passed fit for use and the guidelines were also that they should be fired at the ground but Tobias was hit directly in the chest direct. They started looking into his case. At the time the bullets were not legal. They were only allowed to be used in Northern Ireland and I think Hong Kong, they were deemed too dangerous to be used anywhere else,” said Anne.

Anne said Tobias was the only rubber bullet fatality case in the North who has not been allowed a new inquest.

“They are saying it is because he died in Donegal and not in the North,” she explained. “Now, the solicitors in charge are trying now to see if they can get an Inquest in the South but I am not hopeful, not hopeful.

“We are campaigning for a new inquest. All my family are involved. All my family are behind it. Tobias has a half-brother, Seán McGinley, who lives in Castlefin in Donegal.”

The Tobias Molloy Sinn Féin Cumann in Strabane has co-organised a programme of events for the 50th Anniversary of Tobias' death.

Anne said: "A lady from Lifford wrote a poem about Tobias and I am going to recite that and we are going to lay some flowers at the Memorial Stone on July 16. To me that day is the most important day. It is very nice that people are remembering him."

Itinerary of events:

July 15: Midnight (July 16 morning): Torchlight procession from Daly's Filling Station - An Siopa Beag on Coneyburrow Road in Lifford, to the former Camel's Hump site, retracing the steps Tobias took on the night he was murdered.

July 16: 1pm to 3pm: 'In their Footsteps' Shoes display at Castle Street in Strabane, hosted by the Pat Finucane Centre. The 'In their Footsteps' campaign is a call on the British and Irish governments to implement an acceptable and effective mechanism to deal with the past. On display will be pairs of shoes belonging to individuals who were seriously injured or killed during the conflict.

July 16: 6:30 pm: Anniversary Mass, Church of the Immaculate Conception.

July 16: 7:30 pm: Unveiling of Memorial Stone to Tobias at the Memorial Garden located at the entrance to Inisfree Gardens.

July 17: 4:00pm: Anniversary March from Cluney Gardens, Clady to Donnyloop Cemetery. The guest speaker at this event will be Pádraig Mc Lochlainn TD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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