Greysteel: A journey into reconciliation as bereaved of two atrocities open their hearts to each other
There was an atmosphere of warmth and healing at the Greysteel bar that has become synonymous with the worst of the Troubles. Rebecca Black witnessed the moving scenes
Rising Sun bar owner James Moore has every reason to be bitter, having watched his father and six customers murdered by a vicious gang of UFF gunmen claiming vengeance for the Shankill bomb.
But yesterday, 20 years on, he opened his doors and invited relatives affected by the Belfast atrocity in for tea, buns and understanding.
Speaking in 1993, James said he forgave the gunmen, but has not spoken publicly since.
However his actions yesterday did the speaking for this gentleman who, despite the memories and emotions which must have come with the 20th anniversary, did not hesitate to welcome fellow victims of our bloody Troubles into his bar.
Charlie Butler, who lost three members of his family in the Shankill bomb, arrived in the village of Greysteel yesterday afternoon. Along with him came Gareth Hawkins who was severely injured in the bomb and Mark and Leanne Rodgers whose father Mark was one of the council workers killed by loyalists in another claimed act of revenge for the Shankill blast.
Charlie and Mark met for the first time last week during a UTV interview after which they publicly embraced.
Mark said that as soon as he heard Charlie's plan to come to Greysteel to show solidarity he wanted to be part of it.
Charlie said he came to Greysteel after the shootings 20 years ago to tell the grieving families that despite the gunmen's claims, they did not act for him. "I have said it before, Greysteel was never done in our names and it never will be," he said. "We feel their pain and we are also going through the same pain."
The Shankill group made no attempt to dilute their identity, proudly wearing poppies on their coats. Charlie said they wanted to show solidarity from both sides of the community in Belfast, adding that he viewed Mark and Leanne as heroes.
"Their father was killed in retaliation for the bomb. To be standing here today really means a lot to us all," he said.
"I hope it sends out a positive message – we can't go back to how things were," he said. "We still have difficulties but I don't want to kill him and he doesn't want to kill me."
Mark said that for him the legacy of the Troubles is a massive jigsaw puzzle, but he feels they may have slotted in one of the pieces.
"Meeting Charles and coming to Greysteel has helped me overcome grief because I know he's in as much pain as I am," he said.
There were grey skies and rain as the group laid flowers and a candle at the memorial to the victims just a few feet from the bar.
Hugh Nicholl, chairman of the Greysteel Community Partnership, warmly greeted the group before ushering them into the bar where the owner had laid out hot tea, coffee, sandwiches and buns.
And it was in that bar, standing where 20 years ago UFF gunmen callously opened fire on a room full of innocent people, that relatives of three atrocities defied the hopes of terrorists on both sides by opening their hearts to each other.
James moved among them and introduced other family members. It is a bond that looks set to continue as a suggestion to start up junior football matches between Greysteel and Shankill youngsters was greeted with enthusiasm.
Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph that the mood in the village was sombre as people remembered the shootings.
"People don't speak out here, that's just not how we have done things, but there is definitely a quietness and a sombre mood in the village today," he said.
Father Stephen Kearney, who was one of the priests who attended the bar on the night of the shooting, said the people of Greysteel took the message from the shooting that they have to live well with their neighbours.
"At that stage they were doing that and still are," he said.