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Orangemen recall horrific gun attack at Guiding Star Temperance Orange lodge

By Rebecca Black

Published 31/08/2015

Tullyvallen Orange Hall
Tullyvallen Orange Hall
James McKee
John Johnston
Ronnie McKee
William Herron
Nevin McConnell
Berry Reaney who survived the attack
A memorial plaque at Tullyvallen Orange Hall

"I didn't expect to get out alive" is the chilling memory of a man who survived one of the most terrifying attacks of the Troubles.

Berry Reaney (72) was among those attending a meeting of Guiding Star Temperance Orange lodge at Tullyvallen Hall on September 1, 1975, when republican gunmen burst through the door firing machine-guns at all of those gathered inside.

More gunmen walked down the sides of the hall, spraying the walls with bullets and cutting off any potential escape for those trapped inside.

The terrorists only retreated when one of the members of the lodge - an off-duty member of the security forces - returned fire.

Four men died that day, including father and son James (73) and Ronnie (40) McKee, from Newtownhamilton, Nevin McConnell (40), also from Newtownhamilton, and the elderly John Johnston (80), from Crossmaglen.

A fifth man, William Herron (67), from Newtownhamilton, died the following day from his injuries.

Six other brethren were injured. Additionally a bomb was left outside the hall by the terrorists.

The Provisional IRA did not initially own up to the attack, blaming instead the "South Armagh Republican Action Force", a group that was also used as a cover for the Kingsmills killings, in which 10 Protestant workmen were lined up and shot beside a minibus just outside Bessbrook.

Mr Reaney managed to survive by taking cover under the lodge table, but sustained a broken arm from one of the hundreds of bullets. He is still haunted by that evening.

"The memories never really go away - there is always something which keeps bringing it back to the forefront," he said.

"Every time you go to the hall you go through it. There are times you are working and something shoots into your mind about it and you go over bits and pieces in your head. There are times, out of the blue, something can trigger it off, day or night."

He added: "We didn't expect to get out alive. I remember the shooting stopping and all going quiet. I lay there expecting to hear somebody walking along the floor and shots going off to finish us off, but thankfully nothing happened. Eventually we started to move and look up, and we realised we were on our own, with bodies lying everywhere."

Another survivor, John Henry, says the lodge emerged stronger, despite the motives of the gunmen.

"It is testament [to members] that they kept it going. [The terrorists] would have liked to have broken the resolve, but it didn't happen," he said.

The Orange Order will hold a service at Tullyvallen Hall tomorrow at 8pm to remember the five men who died.

Belfast Telegraph

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