Last winter I dropped into O’Tooles Bar in County Down, Northern Ireland for a beer. Had I done so on this same evening twenty years previously there is a chance I would have been shot dead.
On June 18, 1994, UVF gunmen entered the bar with automatic rifles killing six patrons and wounding five others. To this day no one has been convicted over the murders and allegations persist of police collusion in the massacre.
The victims, all Catholics, were killed during the Ireland versus Italy World Cup football match and the killings are sometimes known as the World Cup massacre. The six men murdered in the shooting were Barney Greene, 87, one of the oldest victims of the troubles, Adrian Rogan, 34, known as Frosty, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Daniel McCreanor, 59, 35 year old Patrick O’Hare, and Eamon Byrne, 39.
I had gone to O’Tooles for much the same reason as many of those in the bar that night. I was looking to watch a bit of football and the bar is the closest pub to the farming community where Deirdre grew up. That night in 1994 Deirdre’s dad was in the Heights Bar, as it was then known, downing a few in celebration of his birthday.
As a stranger in the pub I was made welcome, told of the events that day and shown the memorial; but I was already aware of what happened. Unlike the more reticent English, the Northern Irish are not slow in revealing the life stories of their neighbours. One of those wounded had already walked past the big windows of Deirdre’s home, his story told long before he disappeared from view.
The layout of the pub has changed a little since the shooting but it is immediately apparent there would have been little place to hide or escape when the terrorists started shooting.
Deirdre was more familiar with the exterior of the pub. As a teenager she had often done her school homework in the back of the car while waiting for her father to reluctantly emerge and be driven home by her mother. When he came out with Tato crisps and orange juice they knew he was going back in for one more. Fortunately Seamus Higgins wasn’t a particular fan of football and on his birthday in 1994 he left early before the killers entered.