| 0°C Dublin

sad loss Heartbroken man speaks on the 40th anniversary of his young wife’s death at the hands of an IRA gunman

Widower tells of heartache 40yrs after murder of census worker

Close

Lowry Mathers says the pain of losing his wife Joanne has never left him

Lowry Mathers says the pain of losing his wife Joanne has never left him

Joanne Mathers who was murdered on the 7th of April 1981 when she was shot collecting Cenus forms in Derry

Joanne Mathers who was murdered on the 7th of April 1981 when she was shot collecting Cenus forms in Derry

/

Lowry Mathers says the pain of losing his wife Joanne has never left him

The husband of murdered census collector Joanne Mathers says the pain of losing her never left him.


Heartbroken Lowry Mathers (72) spoke to the Sunday World this week on the 40th anniversary of his young wife’s death at the hands of an IRA gunman.

A mother of a toddler son, Joanne was working as a fiver-a-day census collector when she was shot by a masked IRA man in Derry’s Waterside district.

An honours graduate and a town planner by profession, 29-year-old Joanne was standing at the door of a house at Anderson Crescent in the Gobnascale area when her masked killer struck.

The gunman attempted to rip a clipboard from her hand. And when Joanne struggled to hold on to it, he shot her in the head.

Joanne screamed out and she rushed forward past the home owner who had just opened the door.

In an attempt to save Joanne from further attack, the man slammed it shut again in the killer’s face.

But the determined gunman wasn’t finished. He smashed his way inside, where he shot Joanne several times more as she lay on the living room floor. Before fleeing the scene, the killer ripped a bundle of census forms from Joanne’s clasped hand.

Twenty years later Sinn Féin urged party supporters to cooperate with census requirements. But on April 7 1981 – as hunger strikes in the Maze Prison were reaching a climax which resulted in the deaths of 10 republican prisoners – the IRA was bitterly opposed to the census.

Sinn Féin spokesmen dismissed it as a British spying ploy aimed at garnering information on a hostile nationalist population.

“It seems as though it happened yesterday,” Lowry told the Sunday World this week.

“With this week being the anniversary, I’ve been looking at photographs and things.

“It’s like a room door has been unlocked inside my head and it has all come flooding back,” he said.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

If she hadn ’t been caught up in a tribal war which was none of her making, Joanne would today have been a 69-year-old pensioner.

“It seems strange to think of Joanne being a pensioner, but that would have been the case alright,” said Lowry, who still runs the family farm on the outskirts of Derry.

He added. “I’ve no doubt we would have had a celebration of some sort.”

A few years before she died, Joanne – who came originally from Co Donegal – met Lowry at a dance in Derry’s Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall, overlooking the city’s ancient walls.

The couple were happy together and married soon afterwards. And when Joanne gave birth to a baby boy they named Shane, she quit her job took look after him.

Close

Joanne Mathers with her son Shane a year before she was murdered by the IRA as she collected census forms in Londonderry in 1981

Joanne Mathers with her son Shane a year before she was murdered by the IRA as she collected census forms in Londonderry in 1981

Joanne Mathers with her son Shane a year before she was murdered by the IRA as she collected census forms in Londonderry in 1981

When the opportunity arose to work as a census collector, she jumped at it. Following the murder of his young wife, Lowry looked after their baby son while continuing to build his dairy farm business.

And Shane followed in his mum’s footsteps by also becoming a town planner.

“Looking back, it all seems so futile. We were happy together,” said Lowry.

“And it was such a pointless loss of a young life,” he added.

Joanne’s murder was witnessed by Derry man Willie Carlin, whose mother lived a few doors away.

At the time, Carlin was a senior member of Sinn Féin in Derry and a trusted aide to leading party member Martin McGuinness.

A former member of the Royal Irish Hussars, Carlin was also an MI5 spy. He had been tasked with collating information on changing political developments inside the republican movement.

Carlin’s regular analytical reports were read by many leading British political figures including Tory PM Margaret Thatcher.

“I was chatting to my mother when she said ‘a wee girl is coming down my steps’,” he said. “The girl was in a state of panic and my mother brought her inside. She said her name was Joanne Mathers and that she was collecting census forms.

“But she also said a man had threatened to shoot her if she didn’t get out of the area immediately.

“We calmed her down, gave her tea and reassured her she was safe. After a while, Joanne went on her way and I watched as she called at other doors in the street. Joanne had grabbed my hand and her last words to me were ‘God bless you’.

“She appeared to get her confidence back and she waved back at us and she gave a wee skip as she walked on to the next house.

Close

An emotional Willie Carlin, who blames himself for the death of Joanne Mathers, finally gets the opportunity to  ask forgiveness at her graveside - twenty years  on.

An emotional Willie Carlin, who blames himself for the death of Joanne Mathers, finally gets the opportunity to ask forgiveness at her graveside - twenty years on.

An emotional Willie Carlin, who blames himself for the death of Joanne Mathers, finally gets the opportunity to ask forgiveness at her graveside - twenty years on.

“It was then the gunman struck. I’ll never forget it. It was horrible,” he said.

Carlin raced to Joanne’s aid, but there was nothing he could do. She lay dead on the living room floor of the house where she had called to collect a census form. Outside in the street, Catholic residents began to recite the rosary. And others, knowing Carlin was a member of the republican movement, vented their anger at him. As he walked back in a daze to his mother’s home, people screamed at him.

Carlin was later exposed as a spy by a disgruntled MI5 traitor and he was lucky to escape with his life.

And 20 years later, he visited Joanne’s grave at Mountfield, near Strabane.

His most treasured possession is a white marble pebble he took from her final resting place.

This week, Willie Carlin revealed he carries it permanently with him as a reminder of the young mum murdered in front of him 40 years ago.

He said: “I think of Joanne every day. And when I think back of how Sinn Féin people tried to justify the murder by attacking the 1981 census, it seems farcical.”

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Sunday World


Top Videos





Privacy