St. Mary's College has paid tribute to a former pupil and priest who died during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
We unveiled a plaque earlier this week to honour the life and work of army chaplain Father Gerry Weston, who was killed by a bomb in February 1972, and is buried close to the school at SS Peter and Paul Church on Liverpool Road.
The event was held to tie in with our annual Patron’s Day Mass at the church. Following the service a wreath was laid at Father Weston’s grave, before guests returned to St. Mary’s to see the new plaque unveiled under the school’s World War Two memorial.
The wooden mount for the plaque was designed and made by Mark Ireland, Head of Design and Technology at St. Mary's College.
The ceremony was attended by Father Weston’s brother Paul and senior British Army representatives including Lt. Col. Andrew Jackson, a former pupil of St. Mary’s College, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wareing, both senior officers in the Parachute Regiment; former colleagues and members of St. Mary’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF).
They were told about the remarkable achievements of the chaplain who served in Germany, the Persian Gulf and Kenya before being posted to Northern Ireland.
During the height of the Troubles, he frequently entered the difficult areas of Turf Lodge and Ballymurphy alone, talking with local people in an attempt to reduce tension.
This placed him in considerable personal danger, especially as a rumour had been circulating saying that a soldier was involved in military activities disguised as a priest.
For his own safety, his commanding officer eventually ordered his withdrawal. However, his actions were officially recognised when he was awarded the MBE for gallantry on February 15th 1972.
Just seven days later, Father Weston and six civilians were killed when a huge bomb exploded outside the Officers’ Mess of the 16th Parachute Regiment in Aldershot. He was just 38 years old.
The Official IRA claimed responsibility for the attack, in retaliation for Bloody Sunday three weeks earlier. However, public revulsion at the bombing was in part responsible for the organisation calling a ceasefire three months later, and it subsequently disbanded.
St. Mary’s College CCF Contingent Commander and Head of History, Niall Rothnie, who has written extensively on military matters commented: “This plaque will be a permanent memorial to the remarkable life and tragic death of Father Weston, one of the school’s bravest sons who tried so hard to promote peace and reconciliation at the height of the Troubles.
“We are delighted that his brother and British Army representatives were able to attend to pay their respects, honour his legacy and also remember the other victims of one of the worst atrocities of the whole Northern Ireland conflict.”