If Only Bernie’s Death Were The Last Parents Who Lost Daughter To Sectarian Violence Hope There Will Be Room For Love In Ulster Once Again
Drive up and over the bowed stone bridge, pass by Ballycairn Road on the left and the Lock-Keeper’s Inn on the right, and you are in a blink’s bend in the lane called Aghalee.
It has a store, a gas station, a pub and the unwanted distinction of being the last place where someone died in the sectarian violence that has cost more than 3,220 lives since 1969.
In the early morning of July 15, a man presumed to be from a Protestant paramilitary group shot and killed Bernadette Martin, 18, a Roman Catholic, as she slept in the farmhouse of the family of Gordon Green, 19, her Protestant boyfriend. The day after her funeral was the day that the Irish Republican Army resumed a cease-fire that has, so far, halted the killing in Ulster.
With peace talks under way in the imposing Castle Buildings in Belfast, 20 miles away, this modest village stands a remote chance of becoming the place where the last person ever died in the 28-year-old “Troubles.”
“It would be a fitting tribute to Bernie,” said Rodney McCafferty, personnel manager of the food-processing factory in nearby Lurgan where the teenagers met and fell in love. “There are innocent victims and innocent victims, but she was a totally, totally innocent victim.”
Bernadette was so detached from the violent politics of Northern Ireland that she once asked her father whether the IRA were Catholics or Protestants.
Avondale Foods, where Bernadette ladled spreads onto sandwich slices of bread and Gordon dried vegetables for prepared salads, was a “mixed” workplace, an oasis from the intolerance outside the plant gates that might have bred in them a misleading sense of security.
There have been four sectarian killings in two years now in this outwardly pastoral area of cornfields, grazing cows, children on bicycles and country roads flecked with wind-tossed thistledown.
Hadn’t it occurred to Gordon and Bernadette that their Romeo and Juliet relationship might provoke the paramilitary thugs who are known to inhabit this deceptively peaceful region?
“It never crossed my mind,” the sad-eyed young man said, sitting in the living room of the house where she was shot dead. He showed a visitor a picture of the two of them playfully kissing.
Five miles away, in her house with its tidy entrance-way garden of begonias and roses, Margaret Martin said she had been concerned for Gordon’s safety coming to their largely Catholic neighborhood of Pineside but never for her own daughter’s spending the night with the Greens in Protestant Aghalee.
Bernadette’s father, Laurence Martin, is a long-distance truck driver. Gordon and Bernadette had met on a bus going to the company dance party last Christmas, and those who were there remember it as teenage love at first sight.
It was a complementary mix, she high-spirited and cheerful with tumbling blonde curls, he quiet and retiring, with dense eyebrows and straight black hair combed over his forehead accentuating a brooding look.
“Right from the start they were inseparable,” McCafferty recalled. “They doted on each other.”
“You know, it’s funny to look out there and not see them walking around,” he said, glancing toward the window overlooking the parking lot and loading platform between the two red brick and louvered steel buildings of the plant.
It’s where Bernadette and Gordon, still in their white coats and kitchen hats and blue plastic shower caps, would wander hand in hand on their way to a trailer for their smoking breaks. McCafferty remembered frequently scolding them for coming to work late and smiled at the recollection of what effect his warnings had.
“They were so wrapped up together that it went in one ear and right out the other,” he said.
On the evening of July 14 Bernadette and Gordon left work and went first to her house, then into the town of Lurgan. They later called Gordon’s mother, Josie Green, to come fetch them and take them to Aghalee, where Bernadette often spent the night in his sister’s room.
They had a drink and played pool in the Lock-Keeper’s Inn and then strolled the 500 yards up Soldierstown Road to the Green house. There they made sandwiches and went up to Gordon’s room, where they were joined by his sister. They talked, smoked and eventually fell asleep without undressing sometime after 2:30 a.m.
At 4 a.m. Gordon woke up to an explosive sound. “I asked her what that noise was and then I saw the blood,” he said.
Someone was running down the stairs, he remembers. The gunman had shot her point-blank four times in the head.
She was unconscious but still breathing when the ambulance took her away to Craighhaven Hospital. Later she was transferred to the intensive care unit at Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. She never regained consciousness, and at 4 p.m., with members of hers and Gordon’s family at her bedside, doctors cut off the life support machine.
The police have arrested a 36-year-old local man in the case and charged him with murder. The crime is categorized as political, though a spokesman for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast would not release the name of the suspect or confirm whether he was a member of a paramilitary force.
Did Gordon Green think the suspect had been at the pub the night he and Bernadette had their drink? “No, there were just friends there.”
What else did he know about him? “I’m not allowed to talk about that,” he said.
Margaret Martin said that the last thing she wanted was revenge.
“A lot of people have said they can’t understand my feelings,” she said. “But I have enough to deal with with my grief without dealing with anger too.”
Their desire is that Bernadette’s killing be the last. “That’s the only thing that’s keeping her father and me going,” she said.