Forty years after the Miami Showband massacre surviving band members Stephen Travers and Des McAlea say they still “carry it with me every day”.
On July 31, 1975, a UVF gang stopped their minibus on the A1 road at Buskhill in Co Down at what appeared to be a military checkpoint.
Five people were killed in the atrocity, including three band members – frontman Fran O’Toole, 29, guitarist Tony Geraghty, 23 and trumpeter 32-year-old Brian McCoy – who were shot dead.
At the time the band, then dubbed the Irish Beatles because of their popularity, had been travelling home to Dublin late at night after a performance in Banbridge.
At least four of the gunmen involved in the attack were serving soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment but, unbeknownst to the band, all were members of the UVF.
After getting band members to stand at the side of the road, two of the gunmen got into the bus to hide a bomb – but it exploded prematurely and killed them. UVF men Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville were killed in the blast.
The force of the bomb threw Stephen Travers (then aged 24) into the air where he was struck by a dum-dum bullet which travelled through his body before exploding inside him.
Another band member, Des McAlea (also then aged 24 and whose stage name is Des Lee), was, in his words, “miraculously blown clear of the minibus into a ditch where I played dead”.
Des, who is from Belfast, said: “I went to the van to get my saxophone to show the soldiers that was what I had with me, but instead of being third in the line where I then stood beside the van the bomb then threw me into the field.
“From there all I could hear was wild gunfire and screaming and shouting. But I was face down in the grass and I held my breath for as long as I could and prayed and that saved me.
“The bomb set the hedge on fire and the fire kept coming close to my body and I remember shouting for Fran, Brian and Tony and there was no reply. I then called for Stephen and I heard groaning.
“Then somehow I managed to get up to the road and tried to stop a lorry but he wouldn’t stop probably thinking I was one of those involved.
“Then a young couple stopped and gave me a lift to Newry police station and I am forever grateful to them. I have tried to contact them in the past and I am still hoping to meet them again to thank them for what they did.”
Two UDR soldiers and one former soldier were found guilty of the massacre and received life sentences.
They were later released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Those charged were: Lance-Corporal Thomas Raymond Crozier, then 25-years[old; Sergeant James Roderick Shane McDowell, 29, and former UDR soldier John James Somerville - then aged 37-years.
Reports after the atrocity claimed that some of those involved belonged to the Glenanne gang which was an alliance of rogue police and soldiers.
On Sunday a wreath-laying ceremony is being held at 2.30pm in Buskhill. This is the first time a ceremony has been held at the scene of the atrocity.
On Saturday wreaths will be laid at a monument to the showband in Dublin.
Also read: Miami Showband Massacre: ‘Our fight for justice goes on’