Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Cleric recalls pub massacre victims

The Rising Sun bar, the scene of the Greysteel massacre.

A priest who comforted victims of Northern Ireland loyalists who indiscriminately opened fire in a crowded bar 20 years ago has said people remain as narrow-minded as ever.

The killers burst into the Rising Sun pub in the mainly Catholic village of Greysteel in Co Londonderry at Halloween and killed eight party-goers. They shouted "trick or treat" before pulling the trigger.

The week began in October 1993 with a botched IRA bomb attack which blew up innocent fish shop customers on the loyalist Shankill Road in West Belfast and led to sectarian loyalist reprisals aimed at Catholics and culminating in Greysteel.

Fr Stephen Kearney said: "We are as narrow-minded and defensive and as much led by the next mob orator who proclaims bitterness against an enemy as ever Ireland was.

"There is peace in so far as structures are set up but there is a lot of falsehood and lack of opportunity being seized by people."

One man whose wife was killed at Greysteel attended Mass the next day.

"He was wearing a grey cap and his face and cap were the same colour," the cleric recalled.

Two gunmen from the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) raked the bar with gunshot. They killed seven people and another man later died of his injuries. The toll included two Protestants.

At first, customers believed it was a Halloween prank as they shouted "trick or treat" before pulling the trigger.

The dead were: John Burns; Moira Duddy; Joe McDermott; Victor Montgomery; James Moore; John Moyne; Steven Mullan and Karen Thompson.

Torrens Knight was given 12 life sentences for Greysteel and the separate murder of four workmen in a nearby village. Four other UFF men were also handed eight life sentences for the murders.

Fr Kearney remembered standing outside the bar in the minutes after the slaughter.

"There was a sense that this was unreal, like watching an old black and white film."

Ambulances were parked nearby as paramedics checked whether people were alive or dead.

Parish priest Fr Jack Gallagher emerged from the pub with a patch of blood on his hand and conferred with Fr Kearney, describing the horrors inside.

Around 100 people stood in a semi-circle outside and joined the curate, one year in the parish, in saying the rosary in hushed tones.

He attended the hospital where the injured were treated and anointed one young man, Steven Mullan, who was unconscious.

"I knew by the attitude and demeanour of the medical people around him that he had very little chance. I left after three in the morning and he died later," he said.

"To me it was one of the last rays of hope, that he might have pulled through."

His girlfriend died in the attack and the priest was unsure whether he was told of her death.

Despite the enormity of the tragedy, people quickly resumed outwardly normal lives in the village close to Derry city and overlooking picturesque Lough Foyle which separates Northern Ireland from the Republic.

The priest said: "There was very little outrage or hysteria, there were tears and real heartbreak, that has been part of the experience. There was the pain but not the outright hysteria or shouts of anger."

He said despite the deep pain the bereaved knew they had to go on.

The cleric added: "I think people were getting to the stage of realising these are not films we are watching, these are real, innocent people going about what they would like to consider as normal living, husbands and wives going out for a drink, meeting up with there friends, a bit of dancing.

"These are real human flesh and blood, people who had no interest in politics.

"They were not in any way activists and they were sacrificed to the hatred and bitterness cultivated by the society we lived in then and the leaders were not giving leadership out of that culture of hatred.

"They used fear to keep hatred going."

He said everybody in Northern Ireland is in some way perpetrator and victim.

Nobel peace prize winner John Hume, who began talks with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams while the conflict still raged, famously shed tears at Greysteel.

Fr Kearney added: "Hume risked his life and career, very few people took risks like that, and John Hume did lose."

He took ill shortly after Greysteel and has had ongoing health problems. Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party was overtaken in the polls by Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist grouping in the political powersharing administration at Stormont.

The priest added: "All groups, including churches, are pretty good at setting up structures to deal with things but structures take a long time to get to the heart and emotions."

He said people were unwilling to leave their comfort zones, asking rhetorically: "Is the healing process going on among politicians who are squabbling, people organising marches?"

Martin Duddy, Moira's son, told the BBC staying strong through prayer is the only option.

"My mother was dedicated to her family. She was shy but caring and a loving woman.

"We have our own healing mechanisms and we have kept together. We have to."

He remembered the sense of shock and disbelief and the strength of the family.

"We are in a better Northern Ireland and I hope we have lasting peace here and that everyone can talk together," he added.

"I can't really think about those who carried out this atrocity. I look on the good and thankfully for the next generation we are living in a better Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said t he terrible events of October 1993 could have resulted in behind-the-scenes peace efforts collapsing.

"Those involved in attempting to build a viable peace process could so easily have walked away. Thankfully, they didn't. The terrible cycle of violence had to be broken," he said.

"Regrettably, the peace process came too late for those who lost their lives at Greysteel and before.

"Unfortunately, that cannot be changed and we are forever left to wonder what might have been had we all have done things differently in the past."

He said commitment to engagement, political will and determination can resolve most difficulties.

"This is as true today as it was in 1993. It is my hope that as Richard Haass brings his talks on parades, flags and dealing with the past to a conclusion over the next few months that the opportunity to inject a new momentum into the political process and the conflict resolution process will not be lost."

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