Horror of Greysteel is always there, priest tells crowds gathered in remembrance
More than 1,000 people gathered last night to remember those murdered in the Greysteel atrocity.
Generations of families packed the pews at the Star of the Sea Church in Eglinton on the 25th anniversary of the loyalist massacre, in which eight people died.
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In the congregation were those who lost loved ones, those who were injured and those who witnessed the horror of October 30, 1993, when UDA gunmen, using the cover name of the UFF, burst into the Rising Sun Bar and opened fire.
The eight who died included Karen Thompson, who was just 19. The child of a mixed marriage, she was to get engaged to her boyfriend Stephen Mullan (20), that Christmas. He died by her side. Also killed was mother-of-six Moira Duddy (59), Victor Montgomery (76) and John Burns (54).
James Moore (81), who had come in for a pint in his son's bar, and Joe McDermott (60), who lived for his pets and a quiet pint at the weekend, were also among the dead.
So too was John Moyne (50), who had reached for his wife Lily, pulled her to the ground and covered her, ensuring the bullets never reached her. He died as he lived, for his family.
Children from Faughan Vale Primary School - born a generation after the horrors of Greysteel - opened last night's ceremony with a song of peace.
Some of those gathered openly wept during the emotional service, as a representative of each of the families lit a candle for those lost and as the grandchildren of the victims read prayers and blessings.
Fr Andrew Dolan, concelebrating the Mass with three other priests, including Fr Stephen Kearney who was parish priest at the time, told those gathered that for the families, grief was timeless.
"Today we get the term historical this and historical that," he said.
"For you it's not historical, it's timeless.
"It is always there, this horror. It plays itself out in various ways before your eyes as you try to live day and daily.
"There's the empty chair, wondering what he or she would be doing now. What about that young life with so much promise, would be holding our grandchildren? Or telling our children what happened to their granny or grandad.
"These things don't fade into the midst of time and history, they live with us daily."
Fr Kearney said that the job of putting lives, families and the community back together will take time.
He said that the families had a message for Northern Ireland's politicians - get back around the table.
"When I met with the families last week I asked them if there was a message that they would like me to deliver tonight," he said.
"They told me we are living in shaky times. People are worried about how things are going to turn out with Brexit.
"We speak now to public representatives and we say do all you can to ensure that this never happens again.
"And I say to you, I hope you are listening. There is a saying people use that I will use tonight, lest we ever forget."
Those present included SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, his predecessor Mark Durkan, Alliance leader Naomi Long, Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald, and Ulster Unionist councillors Richard Holmes, Norman Hillis and William McCandless.
A number of Protestant religious ministers were also there.
Fr Kearney finished his sermon by reciting some verses from Seamus Heaney's Troy.
After the Mass families made their way to the Rising Sun Bar to lay wreaths. The tears flowed, the pain was as raw is as it was back then.
Families hugged each other outside the pub where their lives changed 25 years ago, when the gunmen shattered peace in their tiny Co Londonderry village.
Alan McBride, who lost his wife Sharon in the Shankill Road bombing just a week before Greysteel, brought a floral tribute to lay at the memorial.
He said that his and the Greysteel family's pain was the same. He called on the politicians to get together and talk.
"Twenty five years ago last week my wife was murdered," he said. "That set in motion a whole serious of atrocities that week. Many people were killed. I wanted to come down and show my support to the families, because what they went through is what I went through and I think there is a solidarity there that is being felt right across the community.
"If these anniversaries do anything they show that the condemnation of terror and of violence is as strong as it ever was and the community is now standing together.
"I hope that the people watching this, particularly the politicians, take note because 25 years on from these atrocities, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we need to have better than what we have now.
"People want to come together and make sense of it and yet our politicians can't bring themselves to do something that is considerably lesser than what we were expected to do when it came to our loved ones and all we have had to put up with over the years."
Earlier in the day the DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was "thinking of those still living with the scars of that dreadful act of terrorism. So many lives cut short. There was no justification for taking innocent life".
Mr Eastwood said that the day "offers us a stark reminder of why we must continue on the road to peace. We can never go back".
Ms Long said that "as the loss of all those lives and others are remembered, 25 years later we must look back with a resolve to never return to those days, while continuing to work to rid our society of the hatred and division which helped to foster the atmosphere in which killings such as Greysteel took place".
As the vigil ended the children, grandchildren and young relatives of those lost that night laid flowers at a memorial stone bearing their loved ones names and the inscription 'May their sacrifice be our path to peace'.
In February 1995, four men were convicted of carrying out the Greysteel shootings.
Stephen Irwin, Jeffrey Deeney, Torrens Knight and Brian McNeill received life sentences for their involvement in the attack.
They were released early in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.