Another Prominent Nationalist Escapes Assassination Attempt
Bernadette under fire
by Peter Arnlis
An Phoblacht/Republican News
January 24th, 1981
Three members of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, which is legal in the North, have been charged with attempting to murder prominent nationalist Bernadette McAliskey, aged 34, and her husband Michael, aged 35, at their isolated cottage at Derrylaughan in County Tyrone last week.
Bernadette McAliskey, then Devlin, first rose to international prominence in the late sixties as a leader of popular nationalist resistance in Derry, subsequently became an independent Westminster MP for Mid Ulster and was - until the assassination attempt - PRO of the National H Block/Armagh Committee.
The attack occurred early on Friday morning, although there is conflict over the exact time of the shooting, between the original British army version and that given by Dungannon priest, Fra Denis Faul, who claims that Michael McAliskey (who is in Belfast's Musgrave Hospital) told him on Monday evening that the attack took place at seven oclock and not at quarter past eight as claimed by the British Army.
The British Army's quick presence on the scene can be accounted from by the fact that on the afternoon of Thursday 15th January, the day prior to the assassination bid, a helicopter, which made two or three journeys, flew in from the direction of Dungannon and dropped off a number of patrols, about fifteen soldiers in all. A Scottish regiment has been based in this part of Tyrone but these soldiers were, strangely, members of the Third Battallion of the Parachute Regiment.
Local people saw the soldiers move into "The Moss", as Derrylaughan, a wide expanse of flat, swampy land, is known. The McAliskey home, a modest tin-roofed bungalow, is situated almost in the middle of this bogland, and can be extremely difficult for ever the locals to find, with an outsider - once off the nearest main road - having the choice of a number of pot holed lanes to get lost on. Bernadette's home, which is half surrounded by a wood, is at the one of one such cul-de-sac lane.
Local people say that the soldiers had their faces blackened and were carrying packs, which included more than one radio. The patrols split up, presumably to take up observation positions in dug outs which is normal practice in rural areas. (Bernadette, because of her political activities, may well have been under observation by such an intelligence-gathering army squad.) Dogs for miles around advertised the presence of these strangers by howling and barking all through Thursday night.