Teebane anniversary: eight men slaughtered on way home from work

Families affected by the 1992 Teebane atrocity prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the IRA attack, Mark Rainey reports

Saturday, 15th January 2022, 5:00 am
The wreckage of van in which eight workmen were killed in an IRA landmine explosion at Teebane crossroads in January 1992. Pacemaker archive

Jean Caldwell and her family will stand in solemn silence on Sunday to mark the passing for 30 years since an IRA bomb claimed the life of her husband and seven other work colleagues.

Cecil James (Jimmy) Caldwell, 37, was one of 14 workmen targeted for murder as they travelled home from working at Lisanelly Army Barracks in Omagh on January 17, 1992.

The large concealed device was detonated as their van reached Teebane crossroads around 16 miles from Omagh.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Jean Caldwell at the service to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Teebane atrocity in 2012. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

She said the passage of time has not eased her pain – particularly as they both would have been recently retired by now and enjoying more time together than ever had he been spared.

“There were times when he was working that my husband would have been away from Monday to Friday, so these days would have been the best years of our life together.

“You always get reminders. Whenever I go out walking I see older couples together, but I didn’t get that chance. Like many others, that was ripped away from us.

“Husbands never got to see their children grow up.

“Grace, my youngest daughter was only three at the time, and I look at her children and think ‘they will never see their grandfather,’ and that hurts. One is three and the other one is 11 weeks.

“My daughters talk about [their dad] a lot, and Grace finds this week particularly difficult.”

Mrs Caldwell (pictured at the 20th anniversary service) says that, in many ways, coping with the grief “actually gets harder” as the anniversaries come and go.

“The passage of time is really no comfort,” she told the News Letter.

“I will probably go to the grave on Friday, and then probably call at Teebane on my way back with my daughter.

“On Sunday I will then go to the service, which I do every year.”

“The thought that someone might come forward with new information, or that some new evidence might be found, crosses my mind nearly every day.

“And what annoyed me was when they tried to bring forward an amnesty. Because I knew there would never be justice then.

“That would be very hard to take, because you could be meeting the person who killed your loved ones in the street, or anywhere, but they are beyond prosecution.

“And who is left to suffer? The victims.”

Mrs Caldwell has found some comfort in the interaction with other Troubles victims.

“I have met many families who have lost loved ones, on both sides of the community, and your heart goes out to them because you know exactly what they are going through.

“WAVE Trauma Centre in Omagh has been a family to my family for the last 25 years, with the support that I have had from them.

“If I was having a bad day, all I would have to do is go to see one of my outreach colleagues and within 10 or 15 minutes it would be over.”

Having started out as a volunteer, Mrs Caldwell eventually became a WAVE outreach worker – a post she held for 20 years before retiring in 2019.

“But I’m still connected with WAVE. There is always somebody there to talk to, to take your mind off things,” she said.

“I know when my husband was killed that I was very bitter, but it was only when I started with WAVE I changed.

“I still have my days when I get cross, but I stop and think ‘don’t go down that road’... but I will never forgive [his killers] as long as I live.”

One of the six men who survived the mass murder was Harry King.

Like many of the others, he suffered life-changing injuries, and it has taken him 30 years to eventually speak publicly about his experience.

“It hasn’t been easy over the years, definitely not,” he said.

“You always think about it. It’s always a thought in the back of your mind.

“I was a lorry driver so I wouldn’t have been with them on site all of the time, but they were always good craic when I was with them in the minibus coming home at night.

“There was always a great bit of banter. They were all great guys.”

Mr King lost the sight of his right eye and suffered several broken ribs in the blast.

“I was initially taken to Omagh hospital but then they transferred me to Altnagelvin.

“But they didn’t operate on me until the next day, because they were waiting on me to go into shock apparently.

“I don’t remember any of this, but I was told afterwards that I actually died on the operating table and my heart had to be jump started again.

“I was then on a ventilator for ten days before I eventually came round again.

“I’ve had to live with a lot of pain in my back since then, and it’s giving me a lot of bother even now.

“It even broke up my marriage. I don’t feel like it changed me but my wife at the time, now my ex-wife, said it changed me.”

Mr King said Teebane feels like a “forgotten” terrorist atrocity compared to many others.

“I don’t think there has been very much done in my eyes.

“I look at Sinn Fein calling for all kinds of enquiries, but for ourselves, Teebane, and then the likes of Kingsmills, there’s nothing. You never hear them mentioned. It does make you feel like some kind of forgotten victim.”

He said that even though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever be convicted for involvement in the Teebane murders, he would not support any form of government amnesty.

“The hope that someone might be brought to justice should not be closed off to victims,” he said.

“There is still maybe a chance that a small piece of evidence could turn up and somebody could be convicted, even if that chance is fairly slim.”

Meanwhile, the Teebane attack was motivated by “naked ethnic and sectarian hatred,” Kenny Donaldson of victims’ group SEFF said.

Ahead of a roadside memorial service at 3pm tomorrow, followed by a 6.30pm service at Orritor Presbyterian, Mr Donaldson said: “The Teebane attack carried out by Provisional IRA terrorists was motivated by naked ethnic and sectarian hatred, it is a tragedy that no-one has yet been brought to justice.

“There has been little focus upon Teebane over the years, no multi-million-pound Inquiry, no apology or acknowledgement shown by the perpetrators, the Teebane families and those injured have had to battle on, often alone. Yet they have kept their dignity and have not allowed the injustices visited to embitter them.

“This weekend those directly impacted by the Teebane attack will congregate for an open air service held at the site. We encourage the broader community to show solidarity with the Teebane families”.

“Rev Ivor Smith and Rev William McCrea are to be commended for faithfully facilitating a Service at the site year on year, and this will once again be the case this year”.

SEFF provides advocacy support to many of the Teebane families.

The murdered men were:

• David Samuel Harkness

• William Gary A Bleeks

• John Robert Dunseith

• John Richard McConnell

• Cecil James Caldwell

• Nigel William J McKee

• Robert Irons

• Oswald Wilson Gilchrist

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdowns having had a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Ben Lowry, Editor