Tuesday, April 30, 2013
While in no way trying to defend it, it would be wrong to depict Kingsmills as an isolated event, evidence of IRA barbarism. It was a barbaric event but it was inspired by equally barbaric events, which are often overlooked. Kingsmills was a brutal example of the tit-for-tat murders that plagued the north for so long. On 4 January 1976 The Reavey family, who were Catholics living at the village of Whitecross in South Armagh became the targets for loyalists. The parents had gone out for the evening, leaving their three sons, Anthony (17), Brian (22) and John Martin (25) in the house. Four masked gunmen entered the house as the boys watched television and opened fire. Both Brian and John Martin were killed instantly. Anthony took refuge in the bedroom where he hid under a bed, but was found, shot and left for dead. He survived but died a month later. The family had no political connections and had been targeted solely for their religion. As would become a common feature in the north a grieving father went on television to say he wanted no retribution for what he had suffered. He said it was worse for his killers as they had to live with what they had done . Nobody was ever caught for the atrocity but it was believed to have been planned by Robin Jackson of the UVF, who also a suspect in The Dublin Monaghan bombing. He died of cancer in 1998 and according to a friend he believed that was drawn into a world of evil that wasn't of his making. As the Reaveys lay dying, fifteen miles away in the village of Gilford another UVF gang struck the O’Dowd family as they sang around the piano. Three members of the family were killed when the gunmen burst into the house firing indiscriminately. It was believed that a member of the RUC, John Weir, had been involved in the murders as well as a member of the UDR. The RUC was supposed to be an impartial police force and the UDR was a type of militia trained by the British army and used as Reserve Defence Force. Membership was almost exclusively Protestant and many of its members were also heavily involved with loyalist paramilitaries. The murders were claimed to be revenge for an IRA bomb attack on an Orange Order Hall in Gilford. Thus the scene was set for an even bloodier climax. On the 5 January 1976 twelve workers from the Glenanne textile factor were being home to the village of Besbrook. The bus always took the same route at the same time. The driver slowed down as a man in military fatigues suddenly waved him down. The occupants eleven Protestants and one Catholic got out. They had nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. The ‘soldier’ who spoke with an English accent had not asked for the driving licence and when they were asked who the Catholic was they feared the worst for their workmate and stopped him going forward. Richard Hughes was the Catholic. This time however it was not loyalists, but republicans who seemed to already know who the Catholic was. He was sent down the road and told not to come back. The stillness of the evening was interrupted by gunfire as the eleven Protestants were massacred. One hundred and thirty six rounds were fired in the space of a minute and then when it was over a shot was put into each body to make sure they were dead and nobody survived to tell the tale. One man did survive though. Alan Black was found badly wounded in a ditch and described to Peter Taylor in a frank account the TV series Brits what it felt like to be shot. Black had been shot eighteen times and put his fingers in the holes to stop the blood flowing out. Meanwhile Hughes managed to stop a car and was driven to Bessbrook RUC station, where he raised the alarm. A schoolteacher arrived at the scene of the carnage and started praying for the death. Ambulances followed and Alan Black made something of a miraculous recovery. A group calling itself ‘South Armagh Republican Action Force’ took responsibility for the attack. The IRA itself was on ceasefire at the time and direct involvement would have been forbidden. It is however highly likely that IRA members were involved under this cover name. The group said they would stop the murdering of innocents if the loyalists would. The tit-for tat murders ceased. The Historical Enquiries Team, a unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland set up in September 2005 to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles named the IRA as being officially behind the atrocity. Sinn Féin rejected any claim that the IRA was involved in Kingsmills, which their critics refused to accept. The UVF did not respond to Kingsmills. In 2007 it was revealed that the UVF Glenanne Gang had planned to murder thirty Catholic school children at St Lawrence O'Toole Primary School in the South Armagh village of Belleeks. The plan was aborted at the last minute on the orders of the UVF leadership who ruled it to be "morally unacceptable", and would have a detrimental effect on support for the UVF. Lenny Murphy of the ‘Shankill Butchers’ also planned retaliation for the Kingsmills. He was regarded as too extreme, even for the UVF who helped republicans organise his assassination. The British responded to Kingsmills by announcing the official deployment of the Special Air Service, who would later become involved in shooting unarmed IRA men as well as entirely innocent civilians such as sixteen year old John Boyle in Dunloy 1978. In 1999 Ian Paisley, man well known for the stirring the pot of a sectarian hatred, stated that Eugene Reavey, brother to those massacred earlier, had taken part in the Kingsmills massacre. His comments were intended to stir hatred instead they united two grieving men from different religions-Alan Black and Eugene Reavey. Kingsmills presents problems for all sides, both paramilitary and government. The IRA broke their ceasefire by participating in the massacre; a police officer and part time soldier are strongly believed to have participated in the incident that sparked Kingsmills, while The Irish government came in for criticism for its lax border security which allowed the IRA to escape to the safety of the Republic. Kingsmills and the preceding events were horrific events and an example of how low we could sink, but also how far things have moved on since then. It is perhaps regrettable that a spirit and willingness for reconciliation using these events did not prosper.