THE daughter of a SDLP activist murdered by a loyalist gang 40 years ago has told of the heartbreaking decision to exhume her father’s remains.
Denise Mullen said she was left with “no choice” but to move dad Denis’ body from a plot in Co Tyrone after years of pain stopped both her and her mother from visiting his grave.
And the 48 year-old believes that her father, shot dead on his own doorstep by the ruthless Glenanne gang, is now finally at peace.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right decision.” Denise told the Sunday World.
“From the day and hour that my daddy was buried my mother could not go back to the grave.
“She suffers from such a high level of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that in 40 odd years she couldn’t go back.
“What people don’t realise is that those who murdered him not only took him away, but they ripped us apart in so many ways.
“We’ve had years of hurt and trauma and having to move daddy was a result of that.
“We’ve been beaten black and blue and not everyone affected by the Troubles or tragedy has had, what we had.
“But I feel that my daddy is now at rest.”
Mr Mullen, a father of two, was gunned down at his Collegelands home near Moy, Co Tyrone, in September 1975.
The 37 year-old’s wife Olive miraculously survived the shooting by running across fields behind her home.
The paramilitary gang, which included notorious loyalist killer Garfield Beattie, fired 13 bullets at her.
Denise, then aged just four, discovered her father’s lifeless body and was forced to stay beside him for two hours over emergency crew fears there was a bomb inside the family home.
Her 13 month old brother stayed asleep in a cot through the ordeal.
“It was decided at the time to bury daddy in an extended family plot close to St Peter’s chapel in Collegelands, where we’d been living,” explained Denise.
“We couldn’t go back to the house, the trauma of having our daddy shot on that doorstep just meant it was impossible.
“We actually moved into a two bedroom council house with my granny and lived there.”
Denise, who lives in the Moy, said that a relative of her father’s then moved into their old home.
“After 12 years he claimed possession rights, which meant he took the house from us. It caused untold unhurt.
“My mother had tried so many times to get him out but he wouldn’t go.
“Of course the natural thing was when he died, he was going to be buried in the same plot as my daddy.
“And there was no way I wanted my daddy sharing a grave with someone who caused our family so much pain. That then made it difficult for me to go visit the grave.
“So that was both me and my mummy that couldn’t go. It just wasn’t right.”
It was around 20 years ago when Denise, who is now a mid-Ulster SDLP councillor, made enquiries about having her father’s remains exhumed.
“I went to the parish priest there and asked if there was something that could be done.
“But after a couple of weeks he came back and said no, it can’t be done.
“It was only as I grew up a bit more in life and got a bit more streetwise I realised I had been fobbed off.
“So about two years ago I got in touch with the son of a man who buried my father, Benny Martin.
“I talked it over with him and I was put on the right path about how to have daddy’s remains moved.”
Exhumation is only allowed in exceptional cases in Northern Ireland.
Relatives wishing to remove remains from a cemetery owned by church authority need to obtain consent from that authority as well as written authorisation from the local council.
Steps to exhume remains from a district council burial ground include obtainign consent from the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (DOENI). The Environmental Health Department also has to be informed so to consult with the Public Health Agency.
Mr Mullen’s remains were exhumed in February 2017 and he was laid to rest in his widow’s parish in the Moy.
Said Denise: “It was done very early in the morning and they brought daddy over to a funeral home, just outside the Moy.
“We had a small ceremony with family and one of daddy’s close friends who came up from Wexford.
“My mother, who cried tears of joy when I told her daddy could be moved, has now been afforded the opportunity to visit her husband’s grave. It’s such a relief, such a relief.
“And see since it’s happened I’ve had three other families come to me and ask to help them through the process.
“People aren’t aware this happens, that during grief wrong decisions can be made.
“For us it was an awful, terrible weight on our shoulders.
“There was never that comfort there. And I also knew that when my mummy goes, she wouldn’t be with my daddy. Which was a terrible existence.”
Denis, known as ‘Dinny’ was a respected civil rights campaigner and had just been appointed ambulance controller for South Tyrone hospital before he was gunned down.
His 1975 killing, carried out by a sectarian murder machine which included members of the UVF, RUC and UDR, shocked the community.
TA reservist Garfield Beattie, who was 18 at the time, later served 16 years behind bars for his part in Denis’ murder which he said was part of his initiation into the UVF.
Denise has just had her father’s first headstone erected. It states: ‘In loving memory of Denis Mullen, murdered by British Agents’.
Said Denise: “There will be a time when I am gone and my immediate family is gone.
“But at least anyone who sees my daddy’s headstone will know why his life was cruelly taken so young.
“And I hope his legacy will live on.”