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A show of solidarity in Northern Ireland to keep past at bay

They came from every corner of the town, an impromptu act of solidarity in the face of unspeakable evil.

From St Comgall's Roman Catholic chapel only yards from the murder scene, from Antrim First Presbyterian church on the High Street, from the Methodist church and Church of Ireland too.

Cutting short their traditional Sunday morning services, hundreds of church goers of every denomination walked silently to the edge of the police cordon and stood together amid the floral tributes.

Against the icy winds they bowed their heads and prayed for those killed and injured in the brutal attack on Massereene army barracks a little over 12 hours before.

"Everyone will hug each other a little tighter tonight after this," father Tony Devlin told the crowd, his voice choked with emotion.

"We don't want to go back to this. Nobody wants to go back to this in any way at all. We don't want those years of the past, they were horrible years for everyone.

"In our churches today many people were crying because of the experiences they remembered from the past. They do not want it to come back again."

The sense of shock in the close knit county town was palpable. No one expected the events of last night. While the threat posed by dissident republicans was clear, most of their activities to date had been focused on the border areas. At 16 miles north west of Belfast, the people of Antrim never thought such an outrage would visit them.

"Antrim has become a very safe and happy place for people to live," Fr Devlin told the on-street congregation.

"In many ways it was probably because it was such an easy and safe place for people to travel about, especially the military personnel, it's probably because of that it was such an easy target."

Hours before the midday service and as morning broke, people started to arrive to pay their respects. Prevented from walking within 500 yards of the barrack's entrance where six young men were mowed down, an old stone wall beside a woodland park became the temporary memorial.

One sympathy card summed up the sentiments conveyed in many: "Words can't express my sorrow and the sickness I feel at how these people who call themselves human can murder in cold blood innocent people doing a day's work."

Another was even more pointed: "Real men who carry guns wear a uniform and stand in a line. Cowards do not."

The news had broken late and it was clear some being diverted by police hadn't even heard what had come to pass. One golfer on his way for an early morning round at nearby Antrim Golf Club was clearly shocked when told why he would have to find another route.

Joggers and dog walkers prevented from carrying on up the Randalstown Road were also visibly stunned.

Among those attending the roadside service later was the regimental chaplain from Massereene barracks, Reverend Philip McCormack.

The troops, he said, were bearing the loss the only way they knew how - as soldiers.

"It's a very close-knit unit," he said. "People care a tremendous amount, they spent weeks and months training and preparing (for Afghanistan) and so anything like this will obviously have a profound impact.

"But they are very professional and we still have a job to do and we will mourn and deal with this and then we will do our job."

People from different churches hugged one another and some wept openly as the short service came to an end.

As the crowds started to dissipate, Winnie Brown from the First Presbyterian explained why she felt compelled to come down.

"Everyone is just so shocked and sad," she said.

"Our minister said this morning they were going to hold a service and if members of the congregation felt they could come to support the people of the community.

"I think nearly everyone from our church came and I think it was the same with all the churches."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph