Reavey Brothers made its London premiere on Tuesday night.
The man behind a new film about the horrific sectarian murders of three Co Armagh brothers in 1976 has said he felt it was his duty to share his family’s story with a wider audience.
John Reavey, the victims’ nephew, has made his directorial debut with the 20-minute drama Reavey Brothers, which was first screened in Newry last week and made its London premiere on Tuesday night.
The 23-year-old south Armagh man told the Belfast Telegraph about how as a young man he grew up with the shocking, tragic story, and the resonance the name ‘Reavey’ still has in his area and beyond.
Mr Reavey’s uncles John Martin (24), Brian (22) and Anthony Reavey (17) were shot dead by UVF gunmen who burst into their home at Greyhilla, Whitecross, on January 4, 1976 and opened fire as they were watching TV.
John Martin and Brian died that night while Anthony, who was shot while hiding under a bed, died from his injuries several weeks later.
On the same night, three members of another Catholic family, the O’Dowds, were shot dead by UVF members near Gilford, 15 miles away.
The following day, in a retaliatory attack by the IRA, 10 Protestant workmen were gunned down at Kingsmill, a short distance from Whitecross. It was one of the bloodiest 48 hours of the Troubles.
Speaking to this newspaper ahead of tonight’s screening at the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho, John — whose father Paul is the murdered men’s brother — said he believed it was his destiny to make this film.
“When a story like this is always in your life, there’s an obligation. I feel a duty to get the word out there,” he said.
“Growing up, always hearing about what happened that dreadful night and knowing how much my family have strived for peace, I just knew it was a story I’d eventually tell.”
The cast of Reavey Brothers includes actors Derry Girls star Dylan Llewellyn (as Anthony), Niall McNamee (John Martin) and Geraldine McAlinden (as Sadie Reavey).
It focuses on Anthony, the youngest brother, and his desperate battle for life having initially survived the murderous attack.
“It was only when I went to university and met the producer and co-writer of this piece that I knew it was the right time to do it; and that’s when things started coming together,” said Mr Reavey.
One of his early concerns about the project was how mum Bernadette, brothers Martin (41) and Brian (25), sister Charlene (36) and the wider Reavey family — including his uncle Eugene, a long-time campaigner for the truth about the atrocity — would react.
“I wanted to make sure they were happy for me to do this and that they actually wanted it to happen,” he said.
“But from the first time I spoke to my dad he was so invested in it, and he really wanted to help out. I showed the script to all of the remaining Reavey family and got their thoughts on the idea and they were all very supportive.
“To have their blessing — given their profound loss — was so meaningful.”
John said he found the subject matter all the more harrowing because it is the story of his own family.
“I felt that I was in the perfect position to tell this story because I understand how sensitive and delicate this is,” he said.
“As I wasn’t around at the time, I felt I was able to separate myself enough from the project in order to write about it in specific ways, but also close enough to understand the importance of it at heart.”
John, who studied digital film production at Ravensbourne University London, said the Reavey name, which has “been around for a long time”, is “a big name in many ways”.
He added: “It’s a large family, a large community but, ultimately, one that is striving for peace and always has been.”
Although he has been involved in film projects before, John said this was his biggest to date.
“This is my first project with financial backing,” he said.
“The money was raised by ourselves and it gave me the opportunity to tell an important story.
“Hopefully it’s the start of something new for me and for the rest of the team.”
To date, John has been “totally overwhelmed” by the positive feedback the film has generated locally and elsewhere.
“There was obviously a lot of responsibility there and that came with enormous pressure,” he said.
“I was most concerned about the immediate Reavey family, so I was both relieved and grateful for their positive reaction.
“It’s been incredible hearing that so many people who were affected by the Troubles could empathise with it.
“There’s a sense of being able to reflect on the past and move forward now and people of my generation are lucky that times aren’t like that anymore.”
John attended Tuesday night’s 8.30pm screening with his dad and his aunt Kathleen, who lives in London.
The film will also be shown later this month in Belfast and Newry.
Last September, the Police Ombudsman sent a file on a former RUC officer to the Public Prosecution Service for potential offences including the murders of the three Reavey brothers 46 years ago.