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Miami Showband massacre survivor speaks out on the 40th anniversary of atrocity

By Rebecca Black

Published 31/07/2015

Massacre survivor: Des Lee, singer/saxophonist with the original Miami Showband
Massacre survivor: Des Lee, singer/saxophonist with the original Miami Showband
Dancehall kings: fourth from left, Des Lee, with The Miami Showband line-up in early 1975. The men who died were Tony Geraghty, Fran O’Toole and Brian McCoy. Ray Millar (third from left) and Stephen Travers (far right) also survived

A survivor from one of the most infamous atrocities of the Troubles has said he relives the trauma every day.

Belfast musician Des Lee was speaking ahead of today's 40th anniversary of the Miami Showband massacre.

Three band members were shot dead by UVF terrorists as they travelled to Dublin after a gig at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge.

Lead singer Fran O'Toole, Brian McCoy and Anthony Geraghty were murdered after stopping their bus at a fake checkpoint. The bandmates suspected nothing as the 'soldiers' searched their minibus.

Regular cross-border trips at the height of the Troubles meant they were well used to the checkpoints.

But they could not have guessed that the 'search' was a ruse to plant a bomb. Two UVF men died when the device they were placing in the band's bus exploded prematurely.

The other gang members then opened fire on the helpless band.

The murders of the popular young musicians dubbed the Irish Beatles on July 31, 1975 were shocking, even amid the other horrors of the early Troubles.

The involvement of serving UDR men sparked further horror. Two UDR soldiers, Raymond Crozier and Roddy McDowell, and one former UDR soldier, John Somerville, received life sentences for the atrocity.

On Sunday, a commemoration will be held where the attack took place at Buskhill, outside Newry.

The public are invited to attend the event which will be attended by Des Lee, who survived. Des hopes to find a young couple who came to his aid on the night of the massacre.

He managed to survive by playing dead, face down in a ditch.

The Belfast man didn't move until he heard the gunmen flee and then emerged to find three of his bandmates dead and a fourth, Stephen Travers, badly wounded.

"It was mayhem," Des said.

He desperately tried to wave down a truck driver to get help, but it drove on. A young couple stopped and took him to Newry police station in their car.

Des said he would love to meet the couple again for the chance to say thank you.

Even 40 years on, he is still haunted by the horrors he saw. He relocated to South Africa for 23 years, but said his bandmates were never far from his mind.

Now he is back in Belfast, he thinks about them even more.

"What happened that night affects me every single day of my life," he said.

"When I drive past that spot at Buskhill, where the massacre took place, I get a lump in my throat. Every time. And I stop and say a prayer for the boys, even after all these years."

Meanwhile, the Miami Showband will perform their last ever gig at The Linenfields Festival, in Banbridge on August 21.

The band's original drummer, Ray Millar, who escaped with his life that night when he decided to drive to Dublin himself, will also be there.

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