By Jonny McCambridge
In 1984 Mary Travers, a gifted young musician from Belfast, had recently started work in her dream job as a teacher. With one of her first pay packets she treated her 14-year-old sister Ann to lunch in the city centre.
Ann recalls: “People today take that for granted but it was a rare treat in the 1980s. I had chicken in a basket, which I thought was very exotic, and Mary had a scone. It was the only time I ever got to go for coffee or lunch with my sister.”
Just a few months later 22-year-old Mary was murdered by the IRA. She had been walking home from Mass at Saint Brigid’s Catholic Church in the south of the city with her mother and father, Catholic magistrate Tom Travers, when they were targeted. Mary was shot through the back. Her father was shot six times but survived.
He was later to tell how the same gunman who shot Mary also
pointed a gun at his wife’s head but it misfired twice.
The significance of recalling the lunch trip into the city for Ann, now 49, is to illustrate how the years cannot dim the memories of her sister.
She is also is able to recall with chilling accuracy every detail of what happened when her sister was killed. “I had been to 11 o’clock Mass, then I came home and was listening to Radio 1 in my bedroom when my brother Paul came running in and said mum, dad and Mary had been shot.”
Ann ran to the scene which was just 200 yards from her front door.
“I just didn’t know what to do. I remember Mary was being put into an ambulance, there was a doctor who was helping her. Paul said to her ‘She’s going to be alright, isn’t she?’ and the doctor shook her head.
“It’s a day that remains vivid in my memory, I can remember every
moment in minute detail. It just never, ever leaves me.
“Mary was a lovely person and we had great fun. All my memories of her before that day are happy ones. She was a good and kind person.”
When asked how a teenager deals with such sudden and traumatic pain Ann is uncertain in her answer. “I don’t know how any of us really got over it, we all still carry those scars with us today. Grief is a funny thing because you never forget the person, they are always there with you, but the healthy thing is to get through life and live as best you can. I have got married and raised five children and I have to be a good example to them.
“But traumatic grief can be triggered by anything. It could be fireworks at Halloween or maybe just hearing a piece of music.”
One such trigger was when Sinn Fein appointed Mary McArdle, the only person convicted over the Mary Travers murder, as a Ministerial Special Advisor in 2011.
Ann says: “Just hearing that name after all that time triggered something inside me. I hadn’t realised how badly I would be affected. Sinn Fein didn’t know it at the time but what they did gave me the voice to be able to speak up and I found that quite cathartic, quite healing.
“All the grief that I had been burying for all those years came out and I had to deal with it.”
Today Ann Travers works as an advocate for other victims of paramilitary violence. She doesn’t expect anyone else to be brought to justice for the
death of her sister but will not give up hope altogether.
“I will never give up on justice. It is the identity of the gunman who shot Mary that I’m interested in as well as who gave the order for it to be carried out. Someday perhaps someone might find it in their heart to tell the truth about Mary’s murder.”
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