20 years ago, Ireland mourned as the UVF slaughtered the innocent at Loughinisland.

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Loughinisland 18th June 1994, the sleepy village set between Downpatrick and Ballynahinch county Down settled in to watch the Republic of Ireland take on Italy in New York’s iconic Giant’s Stadium in the World Cup finals as World Cup Mania swept across Ireland north and south.

Shortly after 10pm as Ireland lead the Italians 1-0, the second half had just kicked off, and inside the Heights Bar all eyes were on the television. The bar is tiny: there were 15 men inside, and it was packed.

At approximately 10:10pm, two Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members wearing boiler suits and balaclavas, and armed with assault rifles walked into the pub and opened fire on the crowd. Six men were killed outright, and five other people were wounded.

One of the intruders dropped to one knee and fired three bursts from an automatic rifle. Barney Green was sitting with his back to the door, close enough for the gunmen to reach out and tap his shoulder had they wished. He took the first blast, with around nine rounds passing through him before striking other men. Green, a retired farmer, was 87.

Green’s nephew, Dan McCreanor, 59, another farmer, died alongside him. A second burst killed Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, who was at the bar, and Adrian Rogan, 34, who was trying to escape to the lavatory. A third burst aimed at a table to the right of the door missed Willie O’Hare but killed his son-in-law, Eamon Byrne, 39. O’Hare’s son Patsy, 35, was also shot and died en route to hospital. Five men were injured: one, who lost part of a foot, would spend nine months in hospital.

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Aidan O’Toole, the bar owner’s 23-year-old son, was shot in the initial blast of gunfire, he managed to escape to a back room but he was badly wounded. When he returned to the bar from the back room after hearing the killers’ car screech away he noticed a bullet was lodged in his left kidney and a haze of gun smoke filled the room. But he could see clearly enough. “There were bodies piled on top of each other. It was like a dream; a nightmare.”

Most of the victims had been hit several times. Thirty rounds were fired, and some had passed through one man, ricocheted around the tiny room, then struck a second. Adrian Rogan’s father pushed his way into the bar and whispered a short prayer in his son’s ear, knowing he was not going to survive.

As the gunmen ran to their car to make good their escape they were heard laughing about the nights work they had just carried out. 90 minutes later, the UVF telephoned a radio station to claim responsibility claiming that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for an INLA operations days previous to this attack.

The killings sent shock waves around the world such was their depraved nature. Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton sent messages of sympathy. Local Protestant families visited their injured and traumatised neighbours in hospital, expressing shock and disgust.

The following month, the IRA shot dead three high-ranking members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). It is claimed this was retaliation for the Loughinisland massacre. Ray Smallwoods was shot dead on 11 July, while Joe Bratty and his right-hand man Raymond Elder were shot dead on 31 July. The IRA stated that the men were directing the UDA’s campaign of violence against the Catholic community.

The police (RUC) were absolutely beyond any doubt involved in the cover up of the murders and indeed were complicit in assisting the murderers make good their escape. It was revealed that police had ordered the destruction of key evidence and documents. The car had been disposed of in April 1995, ten months into the investigation.

In 1998, police documents related to the investigation were destroyed at Gough Barracks RUC station, allegedly because of fears they were contaminated by asbestos. It is believed they included the original notes, made during interviews of suspects in 1994 and 1995. A hair follicle had been recovered from the car but nobody had yet been charged, while the other items (balaclavas, gloves, etc) had not been subjected to the advances in forensic science. It was alleged that the rifle used in the attack had been part of a shipment smuggled into Northern Ireland for loyalists by British agent Brian Nelson.

Emma Rogan was eight years old when her father, Adrian, was killed at the Heights. “I was told that these bad men came into the bar, and that my daddy was dead. I didn’t really know what they meant.”

As she grew up, she had no reason to doubt the police when they said they were doing everything in their power to catch the killers. “We didn’t question the police: that’s what this area is like. If they said they would leave no stone unturned, you took that at face value.”

After years of lies, broken promises and suspect behaviour from the police the relatives of the dead men came to the conclusion, as Rogan puts it, that “they had treated us like mushrooms, keeping us in the dark for years and feeding us whatnot”.

It just struck me tonight whilst I sat down to enjoy the football that 20 years almost to the day, I was only a 14 year old boy enjoying the carnival atmosphere but I can recall the very real sadness and indeed fear that gripped the community after that night when the UVF slaughtered the defenceless and the innocent.   

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