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Please let us grieve in peace

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A ROADSIDE memorial was erected near Mullaghbawn at the weekend to mark the 40th anniversary since the brutal IRA killing of a Newtownhamilton man.

Family and friends of Willie Clarke, along with representatives of the victims group, FAIR, gathered for the special ceremony at Redmonds Cross, as a special granite monument was unveiled in his memory.

The event took place on Sunday, April 2 - the exact date in 1977 when the 30-year-old digger driver had his life cruelly cut short, after being abducted by three armed and masked men.

Mr Clarke, a much loved husband and father of four was shot three times by IRA gunmen and his body was later found lying at Redmonds Cross, on the Belleeks to Crossmaglen Road, about five miles from the border.

At the time of his abduction, Mr Clarke - who lived at Fairview in Newtownhamilton - had been digging out drains at a farm in Mullaghbawn.

Over recent years, two previous roadside memorials erected on the Carricknagavanagh Road in Mr Clarke's memory have been vandalised.

Just last year, his family was left heartbroken after around 1,000 worth of damage was caused, after a granite roadside plinth was desecrated.

At the same time, his heartbroken widow and son had abuse hurled at them from a passing car as they visited the scene to witness firsthand the damage.

And, just two days before Christmas 2012, a small wooden cross which had been cemented in place a year previously, was also stolen from the site.

Speaking to the Ulster Gazette ahead of the special dedication service, Mr Clarke's widow Betty said the new monument "means a lot" to the family.

"We were all devastated when the other two were damaged. It's a tara it can't be left alone. We have never done anything to them."

Mrs Clarke described the past 40 years since her husband's brutal killing as "very hard".

"Willie was killed in April and our youngest girl wasn't born until June and I had the four of them to bring up on my own and it wasn't easy," she said.

"He was a good man and a very decent man and there wasn't one could say a bad word about him."

With two memorials to her husband having already been vandalised, Mrs Clarke said she "couldn't describe" how she felt on both occasions.

"I am just hoping they will not touch this one. I couldn't believe the previous two were damaged - it was terrible.

"We would have taken the odd run up and put flowers on it for his birthday and special occasions and it was always nice to have the monument," added Mrs Clarke, a grandmother of 14.

Pastor Barrie Halliday - who led Sunday's memorial service - told those in attendance, "victims didn't choose the sites for memorials" and "therefore if the site offends, it is the IRA who chose all these sites".

Speaking ahead of the dedication ceremony, Pastor Halliday said: "This will put Sinn Fein's concept of respect to the test".

"It was their terrorist comrades that chose the spot where Willie died and therefore, if the memorial stone offends by being on that road, maybe they will reflect on the events of the 2nd April 1977 and agree with us it was a sectarian execution that tarnished the beauty of God's creation that is the ring of Gullion."

Pastor Halliday praised the generosity of the community, who had rallied around to raise funds following the desecration of the previous roadside memorial.

Meanwhile, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives spokesman, William Frazer said Mr Clarke "is one of a long line of innocent Protestants murdered in South Armagh by South Armagh men".

"The family have been denied justice for 40 years and now some local Republican thugs are trying to deny the Clarke family a memorial to visit where they could lay flowers and quietly reflect.

"This is the least we could expect in this era of a supposed peace process," Mr Frazer added.

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