Son’s checkpoint killing ‘still seems like yesterday’ 25 years on

Aidan McAnespie's father holds a picture of his son at his home in Aughnacloy. The 23 year-old was shot dead by British soldiers as he made his way to a football match 25 years ago. INTT0913-062X
Aidan McAnespie's father holds a picture of his son at his home in Aughnacloy. The 23 year-old was shot dead by British soldiers as he made his way to a football match 25 years ago. INTT0913-062X

TWENTY-FIVE years may well have passed since John McAnespie received the devastating news that his youngest son Aidan had been shot dead by British Army soldiers at the border checkpoint in Aughnacloy, but to the heartbroken father, the memory of that awful day is still as raw as it ever was.

“It’s just the same as yesterday, it doesn’t get any easier”, Mr McAnespie told the Tyrone Times in an interview on the day after the 25th anniversary of his son’s death.

In those 25 years, John’s wife Lizzie and daughter Eilish - a well regarded local photographer who campaigned tirelessly for the British government to reveal the truth behind her brother’s killing - have both passed away.

Eilish, who lost her battle with cancer in 2008, finally managed to receive a sort of closure shortly before her death when a report from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) dismissed the account of the soldier who fired the fatal shot as “the least likely version of what happened”.

The year after Eilish’s death, the then Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said the British government and Ministry of Defence recognised the “pain and suffering” of the McAnespie family.

In a short statement, Mr Woodward also described the shooting of Aidan McAnespie as “a matter of deep regret”. At that time, the McAnespie family said the statement was “some sort of conclusion, an acknowledgement that the official version of events given at the time of Aidan’s death is now not creditable”.

That sentiment was echoed again by Aidan’s father, who told the TIMES it was “a bit of verbal sympathy”, but said the family still felt “let down” by the Irish government which has never released the findings of its investigation by Garda Deputy Commissioner Eugene Crowley into the killing.

John McAnespie, now in his late 70s, continued: “Our big problem is the Irish government. They have let us down badly because they set up this investigation by Crowley to get people to bring information to him.

“That was confidential and we expected that, but we wanted to know the outcome of that investigation and we have never got that.”

John recalls how Aidan was subjected to an endless campaign of “abuse” from police officers prior to his death.

“They [police] stopped him every day in the town, it got that bad when he was going to his work in Monaghan that his mother had to go with him down through the town to the checkpoint.

“He couldn’t take his car through the checkpoint from Christmas. So his mother would leave him through and he would take his own car on to Monaghan. Then he would have to ring his mother again when he was coming back from work and get her to meet him.

“It was terrible for a 23-year-old lad that he had to get his mother to meet him so he could get to his work.”

On the day of Aidan’s death, John and his family had been attending a funeral, and, after a meal, Aidan returned to the McAnespie home to light the fire for his mother.

“We had no fire lit in the house”, explained John, “so Aidan went home to light it for his mother.

“Aidan had two calves across the road, so he went to feed them and then headed down to the football field.

“We got word very quickly after that to say he had been shot. I think they told me it was around 2pm that it happened. It was a big shock. The shock never leaves you.

“When we got down to where he was shot, there was a row of police standing on the road. I told them: ‘You’re satisfied now. You tortured him (Aidan) all along.’

“The ambulance was there too, and he was put on to a stretcher and away they went to the hospital. Paul McCabe brought me to the hospital and we were taken to the morgue.”

Aidan’s father describes his youngest child as “a lovely lad”, who was kind to his parents and who loved football, cards and snooker. “He always had a lot of time for older people”, recalled John, “and he was very close to his brothers and sisters.”

On the occasion of Aidan’s 25th anniversary, February 21, around 1,000 people took part in a candlelit procession to mark the event, something his family have received much comfort from.

Chaired by Dungannon and South Tyrone Mayor, Phelim Gildernew, and addressed by Tyrone GAA legend, Peter Canavan, the procession moved from Coronation Park and walked the route through where the checkpoint once stood, led by a lone piper.

Meanwhile, a special football match between Aghaloo and Killeeshil, the same sides that lined out on February 21 1988, took place on Saturday afternoon.