Foyle MLA Mary Nelis described Creggan woman Kathleen Thompson as “a remarkable woman of Ireland” when she spoke at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of her death at the weekend.
The 47 year-old mother of six was shot dead by the British army in November 1971 as soldiers raided homes in the area.
Relatives and friends of Mrs Thompson attended an anniversary Mass in St Columba’s Church, Long Tower, on Friday and afterwards held a memorial event in the Gasyard Centre. Family members of other victims of state violence also attended the event.
Mrs Nelis, who lived in Creggan at the time of the shooting, was the main speaker at the event and was introduced by Mrs Thompson’s son, Davy.
“Kate Thompson was 47 years old and the mother of six children whose ages ranged from seven to eighteen, when her life was cut short by a hail of bullets. She would never have described herself as a ‘remarkable woman’ but the attendance at her funeral and the hundreds of floral tributes were testimony to the grief felt by the community, at the loss of a woman who for all of her short life, stood up for what she believed to be right.
“Kate Thompson was a woman of her time. A devout Catholic and Irishwoman, her faith and her love of Ireland were inseparable. She lived in a time when the vast majority of Catholics were ascribed as second class citizens by the British /Unionist regime in the 6 Counties. Religion would be the tool used to institutionalise division and inequality,” Mrs Nelis said.
She also described Mrs Thompson as a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. “Like most of the Long Tower community, Kate welcomed the Civil Rights Movement and with her neighbours marched behind the banners reading one man one vote. She was saddened and alarmed later, by the arrests of many of the young people who like herself, were standing up for their rights and she was among the women who picketed the Courthouse in Bishop Street, when they were charged,” she explained.
Mrs Nelis said that the Creggan woman was a product of their times and campaigned against injustice wherever she saw it. “During the Free Derry period Kate along with other women, notably Roisin Keenan Barton, Nellie Mc Glinchey, Muriel Barr, Helen Morrison, Jeanne to name but a few, set up the Woman’s Action Committee. They fed the vigilantes, and generally helped families in distress who needed support. Along with the late Maire Drumm they protested the ill treatment and discrimination of Catholic workers in the Gallagher tobacco factory in Belfast,” she said.
Describing the night Mrs Thompson was killed, Mrs Nelis said; “On the night of her death in November 1971, Kate and Patsy with two of their children were watching a Western film on TV. The two youngest children aged six and eight were in bed and the two eldest were visiting friends. Unknown to the family the British Army were raiding the home of a neighbour across the street. The first the family were aware of the events outside, was when two canisters of gas landed in their back yard and gas began to seep into the house.
“While Patsy rushed to secure the house, Kate went into the backyard to alert her neighbours to the happenings in the street. It was typical of the courage of a woman who all her life put everyone in front of herself.
“Patricia Thompson who was eight at the time, recalls being awakened from sleep by a lot of noise. She came down to find her father sitting on the stairs sobbing. She remembers that sound of uncontrollable sobbing, to this day,” she explained.
The former MLA also said Mrs Thompson’s death took its toll on the entire family circle. “Patsy Thompson buried his wife and the family got on with their lives. His priority after was to care for and protect his children. The children recall that his hair turned grey and he aged almost overnight. “He never complained or sought an explanation for his wife’s death and no one came to offer any. In death as in life, Kate in the eyes of the State was still a second class citizen.
“In the murder of Kate Thompson, the family not only lost their Mother but their grandmother who suffered a massive stroke on hearing the news, died shortly afterwards. Their third son died a young man and some years later Patsy Thompson joined the woman he loved so much.
“Kate would never see her children marry, would never be with her grandchildren or great grandchildren in the important milestones of their lives. Nor would she ever realise her loss to the community she inspired,” she said.
The event was also attended by Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and Fr Michael Canny, together with representatives of Cumanh, who displayed the Relatives For Justice memory quilt.
Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre gave an update on the renewed probe into Mrs Thompson’s shooting and the event was brought to a close with Sara Griffin singing ‘No Frontiers.’