When Mickey English found out his son, Charles, was a member of the IRA he decided he needed to have a very frank and honest conversation with him.
“I told Charles if he was in the IRA he was facing three possible outcomes. First, if he was caught he could be imprisoned for a very long time. Second, he would have to go on the run and stay away from his friends and family for an unknown amount of time and third, he would bring what happened out on the streets home with him by coming back into this house in a wooden box.”
IRA Volunteer, Charles English, died two years later aged 21, when he was killed by an explosion while trying to attack an RUC patrol in Abbey Street on August 6, 1985.
“Charles was only 18 or 19 at the time of the conversation but I remember him saying to me ‘you tried things your way daddy and they made a fool of you’. I couldn’t argue with him. My son knew what he was he getting himself into,” said Mr. English.
When Charles English said “You tried things your way daddy” he was referring to the inquest into the death of his brother Gary who died in 1981.
Gary English and his friend, Jim Brown, were both knocked down by British Army land rover at the bottom of Creggan Hill. Jim Brown was killed on impact but 19 year-old Gary was killed when the land rover reversed back over the top of him.
“It’s impossible for me talk about Charles without talking about Gary,” said Mr. English.
“I am not in anyway unique but losing your two eldest sons within four years of one another is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
In recent years, the now defunct, Historical Enquiries Team (HET) delivered a report on the death of Charles, which the family were content with. However, Mr. English was first contacted by the HET about the investigation into Gary’s death in 2012 and has not heard anything since.
“I still live in hope that we will get the truth some day but we will just have to wait and see what happens. I find it hard to understand why after three years they [HET] have not contacted me. As far as I am concerned I don’t think they know how to handle the case without telling the truth,” he said.
Mr. English’s wife, Maureen, died 10 years ago when she lost her battle with cancer and recalled the 10th anniversary of Charles’ death as one of the most difficult.
“Charles’ friends always do something every five years to mark his death but the 20th anniversary of Charles’ death was awful. My wife was lying dying in the hospital and she couldn’t come to the commemoration - it was a very difficult time.”
As most fathers would, Mr. English speaks proudly and fondly about his two sons, but as he recalls some of the happier family memories, you get the feeling there existed a great bond of mutual respect and friendship.
“Charles was a real scruff - you really had to take him as you found him but Gary on the other hand would not have gone out that door without a shirt and tie and shiny shoes. Gary and Charles were so different in many ways but because there was only a few years between them they were very close as well.
“Charles had brains to burn. After Charles’ funeral I read many of the reports his teachers wrote when he was at school at Long Tower Primary School and St. Peter’s P.S. His teachers wrote some lovely things about him and I have no doubt that had Charles not died he would have been able to go on and do whatever he wanted.”
Charles was extremely popular with his friends growing up and was well respected within the ranks of the IRA. When he talked about Charles’ circle of friends, Mr. English became emotional.
“I think you can tell a lot about what kind of man your son is by the friends he keeps. My son had plenty of friends and despite the fact he is dead 30 years I can tell you now that there will be a certain group of people, and I don’t want to name names, who will come to this house next week with a Mass card.
“Personally, I think it says a lot because it’s much easier for people to forget than it is to remember but every year, without fail, these people come here to remember my son. That proves to me that my son was a good man.”
Charles English’s 30th anniversary will take place in Derry next week. His sister, Stephanie, decided she wanted to use the 30th anniversary to do something different for her brother.
“Stephanie is really creative and artistic,” said Mr. English.
“She came up with the idea of asking people to do something in memory of Charles and then share it on social media with the following hashtage - #charlesenglish30. All you have to do is post a short message on social media with something like ‘Today, I remembered Charles English by... and then just add in the hashtag at the end.”
Mr. English continued: “Charles played a lot of football for Foyle Harps and Celtic Swifts growing up. He had two good feet on him and he could play anywhere along the forward line - he reminded me a bit of myself in that regard,” smiled Mr. English.
“Charles also loved running and swimming. I lost count how many times people came to our door looking for Charles to help them with their swimming lessons but obviously Charles had other things on his mind at that time.
“Stephanie wants Charles’ friends and family to do something like running or play a bit of football in Charles’ memory. When I look back and think on Charles it’s hard not to think about the bad times but we had some great times as family too - those memories are my life and will stay with me forever,” said Mr. English.
The 30th anniversary commemoration of the death of IRA Volunteer, Charles English, will take place at the Lecky Road republican monument this Thursday August 6 at 7pm.