1970-1979 | Civilians slaughtered | Massacres | Northern Ireland

Army snipers kill five in West Belfast including three children and a priest

A notice appealing for an inquiry into the 1972 Springhill killings –
Keresaspa – CC License – via Wikimedia.

9 July 1972

On 9 July 1972, soldiers of the British parachute regiment had taken up position behind sandbags in a lumbar yard on the Springhill Estate in West Belfast. They claimed to have been fired upon first, but civilian witnesses testified that it was the soldiers who opened fire on two cars which had driven into the estate. According to the residents’ version, the paras commenced firing when the passengers of the two cars started talking to one another, and they continued to fire into the estate for several minutes afterwards, killing Margaret Gargan, a thirteen year old girl, and two youths, David McCafferty, aged fifteen and John Dougal, aged sixteen.

When Patrick Butler, a 39 year old resident, and a Catholic priest, Father Noel Fitzpatrick, waving a white flag, attempted to help the dying girl they too were both fatally wounded. Two civilians were also injured in the shooting, one in the back of the head and one in the arm. All those killed or injured were unarmed. Yet, the British Army claimed that there had been a heavy exchange of gunfire between the soldiers and the Irish Republican Army and that residents had been caught up in the crossfire.  The police, then known as the RUC,  later informed an inquiry that they had been unable to conduct an investigation as the estate was too dangerous to enter.  However, this conflicted sharply, with a statement from Patrick Butler’s daughter who claimed that the ‘RUC raided our house every week after he died, ransacked it at four or five in the morning.’ Margaret Gargan’s mother later remembered

‘I got £68, which didn’t even bury her – the people in the Whiterock [army base] buried her. The army says they done it at the inquest. They tried to say she was a 21-year-old gunman because she had jeans on. There were no apologies or nothing. In fact, I never even got her clothes back.’1


  1. Matthew Francey, ‘Looking Back on the Unsolved Case of Northern Ireland’s Springhill Massacre,’ Vice News, 9 July 2016 accessed online at https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exk7n4/springhill-massacre-44th-anniversary and Margaret Urwin, A State of Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries, Mercier Press, Cork, 2016, p. 39.

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