A priest who was one of the first at the scene of the Greysteel massacre on October 30, 1993 will tonight reconnect with victims’ families.
Father Stephen Kearney, 69, who was a curate at Star of the Sea Church in Faughanvale, Greysteel, expects to give a homily during the 20th anniversary Mass tonight at 7.30pm.
Afterwards he and other clergy will participate in an inter-denominational service outside the Rising Sun, where an evening to celebrate Halloween turned into one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles when UFF gunmen burst into the packed bar with an AK47 rifle and a 9mm pistol shouting ‘Trick or treat’.
They fired indiscriminately, fatally wounding eight people.
The following day the UFF claimed the shooting as a revenge attack for the Shankill bomb a week earlier.
In the days before the Greysteel atrocity, six Catholics were killed by loyalist paramilitaries.
Among the Greysteel victims were two Protestants – 54-year-old Alexander Burns, a former UDR man, and 76-year-old Victor Montgomery, a former B Special, who died nearly six months after the attack as a result of his injuries. Tonight may be the first time some families return to the scene of the massacre.
Rev Kearney, who had been visiting parishioners on the night of the shooting, said: “The son of the couple I was visiting came in to tell us what had happened at the Rising Sun. I went down there immediately. I remember lights flashing and people standing in a horseshoe formation around the front of the bar in shock.”
The cleric said the then parish priest, Fr Jack Gallagher, had arrived before him and had been in the bar.
“When he came out after giving victims the last rites he was obviously very, very shaken,” said Rev Kearney. “When he came out of the bar he saw me and came over and told me a little bit about it. He would have known most of the ones inside as he had been in the parish quite a number of years.
“He said some of them had gone to hospital and there were five or six dead. I wasn’t in the bar, I was spared that. By the time he came out the police had set up a cordon so no one could get in. So it was decided that I go up to Altnagelvin Hospital to see to the injured.
“One of those I saw was one of the youngest victims, [Steven Mullan] who was very, very ill. He died around 3am, a short time after I left.”
Rev Kearney, who is now a curate in Omagh, said funerals for five victims were held in the Star of the Sea Church on the same day.
“Five funerals took place at the same time – five coffins were lined up in the Star of the Sea Church for one funeral Mass,” he said.
“The Star of the Sea chapel seats around 700-plus and there was easily double that there that day.
“One quote I remember from Fr Jack Gallagher’s homily at the funeral was ‘we have all known friends whom we could have called saints and today on the day of All Saints we have gathered to say goodbye to some of the saints whom we trust and will help us on our road to join them’. That could have been a model for the whole of Northern Ireland if it had been taken in hand.”
The long-serving cleric said the message that emanated from the tragedy in Greysteel was not received in all communities.
“A lot of people who heard about it didn’t take to heart the message that the people of Greysteel took,” he said.
“They [the people of Greysteel] took the message that they have to live well with their neighbours. And at that stage they already were doing that and still are.”
One of the “remarkable” things about the aftermath of the Greysteel massacre, according to Rev Kearney, was “how quickly they got on with the business of living”.
“For a week or so after that happened no-one talked about anything other than the shooting,” he said.
“But they returned to normal life soon after and were learning to laugh again.
“It was not that it was forgotten, but that people were able to remember the victims as their husband or wife, daughter or son, and not as a public celebrity.”
Relatives of the eight people who lost their lives chose to maintain a dignified silence over the years, and not to speak to the media.
“At the time I became spokesman for the families,” said Rev Kearney.
The interview with Olive Thompson, published on page seven today courtesy of the Derry Journal, is one of the few interviews ever given by a relative of one of the victims.