Greysteel 20 years on: Hope amid sadness on 20th anniversary of massacre as bereaved from across divide pay respects
Catholic and Protestant victims of the sectarian violence that shook Belfast two decades ago are travelling together to lay a wreath at Greysteel today to mark the 20th anniversary of the atrocity in a remarkable gesture of reconciliation.
The group is travelling to the Co Londonderry village to honour the memory of eight people who were shot dead in the Rising Sun bar two decades ago tonight.
The atrocity was carried out exactly a week after the Shankill bombing in which 10 people died, including the bomber. The loyalist shooting was among a number of retaliation attacks for the IRA bomb in Belfast.
Eight people died after a UFF gang entered the bar and began shooting indiscriminately.
They were Karen Thompson and her 20-year-old boyfriend Stephen Mullan; James Moore (81); the father of the bar's owner, Joseph McDermott (60); Moira Duddy (59); John Moyne (50), and former UDR soldier John Burns (54). Former B Special Samuel Montgomery (76) died the following April after blood clots from a leg wound spread to his lungs.
The death toll could have been much worse had one of the attackers' handguns not jammed. An anniversary remembrance Mass will take place at the Star of the Sea Church tonight, followed by a short memorial service afterwards.
Earlier today, however, the visitors from Belfast were to lay a wreath at the bar in a show of solidarity.
"I want to make a statement to every single person in the country that this is what is needed.
"The only way to deal with sadness is together," said Mark Rodgers, who is among the group.
His father, also called Mark, was murdered in Belfast in revenge for the Shankill bombing.
Mr Rodgers, who is from Lenadoon in west Belfast, said today's event marked the first time he and his sister Leanne would attend a gathering in the Shankill, where their journey to Greysteel was to start.
He was invited by Charlie Butler, who lost three relatives in the Shankill bombing and who met him last week for the first time.
"Charlie gave me the offer with no pressure and I was glad to take it up," Mr Rodgers said.
"It is a very big thing for us. The first step in accepting what loss is all about is understanding how the other side have been affected and grasping the big ball of madness. The emotion of this is hitting me like a rolling wave," he added.
Mr Butler said: "They told me they preferred to come to the Shankill to start the journey there with myself and the others who suffered in the bomb attack."
The Greysteel memorial, where the wreath will be placed, bears the inscription: 'May their sacrifice be our path to peace'.
Mark and Leanne's father was one of two workers murdered by loyalist terrorists at a cleansing depot on Kennedy Way on October 26, 1993. The machine-gun and rifle attack was described as an act of sectarian wickedness and an attempt to kill as many Catholics as possible. The UFF struck again in mainly Catholic Greysteel on October 30 when three gunmen opened up on revellers attending a Halloween party in the Rising Sun bar.
The UFF described it as revenge for the murder of nine Protestants on the Shankill – but two Protestants were among the eight people massacred.
Mr Butler said he was too numbed after the Shankill massacre and the funerals to fully take in the initial reprisal attacks, like the one in which Mr Rodgers perished with his workmate James Cameron.
However, Mr Butler and several other Shankill victims did travel to Greysteel 20 years ago to express their solidarity with the victims there.
Mr Butler had not met Mark Rodgers until last week when they embraced publicly on television.
"Your pain is our pain," they said at the time.
"Both Mark and I hope people can see that what we have in common is important.
"Both of us feel humbled and proud to have met each other," Mr Butler said.
Mr Rodgers added: "I hope that the energy we bring leaks out and spreads. I hope that Richard Haass can use us as a springboard in his talks."
Father Stephen Kearney, who was parish priest in Greysteel at the time, said: "Before Greysteel, people didn't look upon each other as Catholic and Protestant. After what happened, that became even more a fact of life.
"There was a great determination not to become defined as victims. What was there was a sadness and a determination 'we are going to get over this, one step at a time'."