Police in Northern Ireland are to re-open investigations into the sectarian murder of Rory McIlroy’s great uncle at the height of the troubles.
Joseph McIlroy, brother of Rory’s golfing grandfather Jimmy, was targeted by the UVF simply because he was a Catholic living in the Protestant area of Orangefield, near Holywood, where Rory’s side of the McIlroy family still reside.
The father of four was gunned down in his own kitchen in 1972 after loyalist paramilitaries had camped out in his garden.
Jimmy McIlroy was fixing the washing machine when the gunmen opened fire through the back door of the family home as his four daughters slept upstairs.
His young wife Mary had just gone into the living room when the gunmen pounced, aiming at a target visible through the frosted back door but not identifiable as man, woman or child.
The inquest into the November 1972 killing heard that Jimmy staggered into the living room after five rounds of gunfire.
“I put my arms around him and then I noticed my hands were covered in blood. I ran screaming into the street,” Mary McIlroy told the inquest.
Police at the time made it clear that Joseph McIlroy, known to his friends as Joe, was shot merely because he had moved his Catholic family into the Protestant Orangefield area of East Belfast.
No-one has ever been charged and convicted of the killing of Joseph McIlroy, one of hundreds of unsolved murders now being re-examined by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The story came to light at the weekend as internet chat-rooms debated Rory McIlroy’s Irishness and the swift disappearance of an Irish tricolor thrown in his direction minutes after his US Open win at Congressional.
Some loyalist fans in the North have claimed the disappearance of the flag as a victory for their cause, others have confirmed that the Catholic McIlroy has no interest in the politics of Northern Ireland’s past.
His parents Gerry and Rosie are both Catholics. Gerry’s father Jimmy, the first McIlroy to grace the fairways of Holywood golf club, was one of the first Catholics to work in the Harlaand and Wolf shipyard.
Rory was baptized in the very church where his great-uncle Joe was buried and he attended a Catholic primary school – St Patrick’s – but he is not of any political persuasion.
His secondary school – the religiously mixed Sullivan Upper Grammar – preached political moderation in a society torn apart by religious strife.
‘Lámh Foisdineach An Uachtar’ reads the school motto, the Irish for ‘with the gentle hand foremost.’
Aside from a quote which claimed he would play in the Olympics for Britain, Rory McIlroy has never said anything to encourage political debate or divide.
His golfing career blossomed under the auspices of the 32 county Golfing Union of Ireland and he has always acknowledged their help en route to stardom.
He played for Ireland – with fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell – at the World Cup in 2009 and one of the first things he did at Congressional last week was commit to the Irish Open in Killarney at the end of July, calling it his ‘national championship.'
If anything, according to comments by noted Ulster observers at the weekend, McIlroy represents a new face of Northern Ireland. He is one of the young people with no time for the politics or the divides of the past and no interest in them.
Two years ago, an internet poster by the name of Paul Moore went online to clarify the McIlroy position.
“I want to challenge some of the misguided crap being written about Rory McIlroy,” wrote Moore, according to reports in the Daily Mail.
“Let’s clear up some things. He grew up in an area which is 90% Protestant, but he is in fact one of the 10% Catholic. He says he is from Northern Ireland, and he has being going with a Protestant for a long time.
“Religion and nationality ain’t massive on his agenda. But if you DO ask him is he Irish, his answer is simple, YES. Hope this clears some things up.”
“I remember hearing the soccer manager Martin O’Neill saying that when someone from Northern Ireland does well, everyone here feels particularly proud of them whether they’re Protestant or Catholic, whether they see themselves as British or Irish,” said Houston.
“That pride is something wonderful. It’s because we’re such a small place, population-wise, and because we’ve been through so much.”
Ironically, on the very day he returned to Northern Ireland with the US Open trophy in hand, East Belfast witnessed some of the worst rioting seen in years as Loyalist thugs laid siege to the Catholic enclave of Short Strand.
“I know that 99.9% of the population doesn’t want to see that,” said McIlroy when asked about the sectarian riots.
“Everyone just wants to live in peaceful times. I am aware that I’m going to be portrayed as a role model. I have to be very careful in what I say and do.”