Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Greysteel: A night no one wants to talk about

The relatives of those who died in the Rising Sun bar have resolutely refused to talk publicly about it practically ever since. As Chris Kilpatrick learnt when he visited Greysteel this week, the village has moved on, but it won't ever forget

Greysteel: Remembering the victims at the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the village

Everybody in Greysteel knew somebody in the bar that night. All were touched in some way by the murders. But they won't talk about it, not in public.

The families of those massacred at Greysteel have maintained their silence for almost two decades.

And that pact seems to have been embraced by those throughout the community.

Time and again, people of all ages politely declined to comment on the carnage brought upon them.

The Rising Sun is still owned by the family of James Moore, who was one of those killed.

A relative of the 81-year-old was behind the bar this week.

"It's in the past," he said.

"We as a family vowed 20 years ago we wouldn't speak out about what happened and that hasn't changed.

"You are more than welcome here, but you are wasting your time.

"We all just want to get on with our lives."

On a wet and windy afternoon, the Rising Sun was warm and welcoming.

To the outsider, there were few clues of the horrors carried out there 20 years previously.

Builders were working on the outside of the bar, which is currently under extensive refurbishment.

The 'Rising Sun' sign which hung above the door was recently removed.

The events which took place in the Co Londonderry village 20 years ago today ensured its name and that of the bar would forever be linked with a dark day of the Troubles.

Eight people, all from the surrounding area, lost their lives as a result of the UFF attack, sanctioned by UDA leaders in Belfast.

Witnesses said the hate-filled sectarian murderers laughed as they fled the scene leaving seven dead and 19 people injured.

An eighth victim died later because of his injuries.

Hardened police officers described the scene that greeted them at the Rising Sun as "hell-like".

Locals raced to the pub as news quickly spread of the atrocity.

The UDA had vowed retaliation for the Shankill bombing but Greysteel, situated 10 miles from Derry on the main road to Coleraine, seemed the most unlikely of targets.

"It was a soft touch," said one of those who still lives near to the bar.

"Awful things happened in Belfast and Derry, but not here."

Another man told this week how he ran to the bar from his home in the village fearing family members may have been caught up in the atrocity.

Out of respect to the victims' families' silence, he didn't wish to be named.

He said what he saw that night continues to haunt him to this day.

"I went in through the back of the bar," he said.

"By that time those injured had left, the bodies were still there.

"It was horrific. I knew every one of the victims, many were friends. What I saw that night will never leave me."

Just a couple of hundred yards away from the Rising Sun is another bar, the Foyle View.

It has been reported the killer gang had initially intended it as a target, but decided against it as they believed the Rising Sun would be busier.

The Rising Sun remained closed from the night of the massacre until the following year.

The night it reopened locals turned out en masse, a demonstration of solidarity and an act of defiance against those who had torn the heart from their community.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, parish priest Fr Stephen Kearney was asked to speak on behalf of the families.

"I don't think I realised what I was going through at the time and I would say most people at the time were the same," he said yesterday.

"The one thing that sticks with me is the greyness of everything at the time, everything just merged, almost like a dream.

"You wanted to waken up but you didn't know if you would.

"You just went into auto-pilot.

"I also remember the people. It was a very strengthening thing.

"A big thing for the people of Greysteel was that the perpetrators of that terrible crime, terrible carnage, were caught so quickly and there was a sense that at least we wouldn't see them again.

"It wasn't so much about justice being done, but that they were out of circulation.

"They were close enough to be neighbours, almost."

On the day after the Greysteel massacre, the UDA claimed responsibility for the attack using the cover name of the UFF.

A statement from the terror group said that the "Greysteel raid" was "the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday's slaughter of nine Protestants".

A west Belfast UDA member said his organisation "had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun... unfortunately they were not there on Halloween, but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given".

In the week that followed the Shankill bomb six other people – all Catholics – were also targeted and killed by loyalist paramilitaries before the Greysteel shooting.

The 23 brutal murders carried out in that week was the highest death toll in any month since 1976.

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