Evil acts galvanised peace efforts
If there is one image which summed up the utter evil of this time 20 years ago, it was the snarling face of loyalist paramilitary Torrens Knight when he appeared at court for the first time on charges of killing eight people at the Rising Sun public house in Greysteel.
This was a man who seemed to personify sectarian hatred – a hatred which plumbed the depths in one single week, book ended by two mass murders.
First there was the Shankill fish shop bombing which killed 10 people, including one of the IRA bombers, and then the fierce retaliation by loyalists which killed another 14 people, mostly Catholics, and ending with the Greysteel pub shooting in which eight people died. Even in a province inured to violence those were the darkest of days as terrorists of both hues showed a capacity for murder of the innocent on a scale and frequency almost beyond comprehension.
It will be scant consolation to those bereaved then, or at any other time during the Troubles, that out of this utter madness came a determination to end the violence.
SDLP leader John Hume was moved to tears at the funeral of the Greysteel victims when one of the bereaved urged him to continue with his peace building efforts. At the time he was under intense pressure, both within his own community and from political opponents, because of his talks with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Yet that simple remark at the funeral galvanised him into greater efforts and, astonishingly given the horrific backdrop, an IRA ceasefire was announced the following August.
Even with hindsight it seems barely credible that less than a year after the sheer lunacy of that October week the Troubles were effectively over. Having stared into the face of evil for too long the people of Northern Ireland almost willed an end to violence.
The Shankill and Greysteel atrocities will always be regarded as monuments to evil, but they also marked the beginning of the end of a nightmare.