If you want to know how far Northern Ireland has come in a generation, consider the case of Joseph McIlroy and his grand-nephew Rory McIlroy.
Rory stands on top of the world, feted and honored as one of the greatest sportsmen, up there with LeBron James, Tom Brady and whoever else exists at the stratospheric level.
Joseph McIlroy was murdered in cold blood before his wife Mary and four young daughters a lifetime ago, in Belfast, 1972 to be precise.
There has been much speculation about why Rory does not get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland in any way, and his grand uncle’s death surely has lots to do with it. The killing is still said to weigh heavily on the family.
Joseph, like Rory, was apolitical it seems, ready and willing to give life in Northern Ireland a chance despite The Troubles.
He bought a home in a predominantly Protestant middle class area of Belfast, one of two Catholics to do so, and settled in while working as a computer technician to make a better future for himself and his family.
But it was a time of massive sectarian tension in Northern Ireland and the killings were at their height. A Catholic moving into a Protestant neighborhood was an inviting target for killers, and so it proved.
Joseph was shot through the kitchen door of his home on November 21, 1972 by killers who came well prepared. They had hidden out in his back garden and waited for a shot of him.
It s still an unsolved murder, and in 2011 the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced that an investigation was underway.
Joseph was fixing a washing machine. His wife Mary and their daughters – oldest aged nine, youngest two -- were about the house.
The killers fired four shots through the kitchen door. His wife told the inquest that she heard four bangs and he husband staggered into the living room.
She later told an inquest, “I put my arms around him and then I noticed my hands were covered in blood. I ran screaming into the street.”
Joseph McIlroy, shot several times in the stomach, was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
A neighbor said, “I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I was in the working kitchen when the shots came but could see nothing through the frosted glass windows.
“Mrs. McIlroy ran out of the house and stood on the step shouting for help. By this time the gunmen had disappeared.”
Joseph was the 74th victim of violence that year alone. He is buried with his parents in a Belfast grave.
He would never live to see his incredible grand-nephew and more is the pity. Rory in his own way transcends Northern Ireland now and belongs on a world stage, but is surely a symbol too of how far Northern Ireland has come.
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