By Claire Allan
Derry Journal
5 April 2012

Shane and Lowry Mathers at the openong of the Joanne Matthers Room at the Neo Natal Unit in Altnagelvin Hospital.

Shane Mathers was only two years old when his mother was killed. A census worker, 29-years-old Joanne Mathers was brutally murdered by the IRA as she carried out her work in Anderson Crescent.

“I don’t remember my mother,” he said. “I was too young. But I remember the sense of loss and the great sadness there was in our house. My father tells me I knew she was gone – that I would ask for her and cry for her. That I missed her.”

Now 33, Shane is fiercely proud and fiercely protective of his mother’s memory – delighted to see that her name lives on.

Just this week he, and his father Lowry, attended the re-opening of the Joanne Mathers Room at Altnagelvin Hospital – a room where mothers with babies being cared for in the neo-natal unit can stay to be close to their children.

The room, funded by his father from the proceeds of money raised in the immediate aftermath of Joanne’s murder, was originally located on Ward 5 – but has now been relocated to the new maternity unit in the hospital’s South Wing.

“At the time, Ann O’Neill, who worked with my mother in the planning service, suggested that a room such as this would have been very close to my mother’s heart so she helped my father channel the money towards the hospital.”

The cost in 1982 of the room – just a year after Joanne’s death – was £13,000 – the equivalent of £40,000 in today’s money marking a huge donation by the Mathers’ family.

“Her picture is in the room,” Lowry said, “With a small piece about her story. It is comforting to know that her memory lives on.”

For those who were in Derry in 1981 – the name Joanne Mathers would not easily be forgotten. The murder of the young mother, who was shot in the neck as she tried to carried out her work – caused such revulsion in the city that initially both the IRA and INLA denied carrying out the attack. However the IRA later admitted they had indeed been responsible – as part of a campaign to stop people co-operating with the census body as it was claimed that the forms were being used as intelligence gathering material by state agencies.

When asked if he has ever been able to reconcile himself with his mother’s death, Shane shook his head. “It is just all such a waste – a complete waste.

“Everyone who knew my mother – those who were her friends, her family or who worked with her said she had so much to give. They speak very fondly of her.

“There is no way to measure what a loss she was to our family – especially to my father and her own mother, my granny Johnston. It was difficult for us all that she was not there when I growing up.”

Lowry, a farmer, was forced to take on the role of both mother and father when his wife was murdered, with Joanne’s mother helping out whatever way she could.

Lowry was determined that the loss of his mother would not hinder Shane in any way.

“I thought to myself about all the things Joanne would have wanted for him and I tried to give him that. I knew it would have been very important to her that he had a good education, so I sent him to Foyle Prep and encouraged him in whatever way I could.”

There were times, of course, when Lowry wished his wife was by his side. “Certain times were particularly tough. When Shane graduated, when he got his first car – when he started work… Those were difficult. There were umpteen events that she missed out on.”

Poignantly Shane has taken up work as a Senior Town Planner – the career path his own mother had been following before she married and became a mother.

The father and son say this week’s re-opening of the Joanne Mathers’ Room secures the future of the facility for the forseeable future and ensures the memory of the young mother so tragically slain will live on for years to come.