‘I can’t begin to imagine the guilt of the gunmen’

Interior of O'Toole's bar in Loughinisland the morning after the UVF shot dead 6 people.
Interior of O'Toole's bar in Loughinisland the morning after the UVF shot dead 6 people.

A survivor of the Loughinisland atrocity has spoken of the guilt he has felt at surviving the massacre – but added that he “cannot begin to imagine the guilt felt by those who pulled the trigger”.

Colm Smyth spoke to the News Letter on the 20th anniversary of the UVF shooting in The Heights Bar.

Six men died and five others were wounded as they watched the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the 1994 World Cup.

Those killed were: Adrian Rogan, 34; Malcolm Jenkinson, 52; Barney Greene, 87; Daniel McCreanor, 59; Patrick O’Hare, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39. All those killed were Roman Catholic.

The UVF admitted carrying out the atrocity hours after it took place on June 18, 1994.

Colm, then a university student, had gone to the Co Down pub after persuading his friend’s father, Malcolm Jenkinson, to accompany him for a pint.

The father-of-two, who has recently had a book on his experience published on Amazon, ‘The Loughinisland Massacre – A Survivor’s Diary’, said he has “struggled with the memories of that night and those who survived”.

He added: “I can’t bear to imagine what it must be like for the people who pulled the trigger and created that atrocity. There was a catharsis in me writing down my story and I am quite sure that if they come forward and admit their guilt, we all know they are not going to serve jail time really and it will be nominal, but it will bring a closure to the families and also help themselves to move forward.

“It is part of what we have to do as a country. We have to start taking truth and reconciliation seriously and not wait for someone to come forward secretly. It needs to come from the government and enable these people to come forward and tell the truth.”

Asked whether he would meet the gunmen who carried out the massacre, Mr Smyth said: “I don’t really think so. I would like them to tell the truth and come out in the open and if they felt that meeting me would make them do that, I would happily do that.”

Reflecting on the night, Mr Smyth said: “Even when the match started there were only 15 in the pub, but that was typical for a Saturday night in O’Toole’s [The Heights Bar]. It was very relaxed and Frosty [Adrian Rogan] had just come home from his summer holidays that day and he was all tanned and craic was good. He had been talking about buying fireworks on holiday for Hallowe’en and there was banter about that.”

Mr Smyth said the first he knew about the carnage that was about to unfold was when he saw “flashes of light”.

“My initial thought was that Frosty had let off fireworks, but he was sitting beside me so your mind plays tricks on you,” he said.

“At that time I just turned to the door, where the noise was coming from, not really expecting to see what I saw, and then you are sitting there and you see everybody’s nightmare in Northern Ireland – two men standing in boiler suits with balaclavas, and you instantly know your life is never going to be the same again, even if you survive this.

“If they were there for 20 seconds that is probably it. I suppose they fired all the bullets they had in the magazine and then went out again.

“These are my memories and I am not sure of the exact facts because I never went to inquests to find out, but that is how it felt to me.

“As I turned to look at the door Malcolm turned to me and literally threw himself at me and pushed me off the stool.”

He said he later realised Mr Jenkinson did that “to shield me from what he could see”.

An anniversary Mass will be held in St Macartan’s chapel in Loughinisland tonight at 7.30.

Immediately afterwards a candlelit vigil will proceed to The Heights Bar.