“Some men see things as they are and say, why. I dream things that never were and say, why not”. Robert F Kennedy
Copyright Jimmy Cummins 2014
First published in Ireland 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means.
This book is dedicated to the memory of the late Rev. Cecil Kerr, founder of the Christian Renewal Centre in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland and a tireless worker for peace and reconciliation in Ulster. It was my honour and privilege to have known Cecil and to have worked alongside him, his wife Myrtle and the faithful volunteers he attracted to this noble cause to which he dedicated a large part of his life. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
It is equally dedicated to Father Alex Reid, a wonderful Catholic priest who served the Clonard area of Belfast with distinction. He will be particularly remembered for his Christian compassion towards the two British FRU officers executed by the IRA, attempting to administer the kiss of life and giving them succour and the last rites as they passed away.
Finally, this book is dedicated to the thousands of people who were killed in the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the countless thousands maimed and injured, many completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, as the struggle for supremacy and power waved its ruthless wand over the towns and villages of this beautiful part of the world.
The Bullet and the Bomb
Michael Stone knew exactly what he was doing. Armed with a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol, a Ruger.357 Magnum Revolver and seven RGD-5 grenades, he calmly entered Milltown Cemetery, Belfast.
It was March 16 1988, and the funerals of IRA Volunteers Daniel McCann, Sean Savage and Mairead Farrell had left the Falls Road area and were about to reach their destination. The trio had been gunned down in cold blood by the British SAS in Gibraltar. They had been unarmed and the shootings had been widely condemned as heavy-handed and unjustifiable and had caused shock and outrage particularly in Northern Ireland’s Catholic communities.
Indeed Catholic leaders fearing a backlash in this highly-charged and inflammable atmosphere had requested that the British Army and the RUC abandon their usual practice of closely monitoring such republican funerals. Apart from two RUC helicopters thudding high overhead, the usual ground presence of British Army and RUC personnel was notably absent. This played beautifully into Stone’s plans and he was intent on making the most of it.
Pulling away from the huge gathering of mourners still filing through the main gates, following the three coffins towards their final resting place, Stone moved at an angle to the mourners. He was a dedicated man, dedicated to ridding the world, and Northern Ireland in particular, of as many Irish Republican Catholics as possible. His mission today however was clear and uncomplicated; he was quite simply to take out the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership at the graveside.
Stone had been born in Birmingham, England on April 2 1955 to Cyril Stone, a Protestant, and Mary Bridget Stone (nee Sullivan) a Catholic, who had been married in a London registry office in 1953 when Mary was only 19. Cyril was a lorry driver and chemical manufacturer. However in 1955, the marriage broke up with Mary walking out, leaving Cyril with little Michael. Feeling unable to care for him on his own, Cyril took Michael to Belfast and asked his sister Margaret and her husband John Gregg to care for him.
John and Margaret raised him lovingly and allowed Michael to keep “Stone” as his surname, although at the same time protecting him from his past. In 1959 they moved to a new housing estate, the Braniel, in East Belfast which was the centre of Protestant prosperity. John was a steelworker in the Harland and Wolff Shipyard, whose giant cranes dwarfed East Belfast, almost as an actual symbol of loyalist domination. John Gregg and Margaret Stone’s home depicted the family’s commitment and loyalty to Ulster and Britain.
In 1966, at the time of Michael’s entry into Lisnaharragh Secondary School, Protestant gunmen from the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) began to violently target Catholics in protest against Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill’s establishment of a more friendly rapport with the Republic of Ireland Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Sean Lemass. Fearing a weakening of Protestant Unionist supremacy and the Republic possibly having a say in the affairs of Northern Ireland, people like Ian Paisley, a renegade preacher with a large Loyalist following, began to incite Protestant suspicions by launching a series of scathing attacks on what he described as “a betrayal of Unionist rights”.
The die was thus being cast for people like Michael Stone. He would no doubt eventually have to take sides and get involved. 1966 was also a very special year in that it represented the 50th anniversary of not only the Republican Easter Rising in Dublin but also the famous Battle of the Somme in the First World War. The UVF in Northern Ireland had been re-formed by three survivors of the Somme and in reaction to this new relationship between O’Neill and Lemass, initiated a militant strategy of planting bombs at various Ulster installations and then blaming the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who basically were a spent force in 1966. This drew deeper lines between moderates, and began to polarise Catholics and Protestants into ‘enemy’ camps. In 1969 some Catholic homes were being petrol-bombed by Protestant activists and Stone decided to join an emerging organisation of Protestant teenagers called the Tartan Gangs, soon becoming area leader of the Braniel Tartan Gang.
In 1972, due to the worsening situation, Britain imposed direct rule on Northern Ireland from Westminster and loyalist gangs quickly reacted by openly terrorising sections of the Catholic community in revenge for this perceived erosion of Unionist governance. Behind the scenes however, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), while seeming to be a more politically minded Protestant organisation than the militant UVF, were secretly raising funds by laundering money derived from large profits in illegal drinking clubs. In some Protestant areas, these clubs were also strongly suspected as having been used in the ritualistic killings of Catholics. Detectives who visited one Shankill Road UDA club 24 hours after the killing of a Catholic, found the walls and floors splattered with blood.
Tartan gangs were involved in abducting Catholics who strayed into Protestant areas; the victims were murdered and their bodies dumped. East Belfast and North Belfast became the main killing fields for loyalist groups such as the UDA and the UVF. They were not alone in selecting targets but were assisted by Tartans and two other shady organisations, the Red Hand Commandos and Tara, both small in number and both run by homosexuals who had notorious reputations. The Red Hand Commandos were the creation of firebrand loyalist John McKeague, who had a criminal record for buggery and who regularly recruited young men from Tartan gangs and exploited them sexually as a precursor to violence.
Two particularly savage murders carried out by McKeague and his group were the murders of Patrick Benstead and Henry Russell. Benstead, a 23-year old Catholic, was a grown man physically but with below-average intelligence and slightly childlike. On the day he was abducted, he had simply strayed too close to a loyalist area where he was set upon and tortured, before a single bullet to the head ended his suffering. The killers used a red-hot poker to brand a cross on his back and the figure 4 signifying the fourth kill, and the letters IRA. There were also burn marks on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. Patrick had been in the hands of his captors in a derelict house or club for many hours.
Loyalist paramilitaries called the torture houses “romper rooms”. The same killers left the body of Henry Russell on a railway track in East Belfast following another savage torture. When the IRA began to retaliate, they did so not with individual torture but with the deliberate targeting of soldiers, policemen and also the bombing of shopping centres.
Tara had William McGrath as its leader. He was a house warden at the Kincora Boys Home on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast. Originally established in the mid-1960s, Tara was fundamentally an anti-Catholic, anti-Communist group. In 1971, it threatened that five Catholics would be killed for every dead Protestant. Interestingly McGrath was a regular visitor to Ian Paisley’s church and had attended many Paisley rallies. Like McKeague, McGrath was attracted to the virulent anti-Catholic preaching of Paisley.
Incredibly McKeague and McGrath were readily accepted in a Protestant community which detested homosexuality. In fact, Paisley himself singlehandedly orchestrated a “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign. When it came down to it, homophobia came a clear second to anti-Catholicism on the ladder of hatred. McGrath was accepted into the Orange Order and McKeague was invited to appear on many political platforms with leading Unionists. Later in 1981 McGrath was to be imprisoned for the sexual abuse of boys at his Kincora hostel.
The Tartans also displayed their potential for killing in North Belfast. One victim was a young Catholic, Victor Andrews. He was beaten and stabbed fifteen times before his body was dumped near his home. The UDA recruited many Tartans, and Stone soon became admired for his raw ruthlessness. At just sixteen, he found himself under the influence of McKeague who initiated him into the UDA, an irrevocable step towards committing his life to violence.
A series of absolutely shocking and violent murders were to follow, illustrating the shocking bigotry existing in the minds of young men like Stone. A typical sectarian murder committed in North Belfast by four Tartan members illustrates this. Trevor Hinton 23, Ronald Waller 18, James McCleave 19, and Terence Slavin 22, broke into the home of Sarah McCleneghan, a widow and the mother of three children, who unfortunately were now an “endangered Belfast species”, a Catholic family living in a Protestant street.
It was July and prior to the attack Mrs McCleneghan and her children had been watching Loyalist bonfires highlighting the annual Twelfth of July, celebrating the date of the 1690 historic Boyne victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II. Returning home around midnight with her eldest child, David, and a Protestant lodger, David Titherington, she had left her other two children overnight with friends.
About 3:00am, they were woken up by the sound of gunshots and breaking glass. Rushing downstairs, Mrs McCleneghan found bullet holes in the front door glass and in the walls of the hallway. The intruders got in by reaching through the broken glass. They confronted the occupants, asking where the guns were. They were told there were never any guns in the house. Hinton demanded to know Mrs McCleneghan’s religion but Titherington jumped in to protect her, stating that he was a Protestant. Waller responded by marching him upstairs and beating him, burning under his chin with a cigarette lighter. Titherington produced an orange sash and claimed that not only was he Protestant but so was Mrs McCleneghan. Waller was just about to kill him but was distracted by noises downstairs and rushed down. Titherington then managed to escape through a skylight and made for the nearest security post.
Downstairs, Hinton was still questioning Mrs McCleneghan and her handicapped son about their religion and where they went to Church. David, not quite understanding, replied “Oldpark”. There was no church of that name; it was simply the district where they lived. Hinton told the boy to fetch his prayer book. The child duly obliged and in doing so, unwittingly sealed his own fate. He returned with his mother’s Roman Catholic Sunday Missal and rosary beads. Completely satisfied he had come across a nest of fenians, a struggle followed during which Mrs McCleneghan was brutally raped by Hinton and McCleave in front of her handicapped son.
Afterwards Sarah and David were taken upstairs and made to lie face-down on the bed. Hinton told her there was one bullet for her and one for her son. Sarah threw herself across David in an effort to protect him, shouting that he was handicapped, but it was all to no avail. When the shooting died down, David had been hit in the neck and chest and his mother in the thigh and hand. The four men then ran from the house but were soon apprehended by police mainly due to Titherington quickly raising the alarm.
Hinton and Waller were sentenced to life imprisonment for their crimes. Slavin and McCleave, while found “not guilty of murder” but guilty on lesser charges, received seven and eight years sentences respectively. The Crown Prosecutor remarked that “Restraints of civilisation on human passions were non-existent in the McCleneghan case”. Hinton and his fellow criminals, in addition to being Tartans, were also members of the UDA.
The Provisional IRA reacted to such crimes with paramilitary attacks like the one carried out at the Abercorn Restaurant in Castle Lane, located in the centre of Belfast. It housed a ground-floor bar and restaurant, and an upstairs bar. Regularly frequented by off-duty British Army soldiers, the Abercorn was owned by a 45-year old Catholic, Bill O’Hara. On March 4 1972, it was packed with late afternoon shoppers - mostly women and children - when an anonymous caller issued a bomb warning to 999 at 4:28pm. He advised that a bomb would go off in Castle Lane in five minutes.
Typical of a street in the Cornmarket area of Belfast on a Saturday afternoon, Castle Lane was filled with people shopping and browsing. Just two minutes later at 4:30pm, a handbag containing five pounds of gelignite exploded under a table in the ground floor restaurant. Two young Catholic friends, Anne Owens (22), who was employed by the Electricity Board, and Janet Bereen (21), a hospital radiographer, who were seated at the table nearest the bomb, took the full force of the blast and were killed instantly.
More than 130 others were injured in the explosion, which overturned tables and chairs and brought the ceiling crashing down onto the ground floor restaurant. Many were severely maimed. Some had limbs blown off. Others suffered terrible head and facial injuries, burns, deep cuts and perforated eardrums. Three had their eyes destroyed by shards of flying glass. Two sisters, Jennifer and Rosaleen McNern (one of whom was due to be married), were horribly mutilated. Jennifer lost both legs, while Rosaleen (the bride-to-be), lost her legs, her right arm and one of her eyes.
The scene was one of utter panic and chaos as survivors tried to make their way out, stumbling over broken and bloodied bodies in an effort to get away. An RUC officer who arrived at the scene described the carnage in front of him as something he would never forget. “All you could hear and see was the moaning and squealing and people with limbs torn from their bodies”. A woman, who had been inside the restaurant just before the blast, told an inquest that she had seen two teenage girls walk out of the Abercorn, leaving a handbag behind, shortly before the explosion. This woman had been waiting at a bus stop when the bomb went off. A Detective established that the explosion’s epicentre was to the right of the table where the two girls had been sitting and the bomb had indeed been placed in a handbag.
Although no paramilitary group ever admitted responsibility and nobody has been charged, it was widely accepted that the IRA had detonated the bomb and because the two people who were killed were Catholics, there was an immediate backlash against the republican organisation in republican areas of West Belfast. According to Ed Moloney in his book Voices from the Grave, IRA sources have since confirmed, albeit unofficially, that the Provisional IRA was responsible. In addition, Ian Paisley in his inimitable fashion called on the Government “to mobilise and arm every able-bodied volunteer to meet the enemy”, obviously also convinced that the IRA had been the bombers.
Michael Stone though had absolutely no doubts and was particularly upset, for amongst the badly injured in the Abercorn bombing had been a good friend of his, Doreen Beggs, and her two children. This hardened Stone’s resolve and from then on there was just no turning back.
After several spells in jail over the next few years, he returned to East Belfast in 1976. Spending less time with former comrades though, he undertook irregular “jobs” such as stealing cars, still insisting that he was a soldier and the jobs were part of his role in “terrorism”.
With his hands drenched in blood, Stone might have tried to distance himself from what he had become, but events would soon reawaken his thirst for the thrill of the kill.
My Upbringing in Dublin
Unlike Michael Stone, my upbringing had been relatively peaceful. I was born into a Dublin Catholic family and we lived at the foot of the picturesque Dublin hills in a place called Rathfarnham. Our little lodge was at the edge of a Protestant estate owned by the Phibbs family on the Grange Road and my father did odd jobs for our rich and quite posh landowners.
My Dad, although born in County Kildare, was raised in Kells, a beautiful town in County Meath where his parents had also lived on a Protestant estate belonging to Nicholson’s of Balrath. My Mam was the daughter of a Dublin butcher, (who I later found had served in the British Army), and a gorgeous lady I simply just knew as “Granny”. We did not have any of the luxuries of life and money was in short supply. While I do not recall any bitterness on the part of my parents that our lot, especially compared to our more affluent Protestant benefactors, was somehow meagre or unjust, it was difficult for my parents not to sometimes display a small but noticeable degree of resentment.
As my sister Marie and my brother Garry and I grew up, it did become apparent that while Protestants were in short supply, they were quite obviously wealthier than the Catholics we knew. But that was the way it was and we did not at that time question this anomaly or spend too much time thinking about it. Our concentration was more on just making ends meet, and with cardboard in our worn shoes to prevent the wet getting in and patches on our worn trousers and jackets, we simply got on with life.
As children, we loved playing soccer at the lodge gates, which made a great goalmouth, and despite the disapproval of the owners we took great delight in hiding when they were seen to approach in case my Dad got into trouble. Despite being a little bit “Protestant” ourselves, attending our first Catholic school was really interesting, especially if the conversation about "proddiers" came up, when we were able to enlighten our more ignorant Catholic friends with slightly exaggerated stories about what made “them” tick.
We eventually moved from our little lodge when my father got a house in Whitechurch, courtesy of Labour politician Sean Dunne who my father used to campaign for at election time. This was a little traumatic in ways as it meant we were now permanently in the Catholic camp and merely “one of the bunch”. But that was ok too in that the only Protestant on our road, a Mrs Wilkinson, also had the only phone on the road, and I think because our accents sounded a little more posh we were allowed to use it when need be, albeit at a cost of thruppence a call.
But life was generally good and my growing interest in sport and achievements in school were to set me on a career in soccer and sharebroking. I was later to be signed by Shamrock Rovers, perhaps the most successful League of Ireland soccer team in history, where I spent six exciting years travelling the length and breadth of Europe due to our six-in-a-row Irish Cup wins, and I was also selected to represent the Republic of Ireland at international level on many occasions.
With a reasonably high profile in sport and a promising career in sharebroking, everything seemed rosy. Further happiness followed when I married my childhood sweetheart Philomena in September 1968, and we were blessed with a beautiful little daughter, Karen, in June 1969. A short spell in Australia in 1970 playing for South Coast United in the Australian Premier League added to our worldly experience, and when we returned to Dublin in 1972, where I resumed my sharebroking career with Butler and Briscoe, the Irish Government Stockbrokers, the world was my oyster, or so I thought.
My first close business contact with Northern Ireland came when my new firm amalgamated with W J Richardson & Co of Rosemary Street, Belfast. Ironically, the night we were about to attend a dinner meeting to celebrate the new alliance with our Northern partners, UVF bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan. It was May 17 1974. On my way to dinner I had passed South Leinster Street seven minutes before one of those bombs detonated, killing two women and badly injuring many.
This incident, though individually tragic in its own right, was merely the signal of worse to come for me and my family. Michael Stone was experiencing his own fears and nightmares in Belfast, but in a completely different way in Dublin mine were about to begin in earnest.
Bloody Days in Derry and Belfast
While I had been in Australia, real trouble was just about to raise its head in Northern Ireland. The NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association) had begun to mount street protests, particularly against “Internment without Trial” legislation which had been introduced in August 1971. All marches had been banned in an attempt to avoid sectarian clashes but despite this, NICRA planned to proceed with a protest march in Derry to take place on January 30 1972. Approximately 15,000 were expected to attend and guarantees were given to authorities that the march would be peaceful. Major General Robert Ford, then Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, ordered that the First Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment (1PARA) should travel to Derry to be used to arrest possible rioters during the march. 1PARA duly arrived in Derry on the morning of Sunday January 30 and took up positions in the city.
The people had planned on marching to the Guildhall, but because of army barricades designed to reroute the march, it was redirected to Free Derry Corner. A group of teenagers, however, broke off from the march and persisted in pushing the barricade aside and marching on Guildhall. At this point, a water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the rioters. Such confrontations between soldiers and youths were not uncommon and observers reported that the rioting was not intense. Two civilians, however, Damien Donaghy and John Johnston, were shot and wounded by soldiers who claimed that they had been carrying a black cylindrical object. At a certain point reports of an IRA sniper operating in the area were also conveyed to the Army command centre.
Strangely, at 4:07pm, permission was relayed to the Parachute Regiment to go into the Bogside, previously a no-go area for the security forces. Stranger still, an order to fire live rounds was then given and one young man was shot and killed when he ran down Chamberlain Street away from the advancing troops. He was running alongside a Catholic priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back. Eventually the order was given to mobilise all troops in an arrest operation and they began chasing the tail of the main group of marchers to the edge of the field near Free Derry Corner. What then happened defies all sense of decency and humanity.
Despite a cease-fire order from the Army HQ, over 100 rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowd by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. Without any warning or provocation, members of the British Parachute Regiment mowed down fourteen unarmed peaceful demonstrators. It was to become known around the world as Bloody Sunday. As is my practice in this book, I now attach details of the dead.
John (Jackie) Duddy. Shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville Flats. Four witnesses stated Duddy was unarmed and running away from the Paratroopers when he was killed.
Patrick Joseph Doherty. Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety in the forecourt of Rossville Flats. Doherty was the subject of a series of photographs taken before and after he died, by French journalist Gilles Peress. Despite testimony from “Soldier F” that he had fired at a man holding and firing a pistol, Lord Widgery acknowledged that the photographs showed that Doherty was unarmed, and that forensic tests on his hands for gunshot residue proved negative.
Bernard McGuigan. Shot in the back of the head as he went to help Patrick Doherty. He had been waving a white handkerchief at the soldiers to indicate his peaceful intentions.
Hugh Pious Gilmore. Shot through his right elbow, the bullet then entering his chest as he ran from Paratroopers on Rossville Street. The initial Widgery Report acknowledged that a photograph taken seconds after Gilmore was hit, corroborated evidence from witnesses that he was unarmed, and that tests for gunshot residue, were also negative.
Kevin McElhinney. Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety at the front entrance to Rossville Flats. Witnesses confirmed that McElhinney was unarmed.
Michael Gerard Kelly. Shot in the stomach while standing near the rubble barricade in front of Rossville flats. Again witnesses confirmed that Kelly was unarmed.
John Pious Young. Shot in the head while standing at the rubble barricade. Two witnesses stated that Young was unarmed.
William Noel Nash. Shot in the chest near the barricade. Witnesses stated that Nash was unarmed and going to another’s aid when killed.
Michael M McDaid. Shot in the face at the barricade as he was walking away from the Paratroopers. The trajectory of the bullet indicated he could have been shot by soldiers positioned at the Derry walls.
James Joseph Wray. Wounded, then shot again at close range while lying on the road. Witnesses, who were not called to the Tribunal, stated that Wray was calling out that he could not move his legs before he was shot the second time.
Gerald Donaghy. Shot in the stomach while attempting to run to safety between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park. Donaghy was brought to a nearby house where he was examined by a doctor. Neither those who searched his pockets in an effort to identify him, nor the British Army medical officer who pronounced him dead, said they saw any weapons.
Gerald (James) McKinney. Shot just after Gerald Donaghy. Witnesses stated that McKinney had been running behind Donaghy, and he stopped and held up his arms, shouting “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot” when he saw Donaghy fall. He was then shot in the chest.
William Anthony McKinney. Shot from behind when he attempted to aid McKinney (no relation). He had left cover to help Gerald.
John Johnston. Shot in the left leg and shoulder on William Street, 15 minutes before the rest of the shooting began. He was not on the march, but on his way to visit a friend in Glenfada Park. He died four and a half months after being shot.
When the shooting died down thirteen people had been killed with another later dying of his injuries. The following day in the British House of Commons, the Home Secretary backed army statements that the paratroopers had reacted to gun and nail bomb attacks from suspected IRA members. However all eyewitnesses (apart from the soldiers), including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present, maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves had not been fired upon.
In the events that followed, angry crowds burned down the British Embassy on Merrion Square in Dublin and the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister flew directly to the UN in New York to demand UN intervention in the Northern Ireland troubles. Despite British protestations, it was widely accepted that the soldiers had been “trigger happy” and had fired without justification. On August 21 1973, even the City Coroner, retired British Army Major Hubert O’Neill, on completion of the inquest into the people killed, declared:
“This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.”
The resulting Widgery Inquiry, set up by then Conservative British Prime Minister Edward Heath, was later discredited as a complete whitewash, and was replaced by the Saville Inquiry which was established in January 1998. In its report released in June 2010, the Saville Inquiry concluded that:
“The firing by soldiers of 1PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury”.
Saville stated that the British paratroopers lost control. The report also stated that British soldiers had concocted lies in an attempt to hide their guilt. The Inquiry did find however that an Official IRA sniper had fired on British soldiers, albeit on the balance of evidence that the shots were fired after the Army shots. The Inquiry was inconclusive on IRA leader Martin McGuiness’s role due to a lack of certainty over his movements, concluding that while he was “engaged in paramilitary activity” and had probably been armed with a Thompson submachine gun, there was insufficient evidence to make any finding other than they were “sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
Bloody Sunday in Derry was very soon followed by Bloody Friday in Belfast. In late June and early July 1972, around the time I had returned to Dublin from Australia, a British Government delegation led by William Whitelaw held secret talks at Cheyne Way in Chelsea with the Provisional IRA leadership. The Irish delegation included Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Sean MacStiofain (IRA Chief of Staff), Daithi O’Conaill, Seamus Twomey, Ivor Bell and Dublin solicitor Myles Shelvin. (Gerry Adams had been interned in March 1972 under the “Special Powers Act 1922”, on HMS Maidstone, but the IRA had insisted Adams be included in the meeting, and he was released from internment to attend).
On June 26, the IRA temporarily agreed to halt hostilities as they explored a peaceful outcome. The stumbling block came though when the IRA delegation demanded a full British withdrawal from Northern Ireland by 1975 and the release of all republican prisoners. The British delegation felt this was completely unacceptable and the talks broke down on July 9 1972. In reprisal for the refusal of the British to meet their demands, the IRA embarked on a wave of “commercial bombings” designed, according to Sean MacStiofain the IRA’s Chief of Staff, to “wreak financial harm and send a message to the British Government that the IRA could and would make a commercial desert of the city of Belfast until its demands were met”. It was also claimed by other sources that the attacks were also partially in reprisal for the “Bloody Sunday Massacre” in Derry six months earlier.
The attacks were to be carried out by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and the main organiser was Brendan Hughes, the Brigade’s Commanding Officer. On Friday July 26 1972, a total of 26 bombs were planted, eleven people were killed and 130 civilians were injured, many seriously and horribly mutilated. At the height of the bombings, the middle of Belfast “resembled a city under artillery fire”; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers.
A car bomb exploded outside the Ulsterbus depot on Oxford Street, the busiest bus station in Northern Ireland. An Austin 1100 saloon car loaded with explosives had been driven to the rear of the depot and the blast resulted in the greatest loss of life and number of casualties. Some of the victim’s bodies were torn to pieces by the blast, which gave rise to confusion as to how many had actually been killed. Two British Army soldiers, Stephen Cooper (19) and Philip Price (27) were near the bomb when it detonated and were killed outright. Three Protestant civilians who worked for Ulsterbus were also killed: William Crothers (15), Thomas Killops (39) Jackie Gibson (45) and William Irvine (18). Crowthers, Killops and Irvine had been searching for the device when it exploded.
Another of the car bombs carrying approximately 50 pounds of explosive exploded outside a row of single storey shops near the top of Cavehill Road, North Belfast without warning. Two women and a man died in this blast. Margaret O’Hare (37) a Catholic mother of seven children, died in her car and her 11 year old daughter was badly injured. Another Catholic, Brigid Murray (65) and a Protestant teenager, Stephen Parker (14) were also killed. Parker’s father, the Rev. Joseph Parker, was only able to identify his son’s body at the mortuary by the box of trick matches in his pocket and the shirt and scout belt he had been wearing. Twenty-five years later a police officer who had been standing at Oxford Street bus station described to journalist Peter Taylor the scene he came upon:
“The first thing that caught my eye was a torso of a human being lying in the middle of the street. It was recognisable as a torso because the clothes had been blown off and you could actually see parts of the human anatomy. One of the victims was a soldier I knew personally. He’d had his arms and legs blown off and some of his body had been blown through the railings. One of the most horrendous memories for me was seeing a head stuck to the wall. A couple of days later, we found vertebrae and a rib cage on the roof of a nearby building. The reason we found it was because the seagulls were diving onto it. I’ve tried to put it at the back of my mind for twenty-five years”.
For the IRA, and its Belfast Brigade, it was “an operation gone awry”. Brendan Hughes, the IRA Commanding Officer, Belfast Brigade, viewed the attack as a disaster and described his reaction in a recent interview in Boston College:
“I was the operational commander of the ‘Bloody Friday’ operation. I remember when the bombs started to go off. I was in Leeson Street and I thought, ‘There’s too much here’. I sort of knew that there were going to be casualties, either because the Brits could not handle so many bombs or they would allow them to go off because it suited them to have casualties. I feel a bit guilty about it because as I say, there was no intention to kill anyone that day. I have a fair deal of regret that ‘Bloody Friday’ took place… a great deal of regret…if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t do it”.
Attacks on the South
The Republic of Ireland did not escape unscathed. Its close proximity to the North and its constitutional claim of sovereignty over the six “British” counties of Ulster always meant it would come into the firing line at some stage. And it did not take very long.
By 1974 Northern Ireland was gripped in a titanic struggle. The Sunningdale Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly were being foisted on the population despite the opposition of many and varied hard-line Unionists who had come together in utter defiance of the idea of sharing power with Irish nationalists and a greater role for the Republic of Ireland in the governance of Northern Ireland. They formed the Ulster Worker Council and immediately called a province-wide major strike, virtually bringing Northern Ireland to a standstill.
At approximately 5:29pm on Friday May 17 1974, without prior warning, three car bombs exploded during rush hour, almost simultaneously, in Dublin’s city centre at Talbot Street, Parnell Street and South Leinster Street, (I had casually strolled by the latter site seven minutes before the explosion on my way to a work dinner meeting). According to one of the Irish Army’s top bomb disposal experts, Commandant Patrick Trears, the bombs were so well constructed that 100% of each bomb exploded upon detonation. Twenty three people died in these explosions and three others died as a result of their injuries over the next few weeks. Many of the dead were young women, originally from rural Irish towns, then working in Dublin employed by the Civil Service. An entire family from central Dublin was killed.
The first of the three Dublin bombs went off in a parking bay outside the Welcome Inn Pub and Barry’s Supermarket in Parnell Street, near Marlborough Street. Shop fronts were blown out, cars destroyed and bodies were strewn in all directions. A survivor described the scene as “just a big ball of flame coming towards us, like a mushroom cloud whooshing up everything in its path”. Ten were killed, including two infant girls and their parents. The car used in this awful attack, a green 1970 Hillman Avenger (DIA 4063), had been hi-jacked in Belfast that morning.
The second bomb went off at approximately 5:30pm at the Lower Gardiner Street end of Talbot Street in the centre of Dublin. Twelve people were killed outright and another two died in the coming weeks. Thirteen of the fourteen victims were women, including one who was nine months pregnant. People were struck by shrapnel, flying glass, parts of the bomb car, and debris; some were hurled through the shopfront windows.
Talbot Street had been more crowded than usual due to a bus strike. Bodies lay in the street for half an hour as ambulances struggled to get through traffic jams. At least four bodies were found on the pavement outside Guiney’s Department Store, covered only by newspapers until they were eventually removed. One young woman, who had been beside the bomb, was de-capitated, the only clue to her sex being the pair of brown platform shoes she had been wearing. The bomb car in this case was a blue Ford Escort (1385 WZ) and which had been stolen that morning in the docks area of Belfast.
The third bomb went off at approximately 5:31pm in South Leinster Street near the railings of Trinity College. Two women were killed instantly by the blast and many injured. Dental students in the nearby college rushed out to render aid to the injured. The bomb car was a blue Austin 1800 Maxi and like the Parnell Street car, this one had also been hi-jacked in Belfast that morning from a taxi company.
Ninety minutes later at approximately 6:57pm, without warning, a fourth bomb weighing 150 pounds exploded outside Greacen’s Pub in North Road, Monaghan, just south of the Irish border with Northern Ireland. Five people were killed instantly and another two died in the following weeks. This time the bomb car was a green Hillman Minx (6583 OZ), stolen from a Portadown car park several hours before the blast.
In Dublin, Paddy Doyle of Finglas, who lost his daughter, son-in law, and two infant granddaughters in the Parnell Street explosion, described the scene inside Dublin’s City Morgue as having been “like a slaughterhouse”, with workers “putting arms and legs together just to make up a body”.
Gardaí Siochana officers set about closing escape routes monitoring Connolly Station, Busaras, Dublin Airport, the B&I Car Ferry Port, and the mail boat in Dun Laoghaire. At 6:28pm the Dublin-Belfast train was stopped at Dundalk and searched for the bombers, also without success.
In Northern Ireland, Sammy Smyth, then Press Officer of both the UDA and the Ulster Workers Council Strike Committee said, “I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them”.
The timing of the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan is of particular significance in itself in that the Irish Parliament (the Dail) was at that exact time debating strict anti-terrorist legislation with amendments to the “Offences Against the State Acts”, which by all accounts was facing strong rejection from the Fianna Fail opposition benches, with the result in doubt. Following the bombings and the public backlash, the legislation sailed through.
Rather coincidental also was the fact that the month before the bombing, Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had lifted the “proscribed” status on the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), the group that later in 1993 claimed sole responsibility for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in spite of continued and growing suspicion that it had carried out the carnage in collusion with elements of the British security forces.
In its statement the UVF rather pathetically claimed that;
“The entire operation was from its conception to its successful conclusion, planned and carried out by our volunteers, aided by no outside bodies. In contrast to other scenarios being painted, it would have been unnecessary and indeed undesirable to compromise our volunteers anonymity by using clandestine Security Force personnel, British or otherwise, to achieve an objective well within our capabilities. Given the backdrop of what was taking place in Northern Ireland when the UVF were bombing republican targets at will, either the T.V. researchers decided to take poetic licence to the limit or the truth was being twisted by knaves to make a trap for the fools. The minimum of scrutiny should have revealed that the structure of the bombs placed in Dublin and Monaghan were similar if not identical to those being placed in Northern Ireland on an almost daily basis. The type of explosives, timing and detonating methods all bore the hallmarks of the UVF. It is incredulous that these points were lost on the Walter Mittys who conjured up this conspiracy. To suggest that the UVF were not, or are not, capable of operating in the manner outlined is tempting fate to a dangerous degree”.
The statement, a blatant outright admission of guilt by the UVF, had been principally in response to a Yorkshire TV broadcast in July 1993 featuring retired members of the Irish Gardaí proposing that, while the bombings were the work of the UVF, the paramilitary group had been assisted by clandestine British security forces. The programme named a number of UVF paramilitaries who had been involved, including Billy Hanna, Robert McConnell, Harris Boyle and Robin Jackson. William “Frenchie” Marchant was named as the leader of the Belfast UVF gang known as “Freddie and the Dreamers”, which had hi-jacked the cars used in the bombings. After much debate in December 2003, the findings of the investigative Barron Report were published. Some are as follows;
“A finding that members of the security forces in Northern Ireland could have been involved is neither fanciful nor absurd, given the number of instances in which illegal activity has been proven.
It is likely that the farm of James Mitchell at Glenanne played a significant part in the preparation for the attacks. It is also likely members of the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) either participated in, or were made aware of, those preparations.
A number of those suspected of the bombings were reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch officers. It is reasonable to assume that exchanges of information took place. It is therefore possible that the assistance provided to the Irish Gardaí investigation team by the security forces in Northern Ireland was affected by a reluctance to compromise those relationships, in the interest of securing further information in the future”.
The Barron Report caused a sensation in Ireland and demands grew for a deeper analysis. It is interesting that a subsequent report by Justice Henry Barron into the Miami Showband massacre and other atrocities, found evidence of extensive collusion with the same mainly UVF personnel, amounting to “international terrorism” on the part of British forces. Mr Justice Barron reported that his official enquiry was obstructed by the British authorities.
“We refer to the main difficulty in assessing the usefulness to the inquiry of the information received from the British Government. We stressed that we needed to see original intelligence documents, but we never got them.
In investigating allegations of collusion, this inquiry faces all the problems identified by the Stevens Inquiry, with the additional complication that it has no authority or powers within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland”.
The Stevens Report by the then Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan (London) Police, John Stevens, noted under Obstruction of My Enquiries.
“There was a clear breach of security before the planned arrest of British agent and UDA member Brian Nelson and other senior loyalists. Information was leaked to the loyalist paramilitaries and the press. This resulted in the operation being aborted. Nelson was advised by his FRU (Future Research Units) handlers to leave home the night before. A new date was set for the operation. The night before the new operation, my incident room was destroyed by fire and I believe it was a deliberate act of arson”.
Stevens stated that collusion with loyalist killers by British Army Intelligence and RUC Special Branch had taken place:
“I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them. Collusion is evidenced in many ways. This ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and records, through to the extremes of agents being involved in murder”.
Justice Barron also complained that Irish Department of Justice files on the Dublin bombings were “missing in their entirety” and that no records were provided by that department. He found that the Gardaí investigation ended prematurely and there was no single reason why the investigation ended. The Barron Inquiry also found a chain of ballistic history linking weapons and killings under the control of a group of UVF and security force members, including RUC Special Patrol Group members John Weir and Billy McCaughey, connected to those alleged to have carried out the bombings. These killings included the following;
In 1975, the three murders at Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge, the murder of two men at Altnamachin near Tullyvallen, Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer at a fake UDR checkpoint, the murder of IRA man John Francis Green in the Republic, the murders of members of the Miami Showband and the murder of Dorothy Trainor in Portadown. They also included the murder of three members of the Reavey family and the attack on the Rock Bar in Tassagh.
Added to that, according to MI6’s Fred Holroyd, Captain Robert Nairac, acting under SAS orders, was involved in the killing of John Francis Green in the Republic of Ireland, and the Miami Showband killings. John Weir also supported the suggestion of Nairac’s involvement in the Green assassination saying he had been told by a UVF man close to Robin Jackson that Jackson had confirmed Nairac was with them.
More confirmation was to come from then British Army Intelligence Officer Colin Wallace in a letter to Tony Stroughton, Chief Information Officer of the British Army Information Service at Lisburn on August 14 1975.
“There is good evidence the Dublin bombings in May last year were a reprisal for the Irish Government’s role in bringing about the power-sharing Executive. According to one of Craig’s people (Craig Smellie, the top MI6 officer in NI at the time) some of those involved, the Youngs, the Jacksons, Mulholland, Hanna, Kerr and McConnell were working closely with Special Branch and Intelligence at that time. Smellie’s people believe the sectarian assassinations were designed to destroy Merlyn Rees’s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire, and the targets were identified on both sides by Intelligence/Special Branch. They also believe some very senior RUC officers were involved in this group. In short, it would appear that loyalist paramilitaries and Intelligence/Special Branch have formed some sort of pseudo gangs in an attempt to fight a war of attrition by getting paramilitaries on both sides to kill each other and, at the same time, prevent any future initiative such as Sunningdale”.
In a further letter, dated September 30 1975, Wallace revealed that MI5 was trying to create a split in the UVF;
….“because they wanted the more politically-minded ones ousted. I believe much of the violence generated during the latter part of last year was caused by some of the new Intelligence people deliberately stirring up the conflict. As you know, we have never been allowed to target the breakaway UVF, nor the UFF, during the past year. Yet they have killed more people than the IRA”.
As with MI6’s Fred Holroyd and John Weir, there were also unsuccessful attempts to undermine Colin Wallace’s credibility. This was extremely significant as between 1968 and 1975, Wallace had run the main psychological warfare department at British Army Headquarters in Lisburn, a task involving dissemination of information and disinformation.
In September 1974, Wallace refused to become involved in the security forces’ attempts to subvert British Government policy. Wallace later attempted to expose security forces involvement in events such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and attempts by MI5 to undermine “left wing” organisations and individuals, including the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Barron notes that Wallace was then targeted by the same security forces he had served. He was forced out of Government service on a charge of passing a restricted document to journalist Robert Fisk. In 1980, he was falsely charged with but convicted of manslaughter. After his release from prison on parole in 1985, Wallace proclaimed his innocence, and later successfully overturned the conviction, which was quashed on July 21 1986. He was paid the maximum compensation for unjust dismissal and he was fully vindicated.
Further evidence of British security involvement in the bombings is also supported by British Army Captain Fred Holroyd, who worked for MI6 during the 70s. Holroyd stated that “the bombings were part of a pattern of collusion between elements of the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries”. Justice Barron found that members of the Gardaí and the RUC attempted to unfairly and unjustly undermine Holroyd’s evidence.
Then Assistant Commissioner of the Gardaí, Edmund (Ned) Garvey, was said by Fred Holroyd to have met him and a RUC Officer at Garda Headquarters in 1975. Holroyd named Garvey and another Garda (codenamed “the Badger”) as being on the “British side”. Garvey later denied the meeting ever took place. However Barron found, “The visit by Holroyd to Garda Headquarters definitely took place, notwithstanding Commissioner Garvey’s inability to recall it”.
Edmund Garvey was dismissed by the incoming Fianna Fail Government in 1978 without explanation, other than by stating it “no longer had confidence in him”.
The UVF’s claim of sole responsibility for the bombings is further undermined by John Weir, a member of the loyalist RUC Special Patrol Group, who claimed to have been part of the Glenanne Gang directly involved with killings on both sides of the border. The RUC furnished the Irish Gardaí with a report that attempted to undermine Weir’s evidence but Justice Barron found this RUC attempt to be highly inaccurate and to lack credibility.
In his book None Shall Divide Us, Michael Stone claims that he had a deep conversation with a Loyalist “lifer” in the Maze Prison who told him that “both Britain and Ireland knew who planted the Dublin and Monaghan bombs and that the British knew it had been one of their own – SAS soldier Captain Robert Nairac who set up the entire operation and provided the explosives and timer units for the Loyalist squad”. He said that “The Irish were too ashamed to tell their people the truth – that they have long known the atrocity was planned and executed with the collusion of the intelligence services and loyalist paramilitaries”.
Stone stated that this man told Stone that he had known Nairac personally and over a couple of drinks Nairac had outlined the operation in advance, which he called a “headline grabber”. While not divulging any details, Nairac had apparently claimed that it would be so big it would frighten the Dublin administration into tightening border security, which had been non-existent for years, and would force Dublin into clamping down on southern-based Provisional IRA activists, who had carried out indiscriminate attacks in the North from the relative safety of the Republic.
Whatever the truth of Stone’s claims, and they cannot be completely dismissed, the result of the atrocity certainly had the effect intended, and Nairac was later to be kidnapped and executed by the IRA, who presumably verified his role in loyalist atrocities not only in Dublin and Monaghan and the Miami Showband ambush, but in many other clandestine operations throughout the period of the “Troubles”.
Miami Showband Murders
There are many reasons I am including this atrocity so close to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and in my “significant incident category”.
Here was a popular Irish showband innocently making its way home to Dublin from Banbridge in County Down on July 31 1975, having played a gig there for its many adoring fans. In the late sixties and early seventies, one of those fans had been me when Dickie Rock fronted the band, and many a great night my friends and I had thoroughly enjoying the fabulous variety and quality of the music and entertainment they cheerfully provided.
The July 1975 line-up comprised four Catholics and two Protestants. They were: lead vocalist and keyboard player Fran O’Toole (28 Catholic), guitarist Tony Geraghty (24 Catholic) both from Dublin, trumpeter Brian McCoy (32 Protestant) from Caledon, Co. Tyrone, saxophonist Des McAlea (24 Catholic) from Belfast, bassist Stephen Travers (24 Catholic) from Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary and drummer Ray Millar (Protestant) from Antrim. O’Toole and MCoy were both married, each with two children, and Geraghty was engaged to be married.
Five members of the band were travelling home after a performance in the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge. Ray Miller, their drummer, was not with them as he had headed home to Antrim to spend the night with his parents, and the band’s Manager, Brian Maguire, had already gone in the equipment van a few minutes ahead of them. At about 2:30am, when the band was seven miles north of Newry on the main A1 road, their Volkswagen minibus (driven by McCoy with Travers in the front seat beside him) reached the townland of Buskill. Near the junction with Buskill Road, they were flagged down by armed men dressed in British Army uniforms waving a red torch in a circular motion.
Assuming it was a legitimate checkpoint, McCoy pulled in at the lay-by as instructed by the armed men. As McCoy rolled down the window and produced his driving licence for inspection, one of them in a broad Northern Ireland accent said, “Good night fellas, How are things? Can you step out of the van for a few minutes and we’ll just do a check”. Still wearing their stage clothes, the unsuspecting band members got out and were politely told to line up facing the ditch at the rear of the minibus with their hands on their heads. More uniformed men appeared from out of the darkness, their guns pointed at the minibus. Roughly ten armed men were now at the scene.
After McCoy told them that they were the Miami Showband, one gunman, Thomas Crozier, (who had a notebook) asked the band members for their names and addresses while the band members bantered about the success of their performance that night. As Crozier took down the information, another car drew up and a man got out. He wore a uniform and beret that was noticeably different from the others. He also spoke with an educated English accent and immediately took charge, ordering a man who seemed to have been the leader of the patrol to tell Crozier to obtain their names and dates of birth rather than the addresses.
Suddenly the jocular mood of the gunmen changed. At no time did the soldier speak with the bandsmen or with Crozier, but only the gunman in command. Travers and McCoy both assumed he was a British soldier and McCoy tried to reassure Travers saying, “Don’t worry Stephen this is British Army”. Travers thought that McCoy, a Protestant from Northern Ireland, was familiar with security checkpoints and had meant the regular British Army would be more efficient than the UDR, who had a reputation for unpredictable behaviour towards people from the Republic. McCoy, a son of the Orange Order’s Grand Master for South Tyrone, had close relatives in the security forces; his brother-in-law had been a member of the B-Specials disbanded in 1970, and he was regarded by the other band members as a “sophisticated, fatherly type figure” whose words could be trusted.
At least four of the gunmen, though, were soldiers from the UDR, a locally recruited regiment of the British Army. In fact, all the gunmen were members of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade, and had been lying in wait to ambush the band having set up the checkpoint just minutes before.
Out of sight of the band members, two of the gunmen placed a ten pound time-bomb in the rear of the minibus with the plan that the bomb would explode when the minibus reached Newry, killing all on board. There are various other theories as to their objectives, but certainly once again the propaganda element of this operation cannot be understated. A bomb being carried by the band would point to them being operatives for the IRA and possibly result also in tighter controls surrounding border protection, and it would be a huge blow to the nationalist community who regarded the band fondly and above such militant involvement. Certainly it would be a significant embarrassment and a blow to Irish republicans.
Travers heard the gunmen rummaging in the back of the minibus where he kept his guitar, and concerned it might be damaged innocently approached the two gunmen and asked them if they could just be a little careful. The gunmen however, in their first show of aggression or anger, turned him around quickly, punched him in the back and pushed him back into the line-up.
As the two gunmen at the rear of the minibus closed the door, they accidentally knocked the timing device, causing the bomb to explode prematurely, blowing the minibus apart and killing them both. Harris Boyle (22, a telephone wireman from Portadown) and Wesley Somerville (34, a textile worker from Moygashel) died instantly. Hurled in opposite directions, they were both decapitated and their bodies dismembered. What little remained was burnt beyond recognition.
Following the explosion, the remaining gunmen opened fire on the bewildered band members, who all had been knocked down into the field below from the force of the blast. The order to shoot was given by the patrol’s leader James McDowell in an apparent attempt to eliminate witnesses to the botched operation. Three of the musicians were killed, lead singer Fran O’Toole, trumpeter Brian McCoy and guitarist Brian Geraghty.
McCoy was the first to die, receiving nine rounds in the back from a 9mm Luger pistol. O’Toole attempted to flee but was caught and jumped on. He was then machine-gunned twenty two times, mostly in the face, as he lay on the ground. Geraghty had also attempted to escape but he was also caught and shot at least four times in the back of the head and back.
Travers, though seriously wounded, survived by pretending he was dead as he lay by the body of McCoy. Saxophonist Des McAlea had initially been hit by the door of the minibus when it blew up but was not badly injured. Luckily, he lay hidden in deep undergrowth undetected. Assuming that all had been killed, the gunmen fled the scene of utter devastation. Stephen
Travers recalls one of the departing gunmen telling his comrade who had kicked McCoy’s body to ensure he was dead: “Come on, the bastards are dead, I got them with dum-dums”. When he was satisfied they had gone, Des McAlea made his way back up the embankment to the main road. There he hitched a lift to the RUC barracks at Newry where he alerted them to the horrific massacre.
When the RUC arrived at the scene, they found five dead bodies, a seriously injured Stephen Travers, body parts, the smouldering remains of the destroyed minibus, debris from the bomb blast, bullets, spent cartridges, and the band members’ personal possessions, including clothing, shoes, and a photograph of the band, all strewn across the area. They also discovered a stolen white Ford Escort (4933 LZ), two guns, ammunition, green UDR berets and a pair of glasses later traced to James McDowell, the gunman who had ordered the shootings.
James O’Neill was the RUC “Scenes of Crimes Officer” and one of the first to arrive at Buskill in the wake of the killings. He described the scene as having “just the smell of utter death about the place - burning blood, burning tyres”. He also added that “the bomb was definitely placed there with a view to killing all in that band”. In fact the only identifiable body part from the dead bombers to survive the blast was a severed arm belonging to Wesley Somerville. It was found one hundred yards from the site with a “UVF Portadown” tattoo on it.
Almost unbelievably, within twelve hours of the attack the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) issued the following disingenuous statement;
“A UVF patrol led by Major Boyle was suspicious of two vehicles, a minibus and a car parked near the border. Major Boyle ordered his patrol to apprehend the occupants for questioning. As they were being questioned, Major Boyle and Lieutenant Somerville began to search the minibus. As they began to enter the vehicle, a bomb was detonated and both men were killed outright. At the precise moment of the explosion, the patrol came under intense automatic fire from the occupants of the other vehicle. The patrol sergeant immediately ordered fire to be returned. Using self-loading rifles and sub-machine guns, the patrol returned fire, killing three of their attackers and wounding another. The patrol later recovered two armalite rifles and a pistol. The UVF maintains regular border patrols due to the continued activity of the Provisional IRA. The Mid-Ulster battalion has been assisting the South-Down Armagh units since the IRA Forkhill booby-trap which killed four British soldiers. Three UVF members are being treated for gunshot wounds after last night but not in hospital. It would appear that the UVF patrol surprised members of a terrorist organisation transferring weapons to the Miami Showband minibus and that an explosive device of some description was being carried by the Showband for an unlawful purpose. It is obvious therefore that the UVF patrol was justified in taking the action it did and that the killing of the three Showband members should be considered as justifiable homicide. The Officers and Agents of the Ulster Central Intelligence Agency commend the UVF on their actions and tender their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the two Officers who died while attempting to remove the bomb from the minibus”.
There is of course no mention of why the remaining members of this heroic patrol fled the scene so soon after the massacre, or why they failed to alert other security forces to the operation, or why it was left to a surviving ‘terrorist’ to raise the alarm with the Newry RUC.
Following is the undeniable connection between those who carried out the Dublin and Monagahan bombings and the Miami Showband killings. Former Secret Intelligence Service MI6 agent Captain Fred Holroyd stated that the stolen white Ford Escort belonged to a Portadown man who had links with the driver of the bomb car which had exploded in Parnell Street Dublin in May 1974. Captain Holroyd also stated that Captain Robert Nairac had organised the attack in co-operation with Robin Jackson (The Jackal) and the Mid-Ulster UVF.
According to RUC Special Patrol Group Officer James Weir, the Miami Showband killings was just one of eighty seven violent attacks carried out by the Glenanne Gang against the Irish nationalist community in the 1970s. The Glenanne Gang was a loose alliance of loyalist extremists allegedly operating under the command of the British Military intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch. Weir’s affidavit states that the bomb used in the Miami Showband attack came from Mitchell’s farm. He also implicates Robin Jackson in the attack and also the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Some convictions were obtained. A number of suspects were arrested by the RUC in early 1975. One of the men, Lance-Corporal Thomas Raymond Crozier (25, a painting contractor from Lurgan) of C-Company, 11th Battalion UDR was charged with the Miami killings and it was believed he had been betrayed by a member of the gang. Crozier recounted that on the night of the killings, he had driven to the grounds of a school in Lurgan where he had picked up two men. He then drove to a lay-by on the Newry-Banbridge dual-carriageway and met up with another five men who were all wearing British Army uniforms. They subsequently set up a roadblock with “all the trappings of a regular military checkpoint”.
Crozier told police he had not played a major part in the attack and refused to name his accomplices. In 1976, a second UDR soldier, Sergeant James Roderick Shane McDowell (29, an optical worker, also from Lurgan) was arrested and charged with the Miami killings. He also served in C Company 11th Battalion UDR. The RUC were led to him through his glasses which had been found at the murder scene. McDowell admitted; “There was very little planning. I only came into it because of my UDR connection and the fact I had a uniform. I was given a sub-machine gun but I never fired it. I passed out when the explosion happened and that was when I lost the gun, the glasses and a UDR beret”.
In October 1976, Crozier and McDowell were found guilty and received 35 years imprisonment each. In September 1980 a third person, UDR soldier John James Somerville (37, a lorry helper and brother of Wesley) was charged with the attempted murder of Stephen Travers and the murder of Patrick Falls in 1974. In November 1981, Somerville was convicted and given a total of four life sentences. No other UVF or UDR gunmen were ever arrested by the authorities.
The three convicted murderers, Crozier, McDowell and Somerville were later released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The bombings in Dublin and Monaghan and the Miami Showband massacre certainly did one thing, and that was to impress on citizens in the Republic of Ireland, my family and me included, that the conflict previously taking place across the border had now come to our doorsteps in earnest. No longer could we ignore the plight of those crying out for help in Ulster.
At the same time I was at a loss to think of anything constructive, perhaps even believing that an invasion by the Republic of Northern Ireland, as hinted by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, might provide the answer. My ignorance and the cessation of further military strikes on the South provided temporary bliss.