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Orange Order film launch: 'It's about the hurt of losing my dad, but also about healing'

The Orange Order has launched a film telling the stories of some of its 332 members murdered during the Troubles. Ivan Little talks to their relatives

Published 21/05/2015

Painful past: Berry Reaney
Painful past: Berry Reaney
Tragic loss: David Kerrigan’s sister Heather was the only Orangewoman killed during the Troubles
Tullyvallen Orange Hall
Sir Norman Stronge
John Henry
Robert Bradford

Nobody was supposed to get out of that Orange hall alive. From inside and outside the tiny isolated building at Tullyvallen in south Armagh, eight republican terrorists unleashed a merciless onslaught of gunfire which was designed to kill all the members of the Guiding Star Temperance Lodge on that chilly September night in 1975.

As two masked republicans who'd burst into the hall through the kitchen opened up on the terrified Orangemen with sub-machine guns, their colleagues fired through the windows.

Inside, there was panic and pandemonium at the Orange Order meeting, which had started with the customary opening prayers. Three members of Tullyvallen LOL 630b were killed instantly and six others were injured, with one of them dying two days later in hospital.

A number of Orangemen did escape the hail of bullets by fleeing for cover and one of them, an off-duty member of the security forces, pulled out his personal protection weapon and shot and wounded a terrorist.

Yet, still the nightmare of Tullyvallen wasn't over. A small bomb was spotted outside the hall, but it failed to explode and the Army later made it safe.

The Provisional IRA subsequently said they hadn't sanctioned the ruthless attack and blamed dissidents within their own ranks using the cover name of the Catholic Reaction Force. The IRA's denials didn't wash with any of the Orangemen, though.

In the days and weeks that followed what became known as the Tullyvallen massacre, journalists found it difficult to find any Orangemen who would talk about the killings. "That wasn't our way," one survivor recently told me.

But now, in a new film commissioned by the Orange Order to show the impact of terrorism on the institution, the story of the south Armagh slaughter has finally been told by four men who lived to tell the tale of Tullyvallen - John Henry and Berry, William and Archie Reaney.

Called Strong to Survive, the short film premiered last night in the Strand cinema in east Belfast, in front of an invited audience.

And it will be on permanent show from next month to the public at the Orange Order's new heritage museum in their renovated and expanded Schomberg House headquarters on the Cregagh Road in Belfast.

The Orange Order say that 332 of their members - the youngest 18, the oldest 86 - were killed as a result of terrorism.

Among the most prominent Orangemen who were murdered were the former Stormont Speaker Sir Norman Stronge and his son, James, a leading unionist and part-time police officer, who were killed by the IRA at their Tynan Abbey home in Co Armagh in 1981.

In the same year, Ulster Unionist MP the Rev Robert Bradford, who was another leading Orangeman, was murdered by the IRA in Finaghy.

The Orange Order says the vast majority of their members who died were killed by republicans, though some were victims of loyalist paramilitaries during feuds, for example.

Several were paramilitary figures, including UVF leader John Bingham, who was shot dead by the IRA in July 1986. His friend, the firebrand Scots-born loyalist politician and paramilitary George Seawright, who was murdered by the IPLO the following year, was also an Orangeman.

But UVF man Brian Robinson, who was shot dead by undercover soldiers shortly after he killed Catholic Patrick McKenna in north Belfast in 1989, is not acknowledged on official Orange Order lists.

The Order say that almost half of their murdered members had served with the Ulster Defence Regiment. A quarter were in the RUC. They also say that nearly 500 children were bereaved as a result of the Troubles.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge, Edward Stevenson, believes the film is a significant development. He says: "Approximately one in 10 of the people killed during the Troubles were members of the Orange Order - a painfully sad statistic that underlines just how much the Institution has suffered."

He adds that the new film presented an important platform for victims to tell and share their stories.

"Amid attempts by some to re-write history, it is appropriate that the truth is told and the voices of the innocent victims are heard," he says.

The Order's director of services, David Hume, said the film was the organisation's contribution to ensuring that what happened during the Troubles wasn't forgotten, but rather passed on.

One of the Tullyvallen survivors, Berry Reaney, who lost colleagues William McKee and his son James, Nevin McConnell, John Johnston and William Herron in 1975, recalled his emotions after the storming of the hall.

"People say in a situation like that your whole life flashes before your eyes. And I can remember praying, 'Dear Lord, please give me something more cheerful to remember than this'," he says.

Fellow survivor John Henry says his lodge had grown stronger after the attack. "The terrorists would have liked to have broken the resolve, but it didn't happen."

One of the victims featured in the film is remembered on a memorial to four of the Orange Order's dead near the Orange Order's birthplace in Co Armagh.

It was at the Diamond that the Order was formed in 1795 and at the local Orange hall, Frederick Lutton's name is on a memorial tablet which was unveiled in 1981, two years after his killing.

Mr Lutton, a National Trust caretaker, was locking up the gates of Argory House near Moy on May Day in 1979 when two gunmen jumped from a car and shot him at point-blank range. He was hit in the stomach and legs and died not long after arriving at hospital in Dungannon.

Mr Lutton, who was a 40-year-old father of two from Annaghmore, had resigned from the RUC Reserve a short time earlier.

His son Nigel told me he took part in the Strong to Survive film in the hope that it would perpetuate the memory of Orangemen who were killed, adding: "When we started the project we had no idea that the Orange Order had lost so many members. And while we want to highlight the hurt that was caused we also want to promote healing

"As a legacy of my father's murder, my desire is to see a better, more progressive Northern Ireland. I don't want ever to see a return to the days of the Troubles."

Nigel Lutton was an agreed unionist candidate in the mid-Ulster by-election in 2013, which was won by Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy.

DUP MP David Simpson used parliamentary privilege to claim that Mr Molloy was suspected by police of involvement in Frederick Lutton's murder, but the Sinn Fein politician strenuously denied the allegations.

Samuel Heenan, who also appears in the film, was orphaned by his widowed father's killers at the age of 12.

William Heenan was shot dead as he tended his cattle on the family farm at Legananny near Castlewellan on May 3, 1985.

Samuel Heenan was in bed at the time of the shooting and recalled running frantically to a neighbour's house to raise the alarm, screaming "Daddy's shot. Daddy's shot."

Samuel Heenan said in the film that his father was his rock and inspiration. "All I had left in the world was gone," he adds.

A local church set up a fund to help Samuel Heenan who joined the Orange Order at the age of 16 "to follow in my father's footsteps and carry on my culture and traditions that were very important to my father and my community".

The only Orangewoman murdered in the Troubles was Heather Kerrigan, a UDR corporal who was one of two soldiers killed in a landmine blast outside Castlederg in July 1984. Her brother, David, was on patrol with her when the bomb exploded and he is another participant in the Orange Order film.

The other soldier who died was Private Norman McKinley and he and Heather Kerrigan had been best man and bridesmaid at the wedding of one of her relatives some time earlier.

The groom was murdered only months before Private McKinley and Corporal Kerrigan were killed.

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