#OTD in 1981 – Civil rights campaigner and former Westminster MP, Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin) and her husband were shot and seriously injured in a gun attack in their home near Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

“To gain what is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.” –Bernadette Devlin

As the gunmen left the house, they were grabbed by British paratroopers. One of the soldiers came into the kitchen. Bernadette heard her husband say they needed an ambulance. That was the first time she knew he was alive. For more than half an hour, she says, the soldiers stayed outside while she and her husband bled. Finally another detail of paratroopers arrived and took the McAliskeys by helicopter to a hospital in Belfast.

“The soldiers were there to make sure that the gunmen got into my house and that they were caught on the way out,” declares Bernadette. “The gunmen were set up and so were we.” As she sees it, the paratroopers, who rarely patrol the remote district (their barracks are 40 miles away), hoped she would be killed, yet would have gotten glory for seizing the culprits.

At the hospital they found 14 bullet holes in her. One slug had missed the heart by a tiny margin. One had punctured the lung. Another had broken the leg. Her husband had 13 holes in him. When Bernadette looked at her body, she groaned: “I’ve been run over by a sewing machine.”

Six weeks later she emerged from the hospital on crutches, hardened in her belief in a unified Ireland and determined to achieve political prisoner status (which would give clout to their cause) for the H-Block men. Shortly thereafter, Bernadette announced her candidacy and then dropped it to support Bobby Sands, the 27-year-old who was the IRA’s commanding officer in the prison. He had spent eight years in jail for IRA activities, and was serving a 14-year sentence for carrying guns.

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