‘The day he died, we lost our family, our home, our lives’

May 1981... Harry Duffy's children follow his coffin as it makes its way to the City Cemetery following Requiem Mass at St Mary's Church, Creggan. INSET: Harry Duffy.
May 1981... Harry Duffy's children follow his coffin as it makes its way to the City Cemetery following Requiem Mass at St Mary's Church, Creggan. INSET: Harry Duffy.

The seven Duffy children, from Derry’s Creggan Estate, were orphaned when their father, Harry, was killed by a plastic bullet in 1981. They are now looking for anyone who witnessed his death to come forward with any information that can help them secure truth, justice and peace of mind.

The Duffys were no different to dozens of other families living in Derry’s Creggan Estate in the 1970s, writes Sean McLaughlin.

Harry and Bridie Duffy with some of their kids outside their home in Creggan.

Harry and Bridie Duffy with some of their kids outside their home in Creggan.

Harry and Bridie were loving parents to their seven children - four girls and three boys - took good care of their home at Benevenagh Gardens and always made sure their kids were turned out well and did well at school. They were a happy family.

However, in 1977, the young family was dealt a devastating blow when Bridie died as a result of a heart attack. It was, as daughter Jennifer says, a “really tough time for the family - particularly my father.”

“However, he was always there for us,” she adds. “We never had much growing up but we were a happy family. Even after our mother died, our daddy always made sure we had what we needed and I remember us always having fun. He always did his best for us.

“He made sure we were all up in the morning for school, had breakfast ready, had clean clothes for us, made dinner in the evening and ensured our homeworks were always done. It must have been hard going for a single father but he was always there. He looked after us well and did everything he could for us. The children were his priority. He was a very good man.”

Harry Duffy's funeral makes its way to the City Cemetery. His children, some of them wearing their First Communion outfits, head the cortege.

Harry Duffy's funeral makes its way to the City Cemetery. His children, some of them wearing their First Communion outfits, head the cortege.

Little did the Duffys realise that, within a matter of a few short years, their lives were to be turned upside down yet again.

Fast forward to May 1981 and a Derry gripped by deadly street violence as the Long Kesh hunger strikes reached their peak.

In the early hours of May 22, soon after the death of Derry hunger striker, Patsy O’Hara, Harry ‘Dundalk’ Duffy was making his way through the city centre when he was hit on the head by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier. He died just hours later. He was only 44 years old.

The Duffy children - aged between seven and seventeen - were now orphans. No mother. No father.

Jennifer, Tony and Linda Duffy pictured in Derry this week.

Jennifer, Tony and Linda Duffy pictured in Derry this week.

It was, says Jennifer, the day their lives imploded.

“The day my father died turned our world upside down,” she adds. “We never returned to our home in Benevenagh Gardens. Instead, we were put into care - first, Termonbacca and, then, Nazareth House before some of us were fostered out to relatives.

“The day he died, we lost our family, our home and our lives. We were ripped apart and we are still, today, trying to come to terms with this and not always in the best way.”

Just hours after her father’s violent death, Linda Duffy and two of her siblings “celebrated” their First Holy Communion. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t remember much about the day. Hours later, she was wearing the same white dress as she walked behind her father’s coffin as it made its way to St Mary’s Church in the heart of the Creggan Estate.

Linda says she and her brothers and sisters were lucky to have the love and care of her mother’s family - in particular, their Aunt Agnes - who helped them through some harrowing times and did their best to look out for them.

“However, in spite of this, the family - some more than others - have been through some dreadful times,” she says.

“Experiencing loss and trauma at such a young age, you find yourself disconnecting in order to cope with it. So much of my childhood is blanked out. However, it’s only as an adult that you’re forced to deal with the reality of the situation. There’s only so much running away you can do. Sooner or later, it catches up with you.”

Her brother, Hugh, adds: “People often ask: did none of your relatives try to keep the family together? My answer is: yes, people worked to keep us together but, then, at the end of the day, who wants to take on six young children?”

Linda says she has many questions surrounding her father’s death: what was he doing when he was shot? Who was he with? Who, if anyone, tried to help him? Was anyone else injured that night?

“We just want the truth,” she says. “We have so many questions but no answers. And, now, we have our children and grandchildren asking us questions that we have no answers to. It has taken us so long, as a family, to gather the strength and resilience to start asking these questions so it’s only right and proper we get some answers.

“Ultimately, we need closure. I want my father to be able to rest in peace. I want us to be able to live in peace.”

Anyone with any information relating to Harry Duffy’s death in the early hours of May 22, 1981 is asked to contact the Pat Finucane Centre on Tel: (028) 71 268846 or via email at info@patfinucanecentre.org