Miami Showband massacre survivor plans peace centre

By Eimear Flanagan

  • Published
Stephen Travers hopes to set up a cross-community facility for victims of violenceImage source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Stephen Travers hopes to set up a cross-community facility for victims of violence

A musician who was critically injured in one of the most notorious attacks of the Troubles is planning to open a new peace centre.

Stephen Travers was a member of the Miami Showband, which was targeted by loyalist paramilitaries in a bomb and gun attack in 1975.

Three of his bandmates were murdered when their tour bus was ambushed.

Mr Travers told the Belfast Telegraph he hoped to develop the cross-community centre in Newry, County Down.

He hopes to have a site identified in the city by February.

Since the attack, Mr Travers has been involved with peace projects in various parts of the world and is convinced the "testimony of the victim" is the best way to prevent politically-motivated violence and radicalisation.

Three years ago, Mr Travers co-founded the Truth and Reconciliation Platform (Tarp), a charity aimed at giving Troubles' victims from all backgrounds an "opportunity to tell his or her own personal story".

Now in his late 60s, Mr Travers still carries the physical and psychological scars of that summer night when he lost his young friends.

The Miami Showband was returning to Dublin from a gig in Banbridge, County Down, when their tour bus was stopped by gunmen dressed in Army uniforms.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
The Miami Showband toured throughout 1970s Ireland before the attack

The musicians were ordered to line up at the roadside outside Newry while the gang loaded a bomb on to their bus.

But the bomb exploded prematurely, killing two of the gunmen.

The rest of the gang opened fire on the band, killing lead singer Fran O'Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty, trumpeter Brian McCoy and critically wounding Mr Travers.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
The band's tour bus was blown to pieces in the 1975 attack

The then 24-year-old guitarist was brought to Newry's Daisy Hill Hospital where he says staff saved his life.

'Trauma lasts a lifetime'

Just a year earlier, he had married his 21-year-old wife Anne and says the attack "irrevocably changed" both their lives.

"You don't have to die to lose your life and we certainly lost the lives that we had then," he explained.

"If you're young, the body recovers but something like that stays with you forever.

"That type of trauma lasts a lifetime."

Image caption,
The Miami Showband massacre was the first time musicians had been targeted by paramilitaries

Since the attack, Mr Travers has kept in touch with the doctors and nurses who brought him back from the dead and said Newry had become "like a second home".

The County Tipperary native now wants to open the peace centre in the city, named after the Miami Showband as a tribute to his friends who did not survive.

"I thought it would be fitting to set up a peace centre where people could come together and have dialogue because that's the most important thing - that we talk to each other and understand each other's pain," he said.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Band members Des Lee, Ray Millar and Steven Travers laid a wreath at the bomb site on the 40th anniversary in 2015

The musician has visited peace centres around the world, but was most inspired by the Warrington Peace Centre in England, dedicated to two young boys killed by an IRA bomb in 1993.

Mr Travers intends to ensure the Newry project is welcoming to all communities, adding that Tarp's mantra is: "No side has a monopoly on suffering or loss."

He said he was aware many Troubles atrocities could be "held up in isolation and used as a stick by one faction to beat the others" so he believed it was important victims' stories were told "in tandem" to promote empathy and reconciliation.

"It's about understanding that there was terrible pain and, ultimately, our aim is to make sure we don't go back to that," he added.