IRA bomb survivor: taunting atrocity victims ‘devastating’

Noel Downey and his wife Helen
Noel Downey and his wife Helen

A man who was maimed and then publicly taunted by republicans has said the Barry McElduff case brought the memories of his own trauma back to him afresh.

Barry McElduff, Sinn Fein MP, is currently suspended from the party for three months after posting a video of himself balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the day of the anniversary of the notorious Kingsmill massacre of Protestant workers in republican south Armagh.

‘People tell you time is a great healer. But it certainly is not.’

Noel Downey had been a 24-year-old part-time private in the UDR when an IRA bomb detonated under his vehicle outside the now-vanished Weavers pub in Lisnaskea, Fermanagh, in 1990.

He lost his left leg, and suffered a raft of other severe injuries – but survived.

He has told the News Letter that a week or two after the blast, a roughly two foot by two foot cardboard sign had been erected on a pole close to the bomb site, which said in black marker: “If you want to get legless, go into the Weavers Bar.”

He had still been in hospital at the time, but learned of its existence from family, and later on photographs of the sign were circulated.

He added that several years ago a man convicted of the bombing (who he said served only a few years of a decades-long sentence before being released) noticed him getting out of a car, saw his injury, and “smirked and grinned”.

If he had been as strong a as he was before the bomb, Mr Downey said he would have “put the grin out of him”.

Whilst he can walk nowadays thanks to a prosthetic aid, the 54-year-old married father of two, based in Maguiresbridge, said he cannot work and it “doesn’t take anything” to recommit him to hospital.

His skin grafts remain raw to this day, he said, and he even had to give up his hobby of darts, because he was left handed and the blast wounded that hand.

He told the News Letter: “As soon as I read about McElduff, it just brought the memories straight flowing back to me.

“The barefaced cheek of standing with a loaf of bread, unbelievable. I couldn’t believe I was reading it. On the anniversary!

“You’d be devastated. If somebody was taunting me like that on Facebook, referring to my bomb explosion – maybe limping or holding up that sign for example – on the anniversary of my incident, it certainly would bring it all back again. It’s anything but a joke.

“People tell you time is a great healer. But it certainly is not.

“It helps to get on with things, yes; but something like that would bring it all back.”

Mr McElduff said it was not his intention to offend, and he had not imagined a link would be drawn between Kingsmill bread and the Kingsmill massacre.

Mr Downey was unconvinced, and said “he knew exactly what he was doing”, but it had now “backfired on him”.

“We keep hearing about ‘respect’ – Sinn Fein calling for respect, demanding respect.

“They want to practice what they preach.

“Respect is a two-way street.”

As for the three month suspension of abstentionist MP Mr McElduff, Mr Downey (a former member of Sons of William Flute Band, Maguiresbridge, who is currently part of the Church of Ireland in the Fermanagh town) said: “Three months? On full pay? When he doesn’t represent people anyway?

“It’s far, far too little.”

To people who make light of massacres during the Troubles, he said: “It’s no joke. They might have forgotten about it, forgot they even did it so long ago.

“But the person or persons its intended for haven’t. People like myself.”