Loughinisland: Night when World Cup hopes turned to horror

The scene of the 1994 UVF attack, which was a heinous sectarian massacre
The scene of the 1994 UVF attack, which was a heinous sectarian massacre

What was building towards a night of World Cup celebration turned to murderous horror in an instant.

The Republic of Ireland were beating Italy 1-0 in their USA 94 group match in New Jersey and the fans crowded around the TV in the tiny Heights Bar were longing for the final whistle.

PACEMAKER BELFAST 05/06/98 Interior of O'Toole's bar in Loughinisland the morning after the UVF shot dead 6 people.

PACEMAKER BELFAST 05/06/98 Interior of O'Toole's bar in Loughinisland the morning after the UVF shot dead 6 people.

Ray Houghton had scored his famous looping volley and Jack Charlton’s team were writing another chapter in World Cup folklore.

The UVF gunmen knew what they were doing.

At the time, nationalists in Northern Ireland felt more affiliation with the Republic’s football team so the killers were aware the bar in the village of Loughinisland, Co Down, was likely to be crowded with Catholics.

In their perverse logic, it was a perfect target for the latest blow in the bloody tit-for-tat sectarian bloodshed of the Troubles.

Around 10.10pm, two men armed with automatic rifles and wearing boiler suits and balaclavas burst through the doors shortly after the second half had kicked off at Giants Stadium, and opened fire.

They sprayed the bar with bullets as the football fans dived for cover.

By the end of killing spree six men had been killed, and five were injured.

One of those murdered was pensioner Barney Green. At 87, he was one of the oldest victims of the Troubles.

The others were Adrian Rogan, 34, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Daniel McCreanor, 59, Patrick O’Hare, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39.

Within months, loyalist paramilitaries had declared a ceasefire and the Troubles were nearing an end.

Twenty-two years on, the sectarian massacre remains seared in the memory of the village and beyond.

In 2012, the Republic of Ireland played Italy in the group stages of the European Championships in Poland. By coincidence the encounter fell on the same day as their historic encounter in 1994.

The Irish players took to the field wearing black armbands, a visible sign that the victims of Loughinisland would not be forgotten.

“I think it’s only right that we do wear the armbands out of respect for everyone’s families,” said Ireland striker Robbie Keane. “To let them know as a team, and as a nation, we’re thinking of the families.”