The mother of one of two soldiers killed by dissident republicans at Massereene Barracks eight years ago this week says the people of Northern Ireland touch her heart in a unqiue way that does not happen in England.
Geraldine Ferguson’s son Sapper Patrick Azimkar was murdered by the RIRA in Antrim on March 7, 2009, along with Sapper Mark Quinsey.
Speaking to the News Letter after a special trip to Northern Ireland to mark her son’s death, she spoke highly of how she is treated here.
“The people that we meet and that we mix with are so incredibly kind and warm that it is very touching for us to see how people, particularly in Antrim town, really still do remember Patrick and Mark.
“And they remember him with their hearts which is very touching for us.”
She and her husband Mehmet and their other son James took part in a memorial ceremony in Antrim on Monday with the Royal British Legion and locals. Another ceremony took place outside the barracks in the evening.
“Over here you are on a different level of connection with people,” she said. It was “especially noticeable” at the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) victims’ conference in Enniskillen at the weekend, where she spoke.
Three people were arrested for the murders. Lurgan republican Colin Duffy was acquitted of involvement in 2012. Brian Shivers was convicted but it was overturned on appeal in January 2013. A subsequent retrial found him not guilty.
Their way to manage the burden was to “fight with the pen,” writing to politicians, ministers and senior Army officers until they got an adjournment debate in the Commons.
Their MP read their full story on the Hansard record “in black and white for ever”.
“Then we had to let go after that injustice and move on, so it doesn’t destroy you.”
Geraldine came from a mixed north-south Irish marriage. Her Protestant father was born in a small Co Antrim village and grew up in Coleraine, while her Catholic mother was from Kerry.
“They were always people who always wanted peace in any situation – they would never go for war.”
Her family is pleased to be “still here” eight years after Patrick’s murder.
“It sounds a bit silly but it didn’t at the time. I didn’t know if it was survivable.”
Patrick came home to them in London shortly before he died. He was about to be posted to Afghanistan.
“He caught the three of us in the kitchen one day and said: ‘Look if I don’t come back from Afghanistan I want you to get on with your lives – you must live’. And that is always ringing in our ears – we must live for Patrick.”
Refound faith ‘saved me from bitterness’
Geraldine says that the profound suffering of losing her son led her to rediscover her Catholic faith, through which she has also found healing and release from bitterness.
Mark Quinsey’s mother Pamela Brankin died in 2013 aged 51, shortly after Brian Shivers was acquitted of involvement in the murders.
“She did die of a broken heart, without any doubt, because I used to speak to her,” Geraldine said. “I know very well that can happen very easily. For me personally my great gift was that I found faith.”
Brought up a Catholic, she was “an atheist” for 46 years.
“After I lost Patrick I had a lot of experiences which were profound ... it’s like God came to me, I don’t know how to put it really. I have a strong feeling of God with me and that has stayed with me very much.”
She added: “I think when you get into deep suffering, I think that is where people do find faith somehow. I would say it has brought healing.”
She cannot say it has brought “forgiveness” but they don’t feel bitterness any longer against the gunmen.
“Thank God we don’t have bitterness in our heart – even to them, strangely. One day God will sort them out.”