27 Sept 2022

Derry woman whose husband was murdered in IRA bomb says she will 'never forgive' his killers

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A DERRY woman whose husband was killed in an IRA ‘human’ bomb 28 years ago has said she will never forgive her husband’s killers. On October 24, 1990, 42-year-old Patsy Gillespie was chained to a lorry containing 1,200 pounds of explosives and forced to drive it into a security checkpoint at Coshquin on the Derry-Donegal border. The lorry exploded, killing Mr Gillespie and five soldiers. It is still regarded as one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. The IRA, who held Mr Gillespie’s wife and three children hostage at their home in Derry while the attack took place, tried to justify their actions by saying that Mr Gillespie was a civilian worker at the Fort George army base in Derry. However, the so-called ‘human’ bomb caused widespread revulsion. Almost 30 years on from the attack, Mr Gillespie’s wife, Kathleen, has spoken publicly about her feelings towards those who killed her husband. Mrs Gillespie was speaking at an event organised by the Truth and Reconciliation Platform on Thursday evening at the Magee campus of Ulster University. The event heard from a number of people who have lost loved ones in the Troubles. Mrs Gillespie said that following her husband’s death she had gained a lot from her work in peace and reconciliation. However, she stressed that her feelings towards the IRA had not changed. “I do not have forgiveness in my soul for those people. Now some people might think that is a terrible thing and that I am condemned to hell because I won’t forgive but I will not forgive,” she said. Mrs Gillespie revealed that the 1990 attack was not the first time her family had been targeted by the IRA. “Four years previous to that our house had been taken over by armed gunmen and our car had been loaded with 200 lbs of explosives and Patsy was forced to drive it into Fort George,” she said. “There was no question of Patsy being stopped at the gate. “They automatically opened the gate for him. So, he drove the car into the nearest empty space, jumped out and shouted ‘Run boys, I’m loaded’. He shouted to save their lives.” Unemployment Mrs Gillespie said her husband reluctantly worked at the army camp to provide for his family. “He wasn’t working there because he particularly wanted to work there,” she added. “He was working there because when his own firm became bankrupt it was the only job available for him. “Patsy had never known unemployment and he felt the need to look after his family so he took the job that was offered to him. “And because he was employed by the Ministry of Defence and at that time the IRA were putting warnings in the local media about civilian workers and the message was more or less get out, but Patsy ignored that.” After the incident in which Mr Gillespie was forced to drive a bomb into Fort George, his wife said that they were offered a chance to leave Derry. “At that time the Ministry of Defence offered to move us anywhere in the world we wanted to go,” she said. “But we were living in Patsy’s family home where I still live, and Patsy said, ‘They are not putting me out of my home, we are staying here’. So we did. “We thought, as you would, that lightning wouldn’t strike twice but we were wrong.” Explosion Mrs Gillespie recalled the events of the night her husband died. “They took over our home at 10.30 on a Tuesday night,” she said. “It was our eldest son’s 18th birthday the next day and he was working in London trying to earn money to buy himself a car. “The last words his father said to him because his workmates where taking him out on a pub crawl the next day were ‘Don’t get too drunk son’. “He had phoned to tell us that he bought his ticket to come home for good at Christmas.” Mrs Gillespie said her husband was taken away at midnight while armed gunmen held her, her three children and sister, who was visiting from London, hostage in her home. She said that her captors told her that they had to wait on a phone call. “At five to four my phone rang and the man who I thought was in charge answered. He let it ring a few times, lifted the phone and listened and then pulled the wire off. And he turned to me and said, ‘that’s us gone, give us half an hour before you do anything’. “So they ran out and got into my car which they had brought back after they took Patsy away and reversed into the drive. “I immediately knelt on the sofa and told the wains that that was the car gone and their daddy would be back soon and at that I heard the explosion.” Mrs Gillespie said she phoned the Fort George base. “They said there has been an explosion and they are very busy. I said you don’t seem to understand what I am saying, my husband is one of your civilian workers and he has been kidnapped by the IRA and he’s not back,” she said. “They told me to stay next to the phone and let me know if anything happened, but I went out on to the road to see if I could meet Patsy coming back because we had been told by our captors that if we did what we had been told no one would get hurt. “I believed them because that’s what had happened the last time. “They left Patsy at the bottom of the road to walk home the last time and I thought he’s not going to walk home on his own tonight. “But there was an army checkpoint being set up on the road as I went down and my friend came and took me home again and after that it was just a matter of waiting and waiting. “I wasn’t told definitely until 6 o’clock later that day that Patsy was dead.” Murdered Mrs Gillespie recalled the agony of telling her children that their father had been killed. “The hardest thing I had to do at that time was to try and contact my son on the phone in London before he heard it on the news because they were showing my car on the TV screens and his friends were taking him on a pub crawl,” she said. “When we eventually got him on the phone I told him that ‘I want you to come home son’ and he said, ‘you know I have got my ticket ma I’m coming home in December’. “I said, ‘No son, I need you to come home now’. He said, ‘Why?’. I said, ‘I’ll tell you when you come home’. He said, ‘I’m not coming home until you tell me why’. “And the hardest thing that to this day I had to do in my entire life was to tell Patrick on his 18th birthday that they had murdered his daddy. “I can still hear him screaming over the phone ‘I’ll kill those bastards’.” The local woman was worried about the impact of her husband’s death would have on their two sons and daughter. “My youngest son was 16 and that’s the age that the IRA and other organisations recruit people and I was petrified that Patrick or Ciaran would go looking for revenge for their daddy. “I don’t know if it was my influence on them or whether just knowing that their daddy wouldn’t want it and I am very, very proud of the men they have grown into.” Proud Mrs Gillespie said that she was also proud of her husband’s efforts in saving the lives of some of the soldiers at the checkpoint. “Five soldiers were murdered with Patsy in that explosions and I have had testimony from the surviving soldiers that Patsy actually saved their lives. “He was chained to the van containing 1,200 lbs of explosives and as he drove into the checkpoint the bomb was detonated by remote control, but he got time to shout out ‘Run boys I’m loaded’ and there were quite a few soldiers who testified at the inquest that this saved their lives.” However, she admitted that she was worried how the families of the soldiers who died would react to her when they later met at a memorial service in Fort George. “I was terrified that they would blame me because it was Patsy driving the van that murdered their sons and I thought that they would shun me and turn against me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were so good to me.” Mrs Gillespie, who said her husband has been her ‘guide’ for the past 28 years, said she also took comfort from the fact that some former paramilitaries had changed their lives around following her husband’s death. “I hear stories from ex-prisoners who were in prison at the time of Patsy’s death and they rebelled when they came out because they just felt that that’s not we are about, that’s not what we are supposed to do, and they changed their lives around and now work in peace and reconciliation,” she said. The fiver soldiers who died along with Mr Gillespie in the 1990 attack were: David Sweeney (19), Stephen Beacham (20), Vincent Scott (21), Paul Worrall (23) and Stephen Burrows (30). Group of Victim's Relatives, guest speakers, at the Truth and Reconciliation Platform "The Bomb and Bullet Legacy held in the Great Hall, Magee. From left, are Alan McBride, Joe Campbell, Kathleen Gillespie, Stephen Travers and Eugene Reevey. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

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