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Why victims of Kingsmills remain etched in my mind

By Alf McCreary

Published 28/05/2016

Lone survivor: Alan Black (third from left), family and friends attending the inquest into the Kingsmills massacre
Lone survivor: Alan Black (third from left), family and friends attending the inquest into the Kingsmills massacre

This week's inquest on the Kingsmills massacre of January 5, 1976 has revealed the horrific details of that winter evening when 10 Protestant men were shot dead on their way home from work.

The murders were admitted soon afterwards by the so-called Republican Action Force. However, it is widely believed that this was the work of the Provisional IRA, though that organisation has never claimed responsibility.

The sole survivor, Alan Black, has been telling the inquest the grim details of the murders, and they still make harrowing reading.

Not long after the killings, Alan told me much the same details for my book entitled Survivors, and, even though they are no surprise to me, the latest revelations bring back the horror of it all.

At the time I reported for this newspaper from my native village Bessbrook the day after the killings, and it is one Troubles assignment I will never forget.

One of the victims was a former school-friend called Walter Chapman, who was mown down with his brother Reggie.

Their uncle, Danny Chapman, told me about his ordeal in having to identify their bodies. He said: "There they were, lying, dead like dogs with their teeth showing. It was as awful as that. You can print that in your paper."

One of the things I still remember was the day of the funerals. They were held in Bessbrook Presbyterian Church, which I had attended throughout my childhood and early youth.

During the funerals the quiet anonymity of that small country church was overwhelmed, not surprisingly, by a large presence of the media and the attendant widespread publicity.

The church was packed by the families of the bereaved and other mourners, and also by well-known politicians, including the Rev Ian Paisley.

As I stood outside, amid the very large crowd, I felt resentment - perhaps a little unreasonably - at the presence of Ian Paisley in 'my church', and the fact that he was not alone sharing with the mourners, but also making a political point in being there.

It was as if the funerals no longer belonged to those most directly involved, but had become part of a much bigger event in the long tragedy of the Troubles, and would remain a lingering wound in the body politic.

The church sermons were not particularly memorable.

The then Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Temple Lundie, was a somewhat Dickensian figure who wore the traditional moderatorial gaiters and frilly lace.

He did his best to say the right things, but on such an occasion even a brilliant orator would have found it difficult to bring comfort and hope in such an appalling situation.

When the service ended and the coffins had been taken out for burial, the crowds quietly faded away. However, for those of us who had been reared in that village, the memory of those funerals has never faded.

It is difficult to understand why it has taken Alan Black and the relatives of those who died a full 40 years to have their stories fully revealed in public.

It is also hard to accept that no one has been charged, so far, with the murders.

It is certain, however, that there are still people around who know the names of those involved. Theirs has been a long and cruel silence.

However, in this week of the inquest, the formation of a new youthful Executive at Stormont gives us hope for the future.

Kingsmills has shown so horribly that violence solves nothing. That, above all, is the lasting epitaph to those innocents who died so brutally.

Belfast Telegraph

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