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Quinn tragedy: Fireman tells BBC documentary how he tried to save kids from UVF arson attack

"I carried the child to the ambulance... I blessed him, but it was obvious he was dead"

From left, Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, killed in a firebomb attack in Ballymoney in 1998
From left, Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, killed in a firebomb attack in Ballymoney in 1998
John Toner

By John Toner

A firefighter who helped recover the bodies of three children murdered in a sectarian arson attack has revealed the horror of the incident over 20 years on.

The Quinn boys, Jason, Richard and Mark, were murdered by the UVF in a firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, on July 12, 1998. Their home was petrol-bombed because the family was Catholic and the triple murder took place at the height of the Drumcree stand-off in 1998.

In a new BBC documentary to be aired tomorrow, one of the firemen who recovered the bodies of the Quinn boys relives the harrowing ordeal.

Charlie McAuley, who served as a fireman from 1978 to 2012, emotionally recalls recovering the boys' bodies one by one in the programme.

He says: "We pulled into the square at the top of the street and it was obvious there was quite a severe fire burning. The front door was open, I think the police had made an attempt to get in but couldn't, they were beaten back by the heat and the smoke.

"We were told there were children upstairs and within a short time the first firefighters came back down the stairs with a child. They handed that child to me and I carried him up the street to a waiting ambulance. I blessed him in the back of that ambulance, it was obvious he was dead.

"I returned to the front door, the second team appeared with another child and I carried him up the street and blessed him beside his brother.

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PACEMAKER BELFAST 21/07/98 Thomas Robert Garfield Gilmour (23) from Ballymoney Co Antrim who was sentenced to three life sentences for the murder of the Quinn children in Ballymoney in July 1998. THIS SCHOOL PICTURE WAS TAKEN IN 1990 PICTURE COPYRIGHT PA
PACEMAKER BELFAST 21/07/98 Thomas Robert Garfield Gilmour (23) from Ballymoney Co Antrim who was sentenced to three life sentences for the murder of the Quinn children in Ballymoney in July 1998. THIS SCHOOL PICTURE WAS TAKEN IN 1990 PICTURE COPYRIGHT PA
Still from the BBC NI program, "On the Frontline, Firefighters on the Frontline," showing Charlie McAuley who served from 1978-2012.
The burnt out house of the Quinn family in Carnary estate, Ballymoney, Co Antrim, were three brothers Richard,10, Mark,9 and Jason,7 were killed after a petrol bomb was thrown through the rear window of the house in the early hours of this morning (Sunday)

"The first team who had gone in again appeared with the third child. I carried him to the ambulance and put him in. We had been told there were four children, we searched that house top to bottom and couldn't find a fourth child.

"We later learnt that the fourth child hadn't stayed there and had stayed with another relative that night."

Ballymoney UVF thug Garfield Gilmour was arrested soon after the killings and later convicted of murder for his part in the attack and sentenced to life imprisonment in October 1999.

He admitted to driving the car which had contained three members of the UVF unit which carried out the attack who he named as Johnny McKay and brothers Raymond and Ivan Parke, however, the trio were never charged over the crime due to lack of evidence.

Bushmills man Raymond Parke died last month. The father-of-two's body was pulled from the River Bann.

Former firefighter Mr McAuley, originally from north Antrim, had only applied for the job to be closer to his roots before being confronted with the Quinn atrocity.

He feels the long list of tragedies throughout the Troubles are a stain on society, adding: "In Belfast in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were quite a number of incidents, large fires and bomb scares, it made for very difficult times to get in and out of work to maintain a job and stay in a family life as well.

"There were hundreds, thousands of incidents across Northern Ireland which resulted in innocent people losing their lives.

"The Shankill bomb, the Omagh bomb, the Enniskillen bomb, McGurks Bar, The Rising Sun. So many instances where the innocents lost lives and that I think is just an indictment on our society, that as a society we put up with this for so long, so many years."

The BBC documentary Firefighters On The Frontline speaks to a string of former firemen who experienced some of the worst incidents in the Troubles.

Their experiences are shared through personal testimony and remarkable footage from the BBC archives.

The programme will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday at 10.45pm.

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