Vigil marks 40 years since infamous 'pitchfork murders'

Published: 25 Oct 2012 13:000 comments

It's 40 years ago this week since the bodies of two Fermanagh Catholics, Michael Naan and Andrew Murray were found on a farm at Aughinahinch, Newtownbutler.

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The men had been murdered and such was the nature of their multiple stab wounds that the double killing became infamously known as "the pitchfork murders."

In fact, the gruesome injuries were carried out by British Army soldiers with a six-inch double-edged Bowie knife.

Their bodies were discovered the next day by an oil salesman calling at the farm on business.

It was 1972 and the early stages of the Troubles. The two killings deepened fear and mistrust along the Fermanagh Border.

At first it was being speculated that loyalists had carried out the killings in retaliation for the murder of a UDR man earlier in the year.

There was also rumour of UDR involvement; but one Nationalist representative raised the speculation that British Army troops on a tour of duty could have been responsible.

In fact, it was to be almost nine years before two former members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were convicted in court in 1981 and given life sentences. A third man had turned Queen's evidence.

They were only brought to justice after another soldier from the regiment walked into a police station in the UK and made a statement.

Macabrely, he had been reading reports of the injuries inflicted on his victims by the Yorkshire Ripper in the late 70s, and thought that they were remarkably similar to those inflicted by his former colleagues on Naan and Murray.

The two men died on October 23, 1972, and on Tuesday evening past, to mark the anniversary a candlelight vigil was held in Newtownbutler.

Later in the evening, a book compiled by local historian, Brian MacDonald.

"The Pitchfork Murders: Uncovering the cover-up" claims to have proof of a cover-up of the facts of the case, "not least the role played by retired British army general, Jeremy MacKenzie."

Councillor Thomas O'Reilly, speaking about the launch of the 40th anniversary book encouraged as many people as possible to read it.

"This was a very horrific event 40 years ago when the Troubles were at their height. This is an attempt to put it into context. I think it goes some way to lift the lid on the premise that the British forces were here to be peacekeepers," he said, referring instead to a campaign to create division within communities.

"It can be used in a positive way and I would like to see this positive interpretation. Forty years later we can help build peace in these communities," he said.

He paid tribute to both the Naan and Murray families for their co-operation and thanked the many people who helped produce the book, in particular, Jim Carson, from the local Sinn Fein Cumann and to author, Brian McDonald.

The book points out that neither of the two murder victims were members of the Republican movement.

Micheal (Mickey) Naan was 31, the youngest of 10 children of Joseph and Birdget Naan. He had been living at Aughnahinch with his widowed mother.

Andrew Murray was younger, aged 24, one of a family of seven of John and Mary Ann Murray.

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