Lodge Life: UDR atrocity recalled ahead of anniversary

Neill Cummings, brother of UDR soldier James Cummings, who was murdered by the IRA alongside colleague, Frederick Starrett, whilst on duty in Belfast city centre 30 years ago this weekend
Neill Cummings, brother of UDR soldier James Cummings, who was murdered by the IRA alongside colleague, Frederick Starrett, whilst on duty in Belfast city centre 30 years ago this weekend

The brother of a UDR soldier – and Orangeman – murdered by the IRA 30 years ago says he will never forgive those responsible.

Neill Cummings was speaking ahead of the annual memorial parade and service of remembrance, which will take place this weekend in Belfast.

James Cummings and Frederick Starrett, both 22, were killed by an IRA booby-trap device whilst on duty as they arrived to close security gates on Royal Avenue on February 24, 1988. Both were members of the Orange Institution.

Saturday’s parade, organised by Ulster Defenders of the Realm LOL 710, will incorporate a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of the atrocity. Relatives of the deceased will be among those paying their respects.

Mr Cummings, who himself will carry a bannerette bearing his brother’s name at the head of the procession, admits the weekend event will be as poignant as ever.

“It is another year, another important day. Time doesn’t really come into it,” he said.

“The fact is it is 30 years [since the attack] and everybody still makes an effort to remember means a great deal to my family.

“I’ve always thought throughout the years I have participated in the parade, these people get out of their beds on a Saturday morning to remember James and Fred – it is overwhelming. It means a lot to the families that our loved ones are not forgotten.”

Remembering his older sibling, Neill recalls they had a “typical brotherly relationship”.

“On the night he was killed, I walked him to work. We just talked and joked, called each other names, like any other brothers would do.

“He was a great character. He was helpful and friendly. He was just a normal person going out to do a day’s work.”

Asked if he would ever forgive the perpetrators, Neill insisted: “Absolutely never – there is no forgiveness for that.

“It changes the whole family and things are never the same again. My late father and mother were never the same. You are no longer a family doing ordinary things – you become the family of a murdered victim. It changes everything.”

Neill will be accompanied at the memorial service by relatives, including his mother, Violet, who will lay a wreath, and two other brothers. Members of the Starrett family will also be in attendance.

The Orange procession will leave Templemore Avenue at 10.30am and proceed to Royal Avenue where the memorial service will be held at 11am, before the return parade to east Belfast. The service of remembrance will be conducted by Rev David McIIveen.

Senior Orangemen in attendance will include Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, and Spencer Beattie, county grand master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast.

Specially commissioned medals to honour both victims will be presented to lodge members by a member of the Cummings family prior to the start of the parade. Similar tributes will also be handed over to relatives of the late Orangemen on behalf of LOL 710.