Miami Showband bid an emotional farewell as they play final gig near scene of brutal loyalist massacre
It was the final encore for the Miami Showband.
The legendary Irish group said a poignant and emotional goodbye to their fans last night with a gig in the same Co Down town where they played on the night three of its musicians were murdered by the UVF 40 years ago.
Lead singer Fran O'Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy were shot dead on a country road after a show at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge on July 31, 1975.
Singer and saxophone player Des Lee and guitarist Stephen Travers survived the massacre, and last night called time on the band with a live performance at the inaugural Linenfields Festival.
Speaking before he took to the stage for the group's final gig, Des told the Belfast Telegraph he knew his late friends would be proud of the band.
"It is going to be a very emotional evening as we are back in the town where the massacre occurred," he said.
"It is emotional and heart-wrenching, but I know Fran, Brian and Tony would be very proud.
"They will be looking down on us. Fran would be very proud we are singing some of his songs."
Mr Lee spoke of his difficulty in comprehending that 40 years had passed since the loyalist ambush, the first time musicians were targeted in this way by a terror group during the Troubles.
"It is hard to believe it was 40 years ago," he said.
"It will be a very fitting close in Banbridge."
Last month more than 200 people gathered at Buskhill - between Banbridge and Newry - for a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the atrocity. And in Dublin, family members of the deceased men, Mr Lee and Stephen Travers, who also survived the ordeal, were joined by Lord Mayor of Dublin Criona Ni Dhalaigh, former band member Dickie Rock and the Taoiseach's aide de camp, Commandant Ciaran Carey, for a ceremony at a statue dedicated to their memory in Parnell Square.
In 1975 the Miami Showband's minibus was stopped on the A1 at Buskhill at what appeared to be a military checkpoint.
Two UVF men - who were also members of the UDR - died when the bomb they were placing in the bus exploded prematurely and other gang members then opened fire on the band. There are a number of memorials to the Miami in the Republic and Mr Lee says he would like a new memorial based somewhere in Northern Ireland, perhaps at the Buskhill massacre site.
"My next goal is for something at Buskhill, Newry or Belfast," he said.
"The 40th anniversary is just over us and we are speaking to as many politicians as possible about making that happen."
Mr Lee says he will continue to perform as a solo artist and has hopes that the Miami Showband could take to the stage again one day.
"I would love to continue," he said. "But some of the lads want this to be the final.
"In the future I will try to convince them to go on again.
"I will continue as a solo artist and sing and play my saxophone."
The Miami Showband Massacre is one of the most high-profile atrocities of the conflict.
Three men, one former and two serving UDR soldiers, were convicted of the murders and later released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The victims' families continue to campaign with a variety of justice groups for official acknowledgement of collusion claims.