Gordon Gallagher was nine years old and playing cowboys and indians in the back garden of his family home when his little body was ripped apart after he stood on an IRA landmine.
Saturday will mark the 39th anniversary of Gordon’s death on February 25th 1973. It is a day the Gallagher family have lived with every day since. In many ways they’ve never escaped their Leenan Gardens backyard in which the IRA left two landmines, one of which fatally wounded young Gordon.
The family are now calling for a fresh investigation into the incident and have appealed for anyone with information on the harrowing event to come forward.
Gordon’s father Billy says; “We welcome any moves toward establishing the truth, be that a new inquest or a police investigation. I hope the PSNI re-examine the case but the HET attempted to interview two former RUC officers only. One was sick and the other didn’t want to know, so that tells you what we are faced with.”
Moments before he died, Gordon’s mother, Pat, had just checked on two of her little boys, Gordon and eight year-old Paul, and a ten year old neighbour. She was carrying a third son, Mark, aged two, and had just stepped into her kitchen when the explosion occurred.
“The window came in on top of me so I put Mark down and turned around to see my son Paul running at me screaming, terrified. It is a sight I will never forget.”
Patricia recalls clearly there was snow on the ground. As she ran to the garden to reassure Paul, saying “you’re alright, you’re alright,” she saw Gordon. Her words trailed off.
“I lifted him, well tried to lift him up, there were parts of him that weren’t there. His eyes were closed and thick with dust and white stuff. people started coming through the hedges to help me. I remember Gordon opening his eyes and saying ‘Help me mister.’ I don’t know who he was speaking to but I’ll never forget him saying that.”
Mrs. Gallagher rarely spoke of her son after that day: “It was just too difficult. It was as if I had to relive it when I spoke about him.
“I never thought I would get through his wake. I remember the coffin had to have special padding to keep his body together. I didn’t realise until I removed a veil from his face. I was crying and saying he wouldn’t be comfortable with that on his face. It was only when I removed it, I realised why it was there.”
Gordon’s father Billy has just one question: “Why our garden? There was thousands of houses in Creggan but they choose one with young boys running around in it.”
It was a question he was able to put to the IRA the very day his son died.
“Gordon was taken to Altnagelvin, I remember him complaining about the pains in his arm and there were a few tears. He was bouncing in the bed with pain.”
Gordon succumbed to his injuries while in theatre at 5.30pm. “Later that same night two IRA liars came to me and brought me to speak to someone who blamed the mistake on a 17 year-old volunteer.”
In a statement following the attack, the IRA claimed volunteers had abandoned the mine in the garden, without a detonator, due to security force activity in the area. The IRA claimed to have notified the army that the device was there. The Army did carry out searches in and around Leenan Gardens but not to the rear of the homes. The IRA suggested that the army found the mine and had attached a detonator.
But Billy says; “I totally blame the IRA for Gordon’s death, I’m disappointed at the army.
“Why would the IRA let the army know where it was? Surely they could have told us or the local priest about the bomb. It was all lies, just lies and only I was in shock I let them off the hook.
“We’ve made enquiries down the years and been told he [the person responsible] is now dead but that doesn’t stop the two of us looking at people in the street wondering if it was them. Boys you know who are involved, you just wondered if they’d been involved.”
Immediately after the tragedy Billy was quoted as saying he had no hatred and he didn’t want revenge.
“I’ve no grudge against those responsible still. If he was 17 he would be 56 now, maybe a grand-dad, but 39 years is a long time to wait for a conscience to be pricked.”
Patricia adds: “I would certainly welcome anyone, any volunteer, knocking on our door with news of that day. Even yet we are haunted by it.”
The family had lived in the home for only six months when the tragedy occurred. They moved out a month later. Little Gordon, with his “very kindly manner, his little twinkling eyes”, according to his mother, wasn’t discussed for years.
“We thought about him every day of our life, especially at night, but it was too difficult to speak about.
“Our younger son Joe came home from secondary school one day and asked me about Gordon. I screamed rather than talked, I had never even told him about his brother.”
It was only after the sudden death of their daughter Diana nine years ago that Mr. and Mrs. Gordon began discussing Gordon. “She had always asked us to talk about him but we just couldn’t,” said Pat.
Her husband added: “When I first received the HET report I couldn’t even read it it for months. I thought this was all over and done with but we’ve spoken about it all day and I just hope that someone with some information comes forward, even just to us, we want to know what happened even 39 years later so we can have a bit of rest.”