Northern Ireland

Loughinisland: Owners of The Heights bar speak of tragedy

The Heights Bar, where the shooting happened, remains opened and is owned by the same family
Image caption The Heights Bar, where the shooting happened, remains opened and is owned by the same family

The Heights Bar in Loughinisland, where six men were shot dead 22 years ago, is still owned by the same family today.

Hugh O'Toole, who runs the bar, was in Romania the night loyalist gunmen opened fire on the rural pub in June 1994.

"I didn't know until the Sunday morning, late Sunday morning when we got the word through - no mobile phones or nothing then," he said.

His son, Aidan, who was serving in the bar on the night, was shot but survived.

Frances O'Toole, Aidan's mother, was also present.

'Bodies'

"My daughter had got a phone call to say come down at once, that there had been a shooting and we knew my son was behind the bar working as Hugh was away in Romania doing charity work and we just came down," she said.

"We weren't even allowed in but we could see the bodies lying on the floor. But it was all cordoned off by the time we got down."

Frances could see that her son was injured but alive.

Image caption Aidan O'Toole, who was running the bar on the night, was shot but survived

"He was able to walk out and had a word with us at the front door. He was heavily bandaged at the time where he got shot in the kidney and then he was taken away to hospital," she said.

'Great significance'

"We got through to my husband that night or early the next morning and he just came home and was back here on Monday morning."

Hugh said the bar is still a place of great significance to the people of Loughinisland.

But he added: "A lot of them who come in here - young ones now - don't really realise what happened.

"They don't remember. Some of the lads who come in here now were only children at the time."

The Heights Bar closed for several months following the shooting, but Frances explained that the local community asked the O'Toole family to reopen it.

"We closed down for a few months and then they all said: 'No, don't let this beat you Hugh - just open again'. For they all wanted it," she said.

Image caption The six men who died: (From top left) Adrian Rogan, Barney Green, Dan McCreanor, (from bottom left) Eamon Byrne, Malcolm Jenkinson and Patsy O'Hare

"It was the only thing in the village they had. So, he opened it again after thinking long about it."

Hugh said the already tight-knit community rallied around each other in the wake of the atrocity: "They've stuck together through it all," he said.

'Truth'

Responding to the police ombudsman's announcement on Thursday that there was collusion between some police officers and loyalist gunmen who carried out the attack, Hugh said the community "waited a long time for it".

"We all knew it was the truth," said Hugh. "It was a long time coming out. The then secretary of state sat outside the door there. He says: 'We'll not leave a stone unturned'.

"There was a whole lot of stones never turned over and we're only finding it out now."

Image caption The families of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre held a press conference on Thursday following publication of the ombudsman report

Hugh believes the news will make a "big difference" to the families of the victims.

"It'll bring a wee bit of closure. At least they know they were right all along."

His wife Frances said it will also make a difference for Aidan.

"He suffered badly too, with what he seen - he attended to all the injured here that night before he was taken to hospital, so I think it'll maybe help his case a bit," she said.

On Thursday local people were going about their business as usual in Loughinisland, Hugh said.

"There was a few called in last night when they heard, you know, and now it's just back to normal again. Get the lads coming in having a few drinks after work. That's the normal run of life about here."

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