The story of three young brothers murdered in their rural family home in County Monaghan 40 years ago is explored in the sixth and final episode of the Border Stories series with Eamonn Mallie on Irish TV at 9pm tonight.
Eugene Reavey, one of a family of 12 reared in a ‘labourer’s house’ in Whitecross, recounts how on January 4 1976 loyalist gunmen burst in to their home and riddled three of his family with bullets.
Two brothers, John Martin and Brian died at the scene while Anthony, bloodied and wounded, managed to alert his neighbours to the shooting but subsequently died from his injuries three weeks later.
With the Reavey household plunged in to grief and shock with the loyalist attack and media interest in the murders at a height, the victims’ father made a plea of no retaliation for his son’s deaths.
However, on their way to collect his brothers’ corpses from Daisy Hill Hospital as he travelled with his father, they were flagged down on the road and told to turn around.
They had been diverted away from the scene of the Kingsmills massacre in which ten Protestant workmen were brutally murdered.
Recounting the terrible events, Eugene Reavey, who has fought for four decades to establish the truth of the killing of his brothers, also recalled the terrible follow-up less than 48 hours later in which the Protestant workmen were taken from their minibus and shot dead.
“There was carnage. I saw all these bodies lying on the road and there was steam rising out of them, you could see it in the light of the vehicle; the smell of death, I never smelled anything like it in all my life.”
Tonight’s programme explores the impact the sudden and violent end meted out to the Reavey brothers had on the locality.
Neighbour, Sean O’ Hanlon recalls a bleeding, wounded Anthony Reavey banging on the door, asking to be let me in, calling out that ‘they’re all dead’.
“It’s a bad memory - but I can remember it vividly, it’s something you never forget. I was only 12 - and even yet still it is very hard to talk about; there are questions in your head why did it happen, how? If we had not been out milking would it have happened? They were a lovely family, lovely neighbours, Da would have had the boys helping out round here.”
Cyril Murphy remembers it as a typical Sunday evening, when his neighbour Terry O’Hanlon came running in to the house looking for holy water, saying that Anthony Reavey was lying on their floor shot and John Martin and Brian were dead.
“I went down with my mother to O’Hanlon’s. Anthony was lying there in bad shape, waiting for an ambulance. My Ma decided she would go to Reaveys, she started to say the rosary, that was her protector. In through the hall door we found John Martin lying in a pool of blood. You knew straight away he was dead; Brian was lying at the corner of the fireplace. He was dead too. She knelt down between the two, said an act of contrition, the prayer for departing souls and started to say the Rosary again. I will always remember Mrs O’Hanlon coming in and kneeling down on the floor and pushing the bullets aside to kneel and pray, there was that many there was a bucket-full of bullets.”
Murphy added that when he looks back on it all of 40 years ago he still asks the question, why it happened and what did it gain.
“The only good thing was there weren’t more people there, because the Reaveys house was a Ceili House and there very well could have been”, he said, before paying fond tribute to the young men who lost their lives.
“Personally they may as well have shot my own brothers. I was the oldest boy and never had older brothers but I had a house full of them down the road and they were football mad and would call for me always; I went everywhere with John Martin, he would have bought you a bag of crisps or an apple; everybody knew if you were with John Martin Reavey you were as safe as a row of houses.”
Border Stories with Eamonn Mallie concludes tonight having explored themes including the impact of Brexit, border boundaries, characters along the border and the rich culture of its artists, poets and musicians.