ORANGE VICTIMS DAY: Tullyvallen became synonymous with sectarian slaughter

The Tullyvallen Orange Hall plaque in honour of those killed in the massacre of September 1975
The Tullyvallen Orange Hall plaque in honour of those killed in the massacre of September 1975

The worst single atrocity to affect the Orange Order during the Troubles was the horrific, cold-blooded murder of five brethren at Tullyvallen in south Armagh during a monthly lodge meeting in September 1975.

Under the cover of darkness, IRA gunmen armed with automatic weapons stormed the isolated Orange hall near Newtownhamilton and minutes later four men lay dead or dying.

Tullyvallen Orange Hall in South Armagh.

Tullyvallen Orange Hall in South Armagh.

The massacre claimed the lives of a father and son, the lodge secretary and the 80-year-old chaplain. The youngest victim was aged 40.

A fifth man died two days later from his wounds.

A number of other lodge members suffered gunshot wounds but survived. The name Tullyvallen had become synonymous with the IRA’s sectarian onslaught against the border Protestant community.

Just over four months later, another ten Protestants would be gunned down by the IRA in Kingsmills as they travelled home from work in a minibus.

Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance LOL 630 lodge member Berry Reaney recalls that the IRA’s campaign only hardened the Protestant community’s resolve not to be driven from their border homelands.

Mr Reaney, 75, was one of those wounded in the IRA attack as he took cover under the lodge table. Even today, 43 years later, he feels the pain of the loss each time he enters the hall, but is eternally grateful that the terrorists did not achieve their ultimate goal.

“Certainly nobody left the lodge over it,” he said.

“The lodge survived and not long afterwards we got a few people in their 30s joining, which was unusual as people tended to join younger than that. I think they thought it was important to join but hadn’t thought of it before.

“There are still four of us in the lodge who were in the hall that night. Myself, my two younger brothers, and another man who is the conductor of the band are all still members.”

A lodge member who was an off-duty member of the security forces managed to return fire with his personal protection weapon and believes he may have hit one of the attackers.

Not content with gunning down so many innocent men, the killers also left an explosive device at the door of the hall which had to be made safe by army technical experts.

Reflecting on the decades spent living as a unionist in the republican ‘bandit country’ of south Armagh, Mr Reaney said the absence of a sustained terror campaign has changed their lives for the better.

“It was definitely a sinister, and at times frightening, time to be a Protestant living in south Armagh,” he said.

“Nowadays there is more confidence within the Protestant community.

“The nearby village of Newtownhamilton has changed drastically, with the Protestant population of the village dropping dramatically, but if you go into the Tullyvallen/Altnamackin areas around the Orange hall the number have held, and probably increased, around there.

“Quite a lot of the next generation coming along have married, built new houses and stayed in the area, and that is still happening.

“A young lad in the lodge, in his mid to late 20s, got married last week and he is building a new house and staying local. That pleases me greatly. The people who attacked the hall did not achieve anything through their vile deeds.”

Recalling the horror of that night ahead of the 40th anniversary in 2015, Mr Reaney said it was fortunate anyone survived.

“We didn’t expect to get out alive,” he said.

“I remember the shooting stopping and all going quiet. I lay there expecting to hear somebody walking along the floor and shots going off to finish us off, but thankfully nothing happened. Eventually we started to move and look up, and we realised we were on our own with bodies lying everywhere.”