Diane Byrnes interviews Kathleen Cummings

23 June, 2002
Diane V. Byrnes, the producer and host of "Echoes of Erin", a weekly radio program on WEDO-AM, Sundays at 1 to 2 p.m., inteviews Ciaran's mother, Kathleen Cummings, about what it is like to lose her son to sectarian violence.


"LIVES BEHIND THE HEADLINES"MRS. KATHLEEN CUMMINGSUpon leaving Armagh City, we headed for Dublin to pick up our car, then drove to Belfast. We stayed with Sean and Maria Mac Eachaidh (pronounced McGackey) and their children, Sean, Grainne, Kevin and Una, on the Lower Ormeau Road. Sean had a pretty intensive schedule set for us.
After meeting the Mac Eachaidh family, Sean took us on a tour of the area, where we met a few of the locals. One of the places we stopped was at the memorial at Sean Graham’s Bookie Shop, on the Ormeau Road. In 1992, five Catholics were shot to death and several others injured. From this location I called into the program to give a report.
One of the reasons to stay in Belfast was to conduct interviews with people who have experienced the tragic loss of a loved one. I realize this could include so many people, however, we concentrated our efforts, particularly on Mrs. Kathleen Cummings. Mrs. Cummings is the Mother of Ciaran Cummings, age 19 who was murdered at the Roundabout, at the top of the road, near his home in the Greystone Estate in County Antrim, while waiting for a lift to work. The date was July 4, 2001. Although it appears the authorities know who murdered Ciaran, they have not convicted anyone due to lack of evidence.
Certainly, most people living in Northern Ireland have been affected in some way because of the ‘Troubles’ over the past 33 years. So many have lost family members and loved ones. The purpose in interviewing Mrs. Cummings was to give her an opportunity to tell her story about Ciaran, and also to make you, the reader, more aware of the daily trauma the citizens experience. Much of what we read in our American newspapers is very biased towards an Unionist agenda. The people I met and listened to, the sites I saw, and my overall experience, does not necessarily, coincide with the Northern Ireland news in our newspapers.
This Sunday in Belfast, we met Mrs. Kathleen Cummings, Mr. Paddy Murray and his family, community workers and Sinn Fein members in County Antrim. Each and every one of them has a story to tell. The interview with Mrs. Kathleen Cummings took place on June 23, 2002, at her home. What follows is our conversation.
Interview - Mrs. Kathleen Cummings
DVB: I want you to know that many people in the world empathize with you, for what you are going through, and you too Catherine in being Ciaran's fiancée. It has been almost a year now, tell me where you are today.
KC: Well, I am trying to get back to normal. Although life will never be normal again, I am just trying to get on with things, for my wee girl’s sake, and our older boy too. It’s hard.
DVB: Yes, I bet it is. The worst thing that can happen is to lose a child, especially the way you lost Ciaran. Can you tell us anything about that day?
KC: He left for work that morning at five past seven, as he had done every morning. The last words I said to him were, "Ciaran, would you put the bin out?" because the bin men come on a Wednesday. The phone rang at fourteen minutes past seven; it was the guy who gives Ciaran a lift to work. He said "Mrs. Cummings, can you come up to the Roundabout, I think Ciaran’s been knocked down?" So me and my husband jumped into the car and went up to the Roundabout. Ciaran was lying there and I asked anybody that was about, "Which one of you knocked him down?" No one opened their mouths. We went over to look at him; Robert just pushed me away. He said ‘Kathleen, he wasn't knocked down, he’s been shot through the head and the back." We actually saw our son lying there.
DVB: What happened after that?
KC: The next thing I remember the police and the ambulance were there. We waited about 15 minutes, they said we would have to go on because they were closing off the road. We came down to the house.
DVB: Have they found the people who did this to Ciaran?
KC: They found the motor bike and a hamlet that was used. They had a lot of people in for questioning but everyone has been let out again.
DVB: What are they looking for?
KC: They are looking for a sawed off shotgun and a pistol. He was shot with two different guns, one through the head and one through the back. He was carrying his sack; they blew some of his fingers off too. So we couldn’t even join his hands in the coffin. I didn’t know that until the coffin came into the house, no one told me.
DVB: You have another son and a daughter, and your husband, how is the whole family doing today?
KC: It has wrecked us completely. Our wee girl is 15, she has been getting songs sent to her in town, "A ho, A ho, it’s off to work we go, two bullets in the head and Ciaran Cummings is dead." She wouldn’t go into the town for months. It seems they have stopped singing about him now.
DVB: I understand you had a memorial for Ciaran where he was shot, and there has been some vandalism.
KC: Yes, three times we put up the memorial. The first time they kicked the flowers all over the place. The second time, they threw petrol over it and burned the flowers, but they couldn’t burn the plaque because it was marble. The third time they must have gotten wire cutters, and cut it off the railing. It smashed into a hundred pieces.
DVB: What kind of a community is Greystone?
KC: It is a very good estate to live in. It is well mixed about half-and-half (Catholics and Protestants).
DVB: Do the neighbors all get along pretty well here?
KC: Yes, brilliant.
DVB: Do you know who is vandalizing the memorial?
KC: Yes, it is the Protestants that are doing it. The police have been told names, but they have to catch them doing it. So, in the end, we just took it down. Three times is a wee bit much. We still have it in the back; my husband joined it all up together.
DVB: Ciaran’s anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks. Have you planned anything for a memorial?
KC: We are just going to put flowers at the Roundabout. But we know they will be kicked around again. About three hundred yards down the road, from where Ciaran was killed; there are flowers up on the railing for a fellow that was stabbed to death two years ago in Antrim. His flowers haven’t been touched, but that fellow was a Protestant. The estate where Denver Smith was killed, there is a big plaque for him, nobody has touched it either, he was a Protestant also. The reason Ciaran’s was touched is because he is a Catholic.
DVB: That is unfortunate, and shouldn’t happen. You were showing me earlier, the binder with press releases and photos. Let’s talk about them. When David Trimble came out with his horrendous statement about Ciaran, what kind of reaction did you have? (On July 5th, David Trimble said there was good reason to suspect the 19 year-old Catholic man killed in Co. Antrim yesterday was murdered by republicans. The Former First Minister suggested, the fatal shooting of Ciaran Cummings as he waited at a roundabout on the outskirts of Antrim town, could be linked to drugs." The next day Mr. Trimble apologized to the family. The RUC/PSNI officer in charge of the investigation contradicted Mr. Trimble’s allegations.)
KC: At the time, I wasn’t worried at all, but as I watched the TV and heard it, I was concerned. His headman down here, Burnside, just wanted to score points. He damaged Ciaran’s name, even though he retracted the statement, it could leave the impression with people that Ciaran had something to do with drugs.
DVB: Let's talk a bit about this article with the Celtics' and Rangers' flags. Tell us about this.
KC: Ciaran supported the Celtic football team, which most Catholics would support; and he also supported The Rangers team, which most Protestants would support. The Rangers Club in Ballymena, came out and tied the Celtic scarf and Rangers scarf together, and sent a card down to the house.
DVB: So even though the Rangers Club is Protestant, it did not matter that Ciaran was Catholic?
KC: No, it didn't matter.
DVB: Tell us a little bit about Ciaran, what kind of a young man was he?
KC: Not just because he was my son, Ciaran was a very nice young fellow. He did his work and he and his girlfriend, Catherine were going to get a flat together. They started to buy furniture for it.
DVB: How do your other children feel about living in a community that is mixed?
KC: They were born here, they know nothing else. We got married 25 years ago and left Ardyone because there was trouble there. We had no children then. We wanted to bring our kids up in a mixed area, not thinking anything would ever happen. Maybe if we would have stayed in our own area, this might never have happened.
DVB: Let’s look at some of these other articles. You said the police found the motorbike, weren’t they able to take fingerprints?
KC: It looked like they were wearing gloves, they didn’t get any fingerprints off it.
DVB: You had pleaded to the community, no retaliation. That was very generous of you to do. You must have felt terrible anger.
KC: Anger, yes, but I didn’t want another family to go through what we were going through. But saying that, six weeks later, Gavin Brett was killed. A few months after that, the postman, Daniel McColgon was killed too. So it didn’t stop them, and our plea was not listened to.
DVB: (we are reviewing a variety of newspaper articles and photos of Ciaran's body being carried away) How are you feeling today? Are you back working?
KC: I went back to work six weeks afterwards. If I hadn’t gone back to work I would have been worse. I was working part time prior to the murder. Afterwards, my boss gave me full time.
DVB: What about your husband?
KC: He’s a taxi driver and he’s back to work now. It is hard for him too, because he could be driving them about, and not know it.
DVB: The young people that have said terrible things to your daughter, are they still doing those kinds of things now?
KC: They are not singing now to her. Most of the Catholic kids in the town are being shouted at and abused from the loyalists.
DVB: Is this because of the time of year? Or is it something that happens all the time?
KC: No, it never used to happen. It could be that it’s coming up to the 12th of July, it’s the silly season.
DVB: What sort of support have you received from the community or social agencies?
KC: Brilliant support. Only for the Protestant people, I would have been away. But I received so much support from them, which has helped us to stay here. As for the social agencies, I have been asked to go talk to someone, but I haven’t gone to anyone. I’ll just deal with the grief myself.
DVB: So in this mixed area, religion doesn’t matter here?
KC: No.
DVB: Well that’s very healthy.
KC: Yes, I have lived here for 25 years. It may be the only estate in Antrim that you wouldn’t see a Union Jack. We don’t fly flags here.
DVB: What that says to me is that all of you respect each other’s differences. Do you also socialize together? Shop together, just like an ordinary community would do?
KC: Oh yes.
DVB: Have you been asked to talk to other families?
KC: No, but I did go see Gavin Brett’s family and Danny McColgan’s parents and girl friend.
DVB: That must have been hard to do?
KC: Well, I knew what we were going through. It happened to us first, and I thought I might be able to help them. Mr. Brett has been talking to my husband about what happened to their son.
DVB: When something like this happens, I think we ask, how could God let this happen. Is there a God?
KC: Yes, I have asked that many times.
DVB: You were very generous in talking with the Brett’s and McColgan’s, did anyone do that for you?
KC: We actually we received letters from all over the world, cards from Spain and all over America.
DVB: You did, tell us about some of those letters, what sorts of comments were made?
KC: Yes, they said how sorry they were to hear about what happened to Ciaran and that they were thinking of us.
DVB: How did you feel receiving those letters?
KC: They really helped.
DVB: In what way did they help?
KC: Because we knew we weren’t on our own. There are other people out there thinking about us.
DVB: And so that helps when you go through such a trauma?
KC: Oh yeah.
DVB: Mrs. Cummings, is there any good that has come out of this?
KC: Nope, not in my eyes. It hasn’t stopped anything, some people are getting murdered and tortured every day. It hasn’t helped at all.
DVB: Are these some of the letters? (Mrs. Cummings had a box of letters that we were examining.)
KC: Yes, we just haven’t got all of them here because there are so many of them, even just wee post cards. There are three pages from the one person. You could read that yourself. At the time they hadn’t a piece of paper and they just wrote it on the back of an envelope.
DVB: Is it OK to read this?
KC: Yes, sure.
DVB: (This is read from one of the letters written on an envelope). "Dear Sir and Miss and Family, my wife Eileen and myself would like today, would like to say to yous, we are sorry to hear about your son. Your son was a friendly young man. I said hello to him one day when I was passing. He smiled at me and said hello. He did not have to die like this Miss and Sir and Family. He was a good worker . I am sorry I did not come to your home to see him. I am a shy person. God Bless You." Signed from Antrim. PS Sorry, I have no writing paper at the minute. God Bless, Eileen and Joe."
Apparently this came from someone of your neighbors.
KC: But I don’t know them.
DVB: They knew Ciaran. Do you have an opportunity, or do you take time to go through these things?
KC: Not them all, but there’s that much . Even the Mass cards and all, you don’t really write anything on the Mass cards, but the people took time to write wee notes on the Mass cards to say how sorry they were. We stopped counting at 1,300 Mass cards.
DVB: My, that is a lot. Many people are praying for all of you.
KC: Can I just show you that? That is the last thing Ciaran left for his sister.
DVB: (Reading note) "Emma, do my room, make my bed. Put everything away, clean floor and I’ll give you money on Friday". Now isn’t that typical?
KC: That’s because his girlfriend was coming up to stay on the weekend.
DVB: Now Catherine, you were Ciaran’s girlfriend? Were you were engaged?
Catherine: Yes
DVB: How are you doing today?
Catherine: Don’t know, just don’t know where the year went.
DVB: Are you healing?
Catherine: No.
DVB: Mrs. Cummings, are you healing?
KC: No, never. I put on a big face, you know. You see, I work local too, I work on the estate. I put on a brave face because nearly everyone does their shopping where I work, they don’t see us at home.
DVB: Putting on that brave face for your neighbors, does that help you at all?
KC: No it doesn’t, but that is just the sort of person I am.
DVB: Tell us about your other two children, there’s Emma and Robert. How old are they?
KC: Robert is 24 and he lives in Dublin. My husband, the day Ciaran got murdered, had to drive the whole way to Dublin to get him. Robert had phoned up and nobody would tell him. He kept phoning back, then his Daddy went to get him. My niece drove with him. She said she didn’t know how he got to Dublin because he had to stop the car several times and just broke down. He is bitter over it. He is very, very bitter.
DVB: How long has Robert been in Dublin?
KC: He is there two years. He lives with his partner and they have a wee boy, Conor, my grandson.
DVB: Tell us about Emma, and how is she doing today?
KC: Emma will be 15 in November. It’s hard to say. Emma is not one for telling you anything, she just keeps it inside. When she goes out, they sing songs to her. I told her to just put her head in the air and ignore them, she has nothing to worry about, it’s them.
DVB: Do you go out to the cemetery often?
KC: Every day. My husband goes twice a day. He checks the grave too, because with his memorial being smashed, he’s just waiting for them to smash the headstone.
DVB: Do you think they will do that?
KC: Yes, they are bad enough. In fact we had to take insurance out. I don’t know of anybody who ever took insurance out on a headstone. We were advised by the police to take insurance.
DVB: The police cannot find anyone who is doing this?
KC: No.
DVB: And they don’t have a clue?
KC: Oh, they know.
DVB: Why can’t they do something about it?
Catherine: They have to catch them doing it, they need evidence.
DVB: No, nothing at all? No finger prints? If people in the community are pretty much aware of who did it, the police have that information as well, I would presume?
KC: Yes.
DVB: And they can’t do anything?
KC: No, they can’t do anything. They have arrested a lot of people, kept some for three days, but no one has been charged.
DVB: So what are your alternatives? What if they never find the perpetuators here? How do you live with that?
KC: I don’t know, we are going to have to.
DVB: We are already coming up on a year now and they haven’t found the people yet, what chance is there of them finding them later down the road?
KC: I don’t know the exact amount of murders there have been in Antrim over the years, and to my knowledge, there has been no one caught for any killings in the town.
DVB: None? That has got to be very painful. Along with Ciaran, there has to be neighbors and other family members that have been lost. No one finds the perpetuators or does anything to them. It’s almost like you can murder anyone and get away with it.
KC: Well it did say in one of the local papers Ciaran’s killers are local. It was a paper in the Antrim area. On the inside it said "The man that killed Ciaran was younger than Ciaran. They said it was an 18 year old that pulled the trigger".
DVB: Where did they get that information:
KC: Honestly, I don’t know.
DVB: How are you dealing with your grief now?
KC: Just trying to carry on, just trying to be normal, which will never be.
DVB: Is there anything anyone can do to help you through this period?
KC: No.
DVB: Is there anything anyone can do for the family at large, or for you Catherine?
Catherine: Just to be able to talk to somebody sometimes helps.
DVB: Does that really help?
Catherine: Sometimes, when it builds up inside you, it hurts more.
DVB: Have you had an opportunity to talk to someone from your local newspaper or from your local radio station?
Catherine: Oh yes.
DVB: What did they do? Write an article or something?
Catherine: The only paper I talked to was the Sunday People. The others came up to your door and just expected you to talk.
DVB: When did you talk to the Sunday People?
Catherine: The day after. Then they came out a few months later and took photographs (Catherine showed me a collage of photographs she had assembled of Ciaran and Robert as little boys. The sequence had chronicled Ciaran’s life.
DVB: So what is your next move? What can you do to get through your grief, especially with his first anniversary coming up?
KC: It’s going to be hard now, even thinking about coming up to the 4th of July. That is your day of Independence. My day of Hell.
DVB: If you had a message to give to the world, what might it be? What could you say that might help other people who encounter the same situation? (after a long pause) Maybe you don’t have anything to say.
KC: I just hope no other person has to go through what we went through.
DVB: My heart aches for you, the fact you had to lose your son in such a tragic way.
KC: I think if it had been under normal circumstances it would have been easier to take. But to have him murdered for just being a Catholic made it worse.
DVB: What day of the week was July 4th?
KC: A Wednesday.
DVB: So it was just a typical day, Ciaran getting up and going to work. Traffic was normal and everything else was normal?
KC: Yes.
DVB: Without knowing who did it for sure, have you any inclination that it was something preplanned?
KC: Yes, it was preplanned. The Police said the day before he was murdered, he was watched from our house. They knew exactly what time he left that Wednesday morning. The police know that.
DVB: How do the police know that if they don’t know who did it?
KC: It must be their Intelligence
Catherine: They said it was well planned and that Ciaran was an easy target as well because he was at the Roundabout every morning for his lift, every Monday to Friday at the same time.
DVB: Have you done anything for yourself as far as writing any kind of a journal?
KC: Catherine made a videotape of him from when he was small and all the dances he went to
DVB: Where did you gather all the information?
Catherine: A variety of photos. Clips, when me and Ciaran were in friends’ weddings. We taped the funeral from the TV. It’s all on one video.
DVB: Did Ciaran enjoy music, or play any musical instruments?
KC: Yes, he loved music, but he didn’t play any instruments. He liked very loud music.
DVB: What kind music did he like?
Catherine: He liked dance music, rave music. He liked Irish music.
DVB: Could he sing?
KC: He could sing "The Fields of Athenry", that was his favorite.
DVB: Did you sing together Catherine?
Catherine: No, I don’t have a note in me head. I sing like a cat being strangled.
DVB: Did he do any traditional Irish dancing?
KC: No.
DVB: What about local GAA?
KC: Yes, he played Gaelic football for Antrim Town for about four years. The Gaelic team didn’t know anything, they came up to the house. They put a wreath up and put a memorial mention in the paper for him
DVB: Did he ever travel to America or outside of Ireland?
KC: Not to America. He and Catherine traveled to Spain last year for holiday.
DVB: Now Catherine, you and Ciaran were going to be married?
Catherine: Yes, we had a long engagement, no set date.
DVB: You were both so young, there was life to enjoy. What were some of the things Ciaran liked to do?
KC and Catherine: Football matches.
DVB: The morning he was killed, he was going to work, what kind of work did he do?
KC: Welding. It was an American company he worked for, about a year, year and a half. He had just finished Tech. In fact his employers said ‘Out of all the apprentices Ciaran was the highest of them all" because he was really, really good. In fact they still have his wee desk as a shrine at work.
DVB: Have you thought about having any kind of a memorial concert or anything like that?
KC: Yes, the Antrim Celtic Club and Holy Cross had one up at the Crumlin Star for him and they couldn’t let anyone else in. They filled it up to the door.
DVB: Is this something they will do on an annual basis?
KC: They wanted to do more, but I said No. One was enough.
DVB: But maybe that is one way to keep Ciaran’s memory alive.
KC: Well his friends are having a football tournament for him, I think it’s the end of June. They will have a ‘Ciaran Cummings Memorial Cup’.
DVB: That’s wonderful. How many teams will participate?
KC: There will be eight teams playing at Cliftonville Grounds, it’s in the Irish League.
DVB: That’s really good. They are going to establish a ‘Ciaran Cummings Cup’. Maybe one day that will be as famous as the Sam Maguire Cup?
KC: Maybe!
DVB: Do you know much about these teams?
KC: They are mixed teams, Protestant and Catholic. But I’m not really supposed to know about it.
Catherine: There are different age groups as well, from 16 and up. There will be Juniors and Seniors playing.
DVB: Maybe through this tournament, with eight teams with at least twelve members on each team, I’m not very good with math unless I have a calculator.
KC: That’s 96.
DVB: That is 96 people who hopefully will be exposed to Ciaran Cummings in a very positive way. Hopefully, when they give the cup to the winner, you will have developed some sort of a biography of Ciaran, that should go along with the Cup so that it is just not a random name out there.
KC: Oh, he will never be forgotten.
DVB: I expect you, your husband, and Emma will participate in the events of the day?
KC: Oh yes.
DVB: That is a good development. You can never bring Ciaran back.
KC: No.
DVB: Is there anything I can do?
Catherine: Like we said, nothing can bring him back
DVB: No, you can’t bring him back. But maybe something to ease your grief, ease your pain. The talking you said helps a bit. Are you angry? Who are you angry with?
KC: The bigger boys, they were told to do it.
DVB: Is there anything you would like to say to others.
KC and Catherine: We just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
DVB: I don’t know what to say. I just pray that God helps you through your grief. As we know, it will never go away nor will it bring Ciaran back. Maybe one day you will be able to help someone else going through this grief. I hope that never happens, but with this being life…
KC: With this being Northern Ireland…
DVB: Would you ever consider leaving here?
KC: No, I have been invited out to America many times. My Daddy’s family lives there. He was in the American Army.
We concluded our interview in about an hour and a half.
Irish-American Michael Thompson, of Colorado set up a website, www.ciarancummings.com. Michael also wrote a song entitled Ciaran Cummings, which you can hear on the site, plus there are additional links available on the site.
When we left Mrs. Cummings’ home, we drove up to the Rathenraw Estate and met with some community workers and Sinn Fein members. The leader of the group was Mr. Paddy Murray, former POW, who was released from prison two years ago due of the Good Friday Agreement. He was an extraordinarily unique, and engaging person. I wished I had taped their conversation, because they were so interesting, and it would have been valuable to me to refer back to their conversation. When this discussion concluded, we went to Paddy Murray’s home and met his family.


This page last updated 21-Mar-2006