A frequently overlooked massacre in Derry 50 years ago has been marked with a vigil and wreath-laying ceremony at the scene following a remembrance Mass.
Five men were shot dead and four others injured when two loyalist paramilitary gunmen opened fire on a group watching a football match in Annie’s Bar pub in Derry on the night of December 20 1972.
It is thought the massacre was an act of collusion between the paramilitary UDA and British forces following an IRA attack in which a British soldier died.
At about 10:30pm two members of the UDA burst into the bar on the Strabane Old Road in the Waterside area of Derry. One of them was carrying a submachine gun and the other holding a pistol. They sprayed the main room in the bar with bullets as people were watching football.
The barman, Cyril Doherty, was chatting to one of the regulars, Frankie McCarron, when the door opened.
“This guy comes in with a big hood on him, not a balaclava, a hood, sort of like the Ku Klux Klan,” he recalled.
“He’s lifting a gun, it’s an automatic thing with a magazine [ammunition box] stuck out,” he remembers. “He leaned back with the machine gun and it jerked in his hand. The first blast hit the TV, ‘boom’.
“There were guys standing, they turned round and he started to fire. All I remember then was the red flame coming out, it sounded like firecrackers. Down the counter the splinters went, like in the movies.”
The barman ducked behind the bar; a bullet grazed his forehead, and another flew just above his head. It was, he says, “utter chaos”. Fifty years on, he cannot forget “the smell of cordite from the gunpowder, and the blood”.
Among the dead was a Protestant, Charles Moore, aged 31, a nursing assistant who left behind two daughters and to whom a third daughter was born just three weeks later, said Fr Canny, who concelebrated the mass.
Charlie McCafferty, aged 30, had five stepchildren and a son and daughter. Barney Kelly was just 26, having married just three months earlier, his wife was expecting their first child.
Michael McGinley, a married man, had played with his seven-month-old daughter, his pride and joy, before he headed out to watch the match. Frank McCarron was the oldest victim at 58. He was a widower and had six daughters and a son.
Pat McGinley realised her husband was one of the five victims when she saw the new shoes she’d bought him sticking out from a blanket covering his body. Fifty years on and, now with three children of her own, his only child, Gillian McElholm, laid flowers at the memorial to the victims.
The Derry woman has no memory of her father’s murder but recalls the tragedy through her mother, who died in 1999.
“She never spoke much about it and never let herself get bitter but over the years she mentioned bits and pieces about what happened that night.”
Mrs McGinley moved to Galliagh following the attack, where her daughter continues to live.
“She had to cope with everything on her own. She never re-married; she used to say she loved one man and nobody else and that was enough for her.”
For the families, the thing that hurts most is that few have heard of the Annie’s Bar killings, says Sara Duddy from the Pat Finucane Centre, which has been supporting the families.
“That’s a real hurt for them,” she said, adding, “there has been no real investigation, there hasn’t been any sort of justice.”
New information uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre has indicated for the first time that a former British soldier was arrested and questioned shortly afterwards, but quickly released. This man was the UDA commander in Derry for most of the 1970s.
It is the first time he has been connected to the Annie’s Bar killings, though he has previously been linked to the murders of six others. In all, 11 murders might have been prevented if he had been charged and convicted for Annie’s Bar.
The UDA went on to murder hundreds of other victims and weren’t outlawed for another 20 years.