Greysteel killings: 'A scene beyond belief'

By Keiron Tourish

  • Published
Media caption,

The Greysteel attack happened a week after the Shankill bombing.

"The scene that met us was just beyond belief."

Little has been spoken publicly among family and friends - but the enduring pain and trauma of the Greysteel murders remains 25 years on.

UDA gunmen entered the Rising Sun bar in the County Londonderry village and shot dead seven people on 30 October 1993. Another man died later from his injuries.

One of the gunmen shouted "trick or treat" before he opened fire.

Karen Thompson - the youngest victim at 19 - was heard to have said "that's not funny".

The loyalist UDA, using the cover name of the UFF, claimed responsibility for the attack. Four men received life sentences for the murders - Jeffrey Deeney, Stephen Irwin, Torrens Knight and Brian McNeill.

Image source, PAcemaker
Image caption,
The shooting came a week after the Shankill bomb - on the 20th anniversary these flowers were placed at the Greysteel memorial

A special service will mark the 25th anniversary of the murders later on Tuesday.

Adrian McAuley was a paramedic on duty on the night the shootings happened. He and his colleague had been busy in Derry city centre with Halloween celebrations.

He then received a fateful dispatch to Greysteel.

"We got this call to go to the Rising Sun bar for a shooting and that's all the information we had," Mr McAuley said.

"It's not unusual to get a limited amount of information. As we got close to the Rising Sun bar we could see all these people outside and they were screaming and roaring and we started to get a feeling that this was going to be much worse than we thought.

"We pulled into the side of the bar where the crowd of people were. They opened the ambulance doors, pulled us out and pushed us inside the bar and then the scene that met us was just beyond belief."

The loyalist paramilitaries behind the attack on Greysteel said it was an act of retaliation for the IRA's bombing on the Shankill Road in west Belfast just days earlier, in which 10 people, including one of the bombers, were killed.

Deaths between the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel killings:

  • 25 October - Martin Moran, 22, killed by loyalists while working in Belfast. Sean Fox, 72, killed by the UVF at his home in Glengormley, near Belfast.
  • 26 October - James Cameron, 54, and Mark Rodgers, 28. Both killed by the UFF at their workplace in Andersonstown, Belfast.
  • 28 October - Brothers Gerard Cairns, 22, and Rory Cairns, 18, killed by the UVF at their home in Lurgan.

Source: CAIN

Adrian McAuley said the scene was "overwhelming" and that people were lying on the floor and slumped across tables and chairs.

"You could smell the pungent gun smoke in the air. You could actually taste it and I could feel it burning into my eyes," he added.

Image source, PACEMAKER
Image caption,
A paramedic who attended the scene said he could taste the gun smoke in the air

"It was a really challenging situation because there just seemed to be so many people that were shot. It was just mammoth. I had experienced the Coshquin checkpoint bomb where five soldiers and a civilian were killed but this was even greater again in terms of numbers.

"I had walked through the bar and was counting how many people who were injured and when I got to the end of the bar, the guy said 'what about the people around here'?

"It was quite shocking the whole event."

'Heal ourselves'

In the aftermath of the shootings, Fr Stephen Kearney said prayers outside the Rising Sun bar.

Fr Kearney said he remembers Father Jack Gallagher standing with blood on his hands.

"He had gone in and he had gone around everybody and anointed them or said a prayer.

"The immediate thought was that we must stick together and put a cloak around each other to heal ourselves."

As he looks back on the horrific events of that night, Fr Kearney reflected with one final thought: "What can we do to make sure that never happens again?"

Image caption,
People gathered outside the bar in shock after the shooting

A short distance away is Faughanvale primary school where Anne McGroarty, a native of Greysteel, is principal.

Her 166 pupils come mainly from the village of Greysteel and the surrounding area.

"I'm from this community and I think, like most people, the shock and horror was hard to absorb and take in," she said.

"There was a numbness, a pain which I just can't imagine, but in many ways it brought us all a lot closer together. I think that is something that the community itself has strived to do over the years.

"A lot of people in this parish and in this community preferred to stay quiet and still would prefer not to speak about it. There's a dignified silence, and that has to be respected."