A mother’s sorrow

Mrs. Bridie McBrearty pictured in her home in Creggan with images of her late sons George McBrearty, who was killed by the SAS on May 28, 1981 and Pat McBrearty, who took his own life on May 28, 1991.
Mrs. Bridie McBrearty pictured in her home in Creggan with images of her late sons George McBrearty, who was killed by the SAS on May 28, 1981 and Pat McBrearty, who took his own life on May 28, 1991.

The mother of a Derry man killed by the SAS in Derry on May 28, 1981 says the sense of loss she felt over her son’s death death 34 years ago is as prevalent today as it was back then.

Mrs. Bridie McBrearty, now in her eighties, lost her son, Volunteer George McBrearty when he was shot dead along with Volunteer Charles Maguire by the SAS at the junction of Southway and the Lone Moor Road on May 28, 1981.

The scene of the 1981 shooting which resulted in the deaths of Volunteers George McBrearty and Charles Maguire.

The scene of the 1981 shooting which resulted in the deaths of Volunteers George McBrearty and Charles Maguire.

“George’s death was a traumatic experience for us all,” Mrs. McBrearty told the ‘Journal’.

“I was devastated. I had lost my husband in 1977 and then my son and I found it very difficult to come to terms with. I was not prepared for the manner of his death and how quick and sudden it all happened.

“George’s death had a profound experience on us all especially his younger brother Pat who had a history of mental illness. Pat had lived in the family home throughout the often violent house raids in our home and had witnessed the effects and hardships we endured throughout the periods when his brothers were interned and on the run. Pat never got over George’s death and 10 years to the day after George’s killing, Pat took his own life,” she said.

The ‘Journal’ reported on May 29, 1981 that members of the Provisional IRA were travelling in a hi-jacked car when another car, containing four SAS men, pulled up alongside the car containing George McBrearty, Charles Maguire and two others.

The Opel car which was involved in the fatal shooting of two Creggan men in Derry in 1981.

The Opel car which was involved in the fatal shooting of two Creggan men in Derry in 1981.

Local reports at the time said that the car containing the SAS men opened fire. One of the IRA men got out of the car and returned fire before he was shot. The army vehicle then drove off and the car containing the wounded IRA men went back into Creggan.

The car was found burned out near shops in Creggan and it was believed an ambulance was called to the same location to take the two dead men and one injured man to hospital.

In an official statement to the ‘Journal’ at the time the Provisional IRA said:

“One SAS man in a brown Opel car was sighted by an active service unit of Derry Brigade Oglaigh Na hEireann. The volunteers pursued the car containing one SAS man at the junction of Southway and Lone Moor Road. Just then, two other cars, a red Chrysler Alpine containing the SAS and a yellow Porsche containing at least three other SAS men drew up and opened fire on the volunteers,”

A woman caught up in the shooting in 1981 is led to safety.

A woman caught up in the shooting in 1981 is led to safety.

George McBrearty was 24 at the time of his death and Charles Maguire was 21.

Mrs. McBrearty said George was “assertive” growing up and had a great sense of humour.

“George was the third eldest of 11 children. George always lived in Creggan since birth. Initially he was raised in Cromore Gardens in a small flat for a short time until we were re-housed in our family home in Rathowen Park.

“George was educated in the Holy Child School, Long Tower School and St Columb’s College. He also spent a short time at St. Joseph’s Boys’ School in Creggan. He was very bright and intelligent and was always very socially aware.

“He loved football and was a very good footballer. He played for Athletic Football Club for a few years.

“From a young age George was always very assertive and strong minded. He was very boisterous as a child and loved adventure. Other children were attracted by George’s sense of humour, his sense of adventure and his outgoing nature. This led to George having many friends and he mixed extremely well with others.

“His humour and quick wit was renowned within our home. He could give you a cheeky comical look in an instant and was always full of life.

“George was largely no different to any other working class child in the Creggan Estate at that time. He was generous to those around him and he looked out for others. These qualities were no doubt developed living within a large family in Creggan. He was charismatic and you could see his leadership qualities amongst his peers from an early age.

From a young age it was clear that George had an inherent concern for his community and was very politically aware. He had witnessed oppression from childhood and knowing his own mind he was assertive and in 1973 he sought out the IRA, which at this time was an organic part of the community in Creggan.

“George was extremely driven and wished to achieve the goal of a 32 County Socialist Republic,” said Mrs. McBrearty.

“He was determined to challenge the British establishment and all its apparatus in Ireland. He was prepared to fight and die for his ideals.

“Having joined the IRA he was then interned in Long Kesh at the age of 17. He was in Long Kesh when it was burned and was involved in the prison riot. Like all the other prisoners he was subjected to British Army brutality, CS and CR Gas. I had two sons in jail at that time with my eldest son Danny also incarcerated. I worried about them both in jail and journeyed to visit them regularly throughout that period.

“When George was released he returned to the Republican Movement straight away and it was apparent he was even more determined. At this time a war was raging on the streets and our home was being raided up to three times per week. Fr. Faul who visited me at home during one of the raids commented that my home was the most raided house in Ireland at the time.

“George continued to fight oppression and in 1978 he married. He was arrested very soon after his marriage on a trumped up charge. He was taken to Crumlin Road Jail and was denied bail on a number of occasions before eventually it was granted. When bail was granted he decided to go on the run immediately as he mistrusted the judiciary and believed that they would find him guilty no matter how unsafe the case was.”

She continued: “He would remain on the run with only short fleeting visits home to Derry for the next few years right up until his killing on May 28, 1981. During his time on the run he stayed in Buncranna and lived in Letterkenny. He ventured into South Derry and Tyrone apart from occasional visits home here to Derry. George went on to have three children with his youngest being born just weeks before he was killed.”

The McBrearty family is organising a special commemoration for George this Thursday May 28 and Mrs. McBrearty said she wanted to extend an invitation to everyone, no matter what their political affiliation within the republican family and the nationalist community in general.

“We have decided to organise a commemoration to remember George on the 34th anniversary of his death. At the commemoration we will also be celebrating the life of my son, Pat. The commemoration will take place on Thursday, May 28 at 7.30 pm at the Creggan Republican Monument. We would like to welcome all those who knew George and everyone within the republican movement to come along to commemorate his life and to remember the principles for which he 
died. Everyone is welcome,” she said.