My awful guilt that I survived Loughinisland: UVF massacre victim Colm breaks silence as anniversary looms
A survivor of the Loughinisland massacre has spoken for the first time about how he has lived for the past 20 years feeling guilty to be alive.
Colm Smyth was just 23 when UVF terrorists shot up The Heights Bar in the Co Down village on June 18, 1994. Six men died in the slaughter.
A few regulars were in the pub to watch the Republic of Ireland play Italy in a big World Cup game.
Mr Smyth survived despite being hit four times.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the attack and Mr Smyth has published a diary of his experiences, which he has never talked about before.
In the diary the father speaks of the moment two UVF terrorists opened fire – and of his vivid memories of the terrifying aftermath.
Colm had taken his best friend's father Malcolm Jenkinson (52) to the pub for a drink for Father's Day, as his son was in England.
He sat on a stool at the bar with Malcolm on one side and Adrian 'Frosty' Rogan (34) on the other.
But within the space of a few minutes both Malcolm and Adrian were dead.
"One of the things I've always struggled with was the fact that I was sitting in the middle of two guys – the guy on either side of me died, while I was in the middle and I survived," he said.
"That is always a difficult thing to try and figure out, because it's pure luck."
Colm was shot four times, but Malcolm saved his life when he pushed him off his stool.
He said: "Malcolm had pushed me back in an attempt to shield me – which is typical of the type of man he was.
"I was shot four times, and as far as I know Malcolm was only shot once. Malcolm fell on top of me as he pushed me off the chair; by the time we hit the ground he was unconscious.
"I moved myself from underneath him trying to help him breathe, said the Our Father, and he died in my arms within seconds."
Colm recalled the smell of gunsmoke and blood. As he looked to the door all he could see was dead bodies and the floor covered in red.
As emergency services arrived Colm was carried out over the bodies and rushed to hospital.
"When you see your family, and only when you see them, do you realise that you might never have seen them again," he said. "You very quickly realise that your life will never be the same again."
Colm met his wife around four months after the attack.
"I often talk about the fact she never knew me before that... because you lose a little bit of that ability to be frivolous," he said.
"Life becomes so important, the fact that you survived and the guilt... 'survivor's guilt' is not just a phrase, it is real."
In the past 20 years the hardest thing for Colm to come to terms with was his survival.
"The guilt of trying to come to terms that we are alive and others aren't does put a level of importance on your life, whether you like it or not," he said.
Colm returned to college, but his feelings came to the fore at a family wedding in 1997 where Malcolm should have been present.
"I felt very guilty that I should even be there – considering that if I hadn't taken Malcolm to the pub, he would have been there," he explained.
But in the early hours of the morning a conversation with Paul, Malcolm's son, changed his mindset.
"I explained to him for the first time just how deep-rooted my guilt was," Colm added. "He absolved me of my sins by saying that one of the things that helped his family was that when Malcolm died, he died with someone that loved him. Because, of course, it wasn't my fault – it was the guys that decided they were going to attack that pub on that particular night.
"That was really a breakthrough for me because the next morning I woke up and felt like that weight had been lifted off my shoulders."
Colm has never given an interview before, but he felt this year was the right time to tell his story and let people know what it's like to be a survivor.
"I wanted to feel personally and emotionally more in control coming up to the anniversary, and that I could tell a story that might be different from the typical terrorism story that we read about in the papers all the time," he said.
"At a very small level, it's about trying to recognise that outside of the politics of who was right and who was wrong... there are individuals like me who are just dealing with it every day."
Six people were killed and five wounded when members of the UVF opened fire inside The Heights Bar in Loughinisland on June 18, 1994. The loyalist terror group targeted the pub while customers were watching the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup. The pub was targeted because it was frequented mainly by Catholics. The six dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Greene (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O'Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholics.