Belfast Telegraph

Loughinisland massacre: 'We are being hit, I shout... Mal throws himself on top of me'

By Colm Smyth

The shiny gold image of a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes is as clear in my mind as if I were holding the box in my hand.

Yet it is 20 years in the past, sitting on a counter in a pub full of gunsmoke and cordite and blood and screams and men wearing masks.

My emotions still run high and the fear never leaves, although I have learned not to cry. I try to steady my hand but the shock lives on in my bones, making me shake like an addict desperate for a fix.

It is 10.15pm. First there are flashes, reflected in the bar mirror. I immediately think of 'Frosty'. He's let off those bloody fireworks. I turn around, expecting to see him standing in the doorway, laughing at us all. But what I see are boilersuits, blue boilersuits, complemented by black woollen balaclavas. It's not a sight you ever want to see. We have grown up in Northern Ireland hearing of things like this happening, many times, on the news.

"We're being hit," I shout.

I hear Mal say "Oh s***!". He turns towards me and throws himself on top of me, attempting to shield me from the bullets that are racing toward us. I am falling backwards now, off my stool, and again I glimpse the two boilersuits at the door, one with a machine-gun. I feel two thuds in my legs, one in my lower left leg, another on my right thigh. I assume they are bullets but I feel no pain. I have nothing to compare this to.

Mal is lying on me now, completely still, too still, I think. I slide out from underneath him. No moans, no breathing, just silence. I remove his false teeth to try and help him breathe more easily; his mouth is difficult to open. I know in my heart he is dying, so I take him in my arms, bless us both and say the Our Father as best I can. I've never witnessed someone die before, never mind my best friend's dad, a man I respect more than any other in the world. I never thought my first experience of death would be at the hands of terrorists.

I am still. After what seems like forever my mind catches up with the events of the last 30 seconds. "Turn it off!" I shout. I can't understand why the ref didn't stop the match when the shooting started. And I realise then he doesn't know; no one outside of this 30ft by 10ft coffin I am lying in knows.

I look around and nothing is moving. In front of me are the bodies of three or four men, all in a heap where they fell on top of each other. The smell of blood and bullets is in the air and on me. The door to the pub is open and empty. They are gone.

Aidan O'Toole appears from behind the bar and grabs the phone to call the emergency services. He seems to be OK, but he's not. He has been shot in the side and he doesn't even realise it. His first thought is for us, to get help.

The silence lifts as the first person comes running through the door. Kevin Gordon lives a few hundred yards away and has heard the shots. It's a relief to see someone. He makes a quick assessment of the scene and moves to help Frosty Rogan, who has been hit in the stomach and is in a bad way.

The others in the bar who are uninjured quickly start to help, and shortly afterwards the police arrive. One officer comes over to me, takes a look at my wounds and uses something from his surgical pack to tie up my right thigh. He says I will be OK. That's it. As Gay Byrne would say : "Let's move on, thank you very much. Roll the tape there, Colette." I feel alone, frightened. I do not want him to walk away.

Colm's full diary is available on http://www.amazon.com/THE-LOUGHINISLAND-MASSACRE-Survivors-Diary-ebook/**

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