Gerald's mother Eileen, in her own words.
``He's not coming home,'' says Nellie McAuley. ``They were the words that confirmed my worst fears.'' A large black and white pen portrait of her son hangs in the living room of Nellie's terrace street home. ``It was drawn by one of the prisoners in Long Kesh,'' says Nellie, ``and given to Gerald's uncle. It's a good likeness.''
Gerald McAuley was 15 years old when he was shot dead while defending the Clonard district from loyalist attack. The likeness shows all the optimism and confidence of youth. The kind of face which should have been more at home on a GAA pitch challenging his peers, than facing a pitched battle against a rampaging Orange mob.
At 7am on Friday 15 August, Nellie was in Belfast city centre where she was working as a cleaner in one of the big stores. ``I was working when I heard the news that a wee boy, Patrick Rooney, had been shot dead by the RUC in Divis Flats the night before,'' says Nellie.
There were no buses for the return journey home. ``A young woman was standing at the bus stop in the town,'' says Nellie. She was a Protestant, the girl told Nellie, and was too afraid to walk home through West Belfast. ``I told her she'd be alright with me, and we linked arms and walked home together.''
Years later, the two women met again. ``She remembered me and also knew that my son had been shot dead just hours after we first met,'' says Nellie. She thanked Nellie for her kindness and said she had been sorry to hear Gerald had been killed. ``It was ironic,'' she said. ``No, it was tragic,'' said Nellie.
``I'd been out queuing for bread,'' says Nellie, ``and when I returned home there was a commotion at the house. Someone said Gerald had been shot. Another neighbour said he'd only been hit with a stone.'' With an increasing sense of foreboding, Nellie began a desperate search for her son.
``I heard some of the wounded had been taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital. I pleaded with a nurse to let me search the wards.'' A neighbour waiting in Casualty for his injuries to be treated confirmed that Gerald had been shot but he wasn't at the Royal.
Back at home, news reporters had visited the McAuley's, asking for a photograph of Gerald. ``He must be dead,'' Nellie told her daughter Frances. Finbar McKenna's father took Nellie to the City Hospital. ``A sister at the hospital said Gerald wasn't there but there was a 19-year-old youth in the morgue at Musgrove Barracks,'' says Nellie. ``I knew it was Gerald; he was only 15 but he was big for his age.''
Returning home, the reaction of people manning a barricade at Kennedy Way added to Nellie McAuley's fears. ``They moved so quickly and quietly out of our way.'' From across a road a priest called to Nellie. ``Are you looking for your son?'' said the priest, ``He's not coming home, go home now, he died for his faith.'' Later that night Gerald's father travelled to Musgrove to identify his son's body.
``I didn't know Gerald was a member of the Fianna,'' says Nellie. ``He was often away from home cycling and camping but I never thought anything of it. I was told later that he had been helping evacuate families, loading their furniture onto the back of a lorry.''
The McAuley family's ordeal did not end there. Three weeks later a British army captain knocked on their front door. ``He asked for my husband and told him he was wanted down the barracks to identity his son,'' says Nellie. ``My husband told him Gerald was dead and buried but he insisted. `Is it Jim?' he asked. At the barracks the RUC roared with laughter. It was their idea of a joke, a sort of initiation stunt for the British army officer.''
- Irish Rebel