Six men dead: the World Cup massacre

Ireland were on their way to victory against Italy in the 1994 World Cup when two UVF men entered the Heights Bar in Loughinisland and opened fire. Six men died. Twenty years later their relatives are still seeking answers

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:00

The occasion is enshrined by the full-time score rather than the date: “Ireland 1, Italy 0” has the power to send a generation of Irish people back to an afternoon 20 years ago, when the national soccer team somehow beat the Italians in the now-razed Giants Stadium, in New Jersey. The year 1994 was a transformative one for Ireland, the summer melodrama of the World Cup team coming between the Riverdance debut and the ceasefire in Northern Ireland.

But before the players made it back to the airport, for a night flight to Orlando, word began to filter through that something unutterably dark had taken place in a secluded village in Co Down, that men had been killed as they watched that match. And soon the village’s name became a byword for one of the unfathomable evils of the Troubles: Loughinisland.

It’s a balmy Saturday in early June as we sit in the room where the murders took place. “I think that match was the word on everyone’s lips,” says Claire Rogan, whose husband, Adrian, was killed that night. “We were just back from holidays in Spain that morning, and even before we went the whole thought was, Would we get back? We met people from Donegal over there, and the whole banter was about if we would be cheering the team on Saturday night.”

About an hour of the match had passed when two men wearing boiler suits and balaclavas walked into the Heights Bar, shouted “Fenian bastards” and opened fire with AK-47 rifles. Fifteen men were in the bar. When the gunmen left by car, six of the men lay either dead or dying. Five others were injured.

As it happened, all six dead men – Rogan, who was 34; 87-year-old Barney Green; Green’s 54-year-old nephew, Dan McCreanor; Malcom Jenkinson, who was also 54; Patsy O’Hare, who was 35; and 39-year-old Eamon Byrne – were Catholic. That was a fluke; the Heights had always been a mixed bar.


Because Loughinisland is off the beaten track, tucked a kilometre or so from the main road from Belfast to Newcastle – “Blink and you miss it,” as Claire’s daughter Emma put its – sectarian bitterness had never afflicted the village. Until that evening Loughinisland people considered the atrocities that had gripped the North as tragedies that always happened elsewhere.

“Untouched. It really was,” says Aidan O’Toole, whose family owns the bar and who was serving behind the counter on the night of the murders. “There was never no trouble around here. It was a mixed community . . . It was a farming community, and the two big conversations were about farming and Gaelic football. Protestants and Catholics got on well, always did. There are Protestants drinking in here right now today. There were Protestants in that day . . . It was just a Catholic-owned bar and an easy target.”

After the massacre the O’Toole family converted what had been the lounge into the main bar; a simple plaque bearing the photographs and names of the six victims was erected in the old bar. The counter where Barney Green, the oldest victim, liked to sit has been removed, but the beige- tiled mantelpiece remains, and there is a pool table at the back of the room.

For weeks after the funeral the O’Tooles wondered if they would ever reopen the bar. “My da was just . . . devastated,” Aidan says. “He didn’t want to.”

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