Poyntzpass remembered


One of the most shocking loyalist atrocities of the conflict -- the murders of two lifelong friends, one a Catholic, one a Protestant -- made headlines around the world 20 years ago this week.

The double murder by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) drew international interest after it emerged Damien Trainor (left) and Philip Allen (right) were from different religious backgrounds. They were killed on March 3 1998, just weeks before the Good Friday peace Agreement was signed.

The pair were sitting close to the door of the village pub in Poyntzpass, County Armagh, when the gunmen burst in and ordered them to lie on the floor, before killing them both. Two of Mr Allen’s brothers were also in the bar when the gang struck but managed to escape with their lives.

Loyalists Stephen McClean and Noel McCready laughed and joked in court as they were sentenced to life for the savage murders, with a judge saying it “will be remembered as one of the most heinous events in the history of Northern Ireland”.

Ryan Robley also pleaded guilty to his part in the killings and was given a long jail term, while a fourth man, suspected state agent David Keys, was killed in jail by the LVF just days after the attack.

Bernie Canavan, now aged 84, was behind the bar in her family’s pub that night. She recounted how two masked gunmen rushed in and opened fire, striking the frame of a door as she made her escape.

“It wasn’t long till they started to shoot,” she told the Irish News.

“They said ‘lie down’ but then they just started to shoot and I ran up the stairs - they take you into the living room where my husband was.

“I ran in and I turned off the lights.”

She believed at the time she might have been the target of the killers.

“I thought they were going to follow me, I don’t know why, it must have been the first reaction - it was me they were looking for.

“I didn’t even think who they were, it’s just I thought they were going to follow me with these guns. I went to turn off the lights and I said ‘They are shooting, they are shooting in the bar’.”

After returning downstairs a short time later she said there was a lot of panic.

“We thought the ambulance never would come,” she said. “I was up and down to see was it coming. They actually said they didn’t die until they were up the road but Damien must have been unconscious. He never spoke.”

Her son, former Armagh manager Brian Canavan, was training with the squad when he got a call to tell him there had been a shooting at the bar.

Mr Canavan says he has concerns about the circumstances of the attack, especially around the role of David Keys.

“The bit I could never understand was the police had an informer in the car,” he said.

“One of the drivers was an informer. He maintained he didn’t know where they were going... so I don’t know what happened there. They knew the car was stolen in Dromore two days before it.

“The police knew a whole lot afterwards when you started to quiz them, not that they like to be quizzed too much, they knew a bit, they knew there was something going to happen.”

He believes there are still questions that need to be answered.

“I suppose maybe the families don’t think the way I think but I would be more curious - they had an informer,” he said.

“Then you see all these stories coming out now about collusion and everything else you wonder to yourself, well, did somebody inside know anything? You don’t know, you will never know because the informer was killed in prison.”

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, who has worked with families of LVF victims, said it was “no coincidence that the formation of the LVF occurred in the context of a wider securocrat agenda that was also opposed to the peace process”.

“The securocrat agenda was largely driven by the tunnel vision of some within the security, military and intelligence community that sought to militarily defeat republicans rather than engage in the changing political dynamic that the IRA ceasefire created.”

Philip Allen’s mother Ethel is the last surviving parent of the two men who were killed. She said that she can never forgive the killers and believes the men took part in the murders to clear a drug debt to the LVF.

“I don’t know why they picked Philip and Damien but I was told that they owed #1,000 for drugs and if they killed two Catholics that was their bill paid for. And that came from a reliable source,” she said.

“But they didn’t kill two Catholics, they didn’t care. Why was them boys’ two lives only worth #500? A life is worth a hell of a lot more than that.”

She sid she wanted one question answered about the attack. “The pub was full because there was sale on, there was plenty of other ones there - why was it just them two?”

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