Remembering Stephen McConomy on 40th anniversary - ‘Many wept openly - men, women and children were visibly upset’

Forty years ago this weekend Derry was convulsed with grief when 11-year-old school boy Stephen McConomy was shot by a British soldier during rioting in the Bogside.

By Kevin Mullan
Friday, 15th April 2022, 6:03 pm

Stephen was hit in the back of the head by a plastic baton round. It was fired from close range by a Lance Corporal of the Royal Anglian Regiment on the evening of Friday, April 16, 1982.

The child suffered catastrophic injury and died in the Royal Victoria Hospital on Monday, April 19.

When news of his death reached Derry days of rioting ensued. Reporting on Stephen’s Requiem Mass and funeral from the Long Tower on Thursday, April 22, the ‘Journal’ noted that his death had had a profound effect.

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Maria McConomy with her sons Emmett and Mark at the funeral of her 11-year-old boy Stephen who was killed by a British soldier on April 16, 1982.

“Several thousand people accompanied Stephen’s coffin from his home in Dove Gardens to the City Cemetery. Stephen’s father [Mark] and five of his uncles carried the coffin from the flat to the hearse which was waiting outside. His mother [Maria] was unable to accompany the funeral and stood on the stairs of the flat crying supported by friends and relatives who tried to comfort her.”

Six members of the Mickey Devine Memorial Band of which Stephen had been a member walked with the coffin, the ‘Journal’ report reads.

“Workers from many factories left their work places to attend the funeral. Essex International factory was brought to a virtual standstill and in Springtown many workers walked out to attend the funeral. Even in a city like Derry, now well used to violent death, rarely has there been such feelings of profound grief and sadness manifested as those witnessed yesterday. Many people wept openly - men, women and children were visibly upset.”

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Stephen McConomy, who was killed in April 1982.

In response to Stephen’s death there were renewed calls for the use of plastic bullets to be outlawed.

The Bishop of Derry, Most Rev. Dr. Edward Daly, said: “There have been too many deaths and serious injuries inflicted on people in Derry and elsewhere in the north in recent years through the use of plastic bullets. From what I have heard of this particular incident, it would appear the missile was fired from very close range.

“If this is so, then the soldier responsible should be made to answer to the most serious criminal charges and the charge of murder should not be ruled out.

“The whole question of the use of plastic bullets should be subjected to the most careful scrutiny. This supposedly non-lethal weapon that has already caused so many deaths and serious injuries should not be used again, whatever the circumstances, before a detailed inquiry has taken place.”

Stephen’s mother Maria comforting her other sons Mark and Emmett at the interment in the City Cemetery.

An editorial in the ‘Journal’ observed: “Only hours after the death of Stephen McConomy, following condemnations of the use of plastic bullets by community leaders, including the Bishop, who asked that at least their use should be ceased pending a full inquiry, soldiers in Derry were taking the risk of adding to the already far too long list of Catholic children killed by the weapon that all other European countries have hesitated to use, and which the British have not yet dared to inflict on their ‘own’ rioters in England.”