​I should warn you that I have no patience with the injunction not to speak ill of the dead.

Published: 25 April 2023

​If they’re bad, say so. I’m not a hater, but it’s a great pleasure to be able to say I think about unrepentant murderers like Martin McGuinness without being threatened with lawsuits. Colm Murphy joins that particularly late throng now.

Formerly of Tullyoghan, Murphy Cross, Belleeks in south County Armagh, he died at 70 last week, “peacefully”, we were told by his death notice, at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, “surrounded by his loving family”.

What, I wonder, did they whisper to him as he was dying? Since there was a Requiem Mass for him on Friday, presumably he’d have liked some reassurance that Saint Peter would give him a suitable welcome? In fairness to Murphy, some of whose horrific activities I’ve known about for almost a quarter of a century, he may not have been a total hypocrite: there was a tricolour, a beret and black gloves on his coffin rather than holy pictures.

At the mass, Father Gerard Comiskey, a border priest who has last week was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Agreement, tried to do his duty uncontentiously. Not easy when you’re dealing with a monster who brought tragedy to innumerable good people. “It’s important for us to deal well with grief,” he said. “We all know that whenever death walks through our homes, our communities, it always leaves behind a trail of tears, and a sense of loss.”

Murphy, the mountain of evidence convincingly suggests, was a mass murderer who actually chose Omagh as the target for the August 1998 bombing that killed 29 people and unborn twins. Variously in the Provisional IRA, INLA, the Continuity IRA and more recently, Oglaigh na hEireann, he is also closely associated with Tullyvallen, Newtownhamilton, where in September 1975 in their lodge, five members of the Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge were machine gunned to death and half a dozen others injured. He’s also the prime suspect for the Kingsmill Massacre four months later where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by the Republican Action Force, a cover name for local Provos. And he did plenty more.

Having been involved with several of the Omagh bereaved, I wanted to understand the kind of people who did terrible things. Since the Omagh bomb had been such a disaster, I had briefly a naive feeling that those who had been in charge might decide to not to repeat it. But that was nonsensical. Like Murphy, they were driven by a ruthless ideology. “Don’t think for a second that these people have a conscience,” said one garda detective to a distraught widower. “Don’t think that they know what they did here.” He saw the men police believed to be the bombers, “walking about, spending their giros on pints and fags, and trips to the bookies, and that’s their life, and they don’t give a damn about what they’ve done.”

Murphy was not as stupid as some of his minions. He was successful as a builder and a publican. But he was just as conscience-free and was indefatigable in his struggle against justice north and south. My Omagh book chronicles the hell the bereaved and injured were put through by sclerotic legal systems and greedy lawyers, though it also rejoices in the many good people who never gave up on helping the victims. One of those good guys was David Rupert, an American trucker who came to know the Real IRA and decided to take the enormous risk of giving evidence against them. He recalled having dinner with Murphy in a pub in Dundalk one evening. Initially, Murphy seemed to him “like an everyday guy. That is the problem society makes by thinking that mass murderers are so evil but it just oozes from them. It doesn’t. They seem just normal for the most part. They just killed people.”

And ultimately, they will get their just deserts. For all that republicans try to rewrite history and stifle criticism, once they’re dead, truth triumphs.

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