The agony of the Tullyvallen massacre never goes away, one survivor has said, ahead of the 40th anniversary of the atrocity.
Berry Reaney recalled his own first-hand experience of the republican bloodbath, as the Orange Order prepares for a gathering on Tuesday commemorating exactly four decades since the killings took place – a crime described as “truly unimaginable” by the Orange Order’s Grand Master.
The bloodbath saw the south Armagh Orange hall sprayed with bullets while its members were holding a routine monthly meeting.
Four were killed immediately, and a fifth man died of his injuries two days later.
The casualties could have been even worse if a bomb planted outside the hall had detonated.
Mr Reaney, who suffered a broken arm caused by a bullet which struck him while he was taking cover under a table, told the News Letter: “The memories never really go away – there is always something which keeps bringing it back to the forefront.
“Every time you go to the hall you go through it.
“There are times you are working and something shoots into your mind about it and you go over bits and pieces in your head.
“There are times, out of the blue, something can trigger it off, day or night.”
South Armagh man Mr Reaney was 32 when the killing took place.
“We didn’t expect to get out alive,” he added.
“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.”
In a statement marking the massacre, Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: “The horror and barbarity of what happened on that late summer’s evening at Tullyvallen is truly unimaginable.
“Five innocent men went to their monthly lodge meeting and never returned home.
“Their only crime was to be in ownership of an Orange collarette.
“Their uprightness and decency stands in stark contrast to the vile and wicked mindset of those responsible for this premeditated and sickening attack.
“A very high price was paid by the Orange Order during the Troubles, painfully illustrated by the statistics which show approximately one in 10 of all those killed were members of the Institution.
“Four decades on, we quite rightly remember those murdered at Tullyvallen and their families.
“We also pray for all those within the Orange fraternity who have lost loved ones as a result of terrorism, and have suffered.”
According to Lost Lives, the vast compendium of Troubles deaths, at about 10pm during the lodge meeting on September 1, 1975, two masked men appeared.
They were armed with machine guns, and proceeded to fire throughout the hall while another gunman standing outside fired through a window.
An off-duty member of the security forces was at the meeting, and fired his personal-issue weapon, and believed he hit one gunman before they fled.
A container with two pounds (just under one kilo) of explosives was found outside the hall afterwards.
The book further records that, in 1977, a 22-year-old IRA member from Cullyhanna was convicted of driving the murderers to the scene.
It quotes the judge in the case as saying: “I’ve heard soft-spoken men from Co Armagh whose friends were killed or wounded give their evidence quietly, with sadness in their eyes and with real dignity.
“They will not submit to violence or the threat or violence. They are determined to live as their forefathers have done before them, not deterred by violence, believing peace and normality will return.”
Two of the same guns used to carry out the atrocity were also later used to murder 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills roughly five months later.
The Tullyvallen massacre features in the recently commissioned film by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, called Strong to Survive.
In the film another survivor, John Henry, said: “I would say the lodge grew in strength, it is testament [to members] that they kept it going.
“[The terrorists] would have liked to have broken the resolve, but it didn’t happen.”
The 40th anniversary memorial service will be held at 8pm on Tuesday, when survivors and the bereaved will be joined by senior members of the Institution at Tullyvallen hall itself, near to Newtownhamilton.
As well as paying respects to the victims of the Tullyvallen massacre, those in attendance will also remember the lives of two other lodge members – William Meaklim, 28, and Joseph McCullough, 56.
They were also murdered in 1975 and 1976, respectively, by the IRA.
Mr Meaklim, a grocer and ex-RUC reserve man, had been kidnapped, tortured and killed.
Mr McCullough, a farmer and UDR man, was stabbed to death.
The two had been cousins, according to the book Lost Lives.
William Herron, 68: Married with three children, Mr Herron died two days later in Craigavon Area Hospital.
He was a farmer from Tullyvallen and a former member of the Ulster Special Constabulary. His funeral took place at First Newtownhamilton Presbyterian Church.
John Johnston, 80: The eldest of the Tullyvallen victims, Mr Johnston was a retired farmer from Clohogue, Crossmaglen.
He was the lodge chaplain and a member of the committee of Creggan Presbyterian Church. The then-County Grand Master paid tribute to Mr Johnston, dubbing him a “true Orangeman and loyalist”.
James McKee, 73: Married with one son and one daughter, Mr McKee was a former member of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
The then-County Armagh Grand Master described the Newtownhamilton man’s death as a “severe loss” to the area.
He was the Clerk of Session of Clarkesbridge Presbyterian Church. His son, William, was also murdered in the attack.
William Ronnie McKee, 40: Married with four children, he was a farmer from Newtownhamilton and leader of Tullyvallen Silver Band.
His funeral took place with his father and fellow victim Nevin McConnell at Clarkesbridge Presbyterian Church, and the father and son were buried together in Clarkesbridge cemetery.
Nevin McConnell, 48: Married with two children, Mr McConnell was a farmer and the manager of the livestock market in Newtownhamilton.
He was the secretary of the lodge, and a past member of the silver band.
Mr McConnell had been a member of the committee of Clarkesbridge and First Newtownhamilton Presbyterian Churches, a founder member of the Ulster Farmers’ Action Group, a member of the UFU, and secretary of the Armagh and South Down Livestock Auctioneers’ Association. He was also a former member of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
The Orangemen killed were all members of Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance LOL 630.
They were among 332 Orange members lost as a result of terrorism during the Troubles.