Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

IRA bomber sings rebel songs in Celtic fans' Belfast bar

Popular: Brendan "Bik" McFarlane belts out songs in the Rock Bar, Falls Road, Belfast
Popular: Brendan "Bik" McFarlane belts out songs in the Rock Bar, Falls Road, Belfast
Seanna Walsh and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane who were both in prison at the same time as Bobby Sands

A NOTORIOUS IRA leader who slaughtered five Protestants in a pub attack is now a star turn as a singer in a Belfast bar popular with Glasgow Celtic fans.

But Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane's appearances belting out rebel songs in the Rock Bar on the Falls Road has been branded "grotesque" by the DUP's Gregory Campbell.

The DUP MP says it's deeply offensive that a man jailed for life for his role in the Shankill Road Bayardo bar massacre -- in which two young women and three men died -- is now being hired as pub entertainer.

"I believe that whoever is running the management system in this pub really needs to examine the policy of its bookings," said Mr Campbell.

McFarlane, 62, himself declined to comment on the controversy, telling Sunday Life to direct any questions to Sinn Fein's press office.

These images of the multiple killer turned singer were taken within the last month at the famous Rock Bar.

McFarlane has made frequent appearances at the The Rock over the last couple of years and he's set to front the 'Rebel Sundays' gig again today. He has also performed at other pubs.

When told of the fury his gigs had caused in unionist circles, Bik McFarlane told Sunday Life: "Well they would need to take it up with the management of the bar."

The convicted murderer turned peace process supporter refused to answer any more questions and directing us to the Sinn Fein party press office.

Former trainee priest McFarlane was jailed for life in 1975 for a bomb and machine-gun attack on the Bayardo Bar on the Shankill Road. Five people were murdered and another 60 injured in the no-warning IRA blast.

DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said he was horrified by the images of Ardoyne man McFarlane -- who escaped from the Maze Prison in 1983 -- singing in the Rock Bar.

Describing the gigs as "grotesque", the football-loving politician called for the Rock bar's management to immediately review its booking policy.

"If it wants to attract clientele that a conspicuous terrorist turned singer is trying to entertain, in inverted commas, that is grotesque -- especially considering McFarlane's background," said the MP.

Earlier this month, bearded McFarlane took part in what the Rock Bar billed as a 'Massive May Rebel Weekend'.

The event was four days of rebel music leading up to the Bank Holiday filled with songs glorifying the IRA.

One of the sessions was preceded by the Celtic v Ross County match being shown on the big screen.

Bik McFarlane, who has played a number of gigs at the Rock in recent weeks, is now a keen supporter of the the peace process and a senior member of Sinn Fein.

But back in the 1970s he was one of the most violent republicans in Northern Ireland.

While being held in the Maze Prison for the Bayardo murders, he was given the nickname 'Bik' after the pen manufacturer because of his role as note-taker during Provisional IRA meetings.

He came to prominence during the 1981 Hunger Strikes through his role as Officer Commanding of Provo prisoners in the jail.

Two years later McFarlane was among 38 IRA men who broke out of the jail in an escape described by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "the greatest incident in British prison history".

The north Belfast man fled across the border and resumed IRA activity.

A short time later he was suspected of being part of a Provo gang that abducted wealthy Dublin socialite Don Tidey and demanded a ransom.

McFarlane -- who was eventually arrested on-the-run in Holland in 1986 -- was later cleared of any involvement in the Tidey kidnapping. After a year on remand in a Dutch jail, he was extradited back to Northern Ireland in 1987.

He was released from the Maze Prison on parole in 1997 and has since been a key supporter of Sinn Fein and a close pal of Sinn Fein leaders.

In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Irish government to pay him 5,400 euro in damages within three months and 10,000 euro in legal costs because the Tidey case proceedings against him had been "unreasonably long".

 

Massacre was one of the worst

 

The Bayardo Bar massacre was one of the most shocking atrocities of the Troubles.

As victims clambered beneath the rubble of the bombed bar on August 13, 1975, the IRA unit behind the deadly attack opened fire on women and children queuing at a nearby taxi rank.

That unit was led by a then 24-year-old Brendan McFarlane.

The Ardoyne man, yet to be dubbed with the nickname 'Bik', was one of three men jailed for the ruthless Shankill Road atrocity which killed five and injured 60 others.

He drove the stolen green Audi car to the scene of the murderous Aberdeen Street attack just minutes before the packed out pub closed.

Armed with an Armalite machine gun and a duffle bag bomb, two of the Provisional Belfast Brigade -- Peter 'Skeet' Hamilton and Seamus Clarke -- left the car.

One opened fire on two men -- 63-year-old doorman William Gracey and his 55-year-old brother-in-law Samuel Gunning -- killing them instantly.

The other walked through the side entrance of the crowded bar and, as patrons sang and danced, left the 10lb bomb inside and returned to the getaway vehicle.

The bodies of young married woman Joanne McDowell, 29, and UVF member Hugh Harris, 21, were later found beneath the rubble of fallen masonry. Seventeen-year-old Linda Boyle was pulled out alive, but died of her injuries in hospital a week later.

As the bomb exploded, the three-man unit made its way down Agnes Street and opened automatic fire on a group of women and children waiting for a taxi.

Twenty minutes after the bomb exploded, McFarlane was arrested after the stolen car was stopped by a military patrol on Cliftonville Road.

At this time he was the only occupant of the car, which was missing a back window and had a bullet hole in the roof.

Five spent bullet cases of the same ammunition used to kill two of the Bayardo Bar civilians were also found in the car.

It was alleged the attack was retaliation for the Miami Showband massacre almost a fortnight earlier.

In May 1976 McFarlane, Hamilton and Clarke were sentenced to life imprisonment for the gun and bomb attack.

McFarlane has never spoken about the killings.

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