The ugly sound of a howl of joy haunts Sinn Féin’s account of IRA killings
Opinion: The horrible things done during the Troubles cannot be undone, but they should not be lied about
Chief Supt Harry Breen: unarmed and waving a white handkerchief, he was shot in the back of the head: Photograph: McCartan Turkington Breen/PA
About twenty to four on March 20th, 1989, Finbarr King heard the ugliest sound in the world: the howl of triumph that goes up from a human wolfpack just after it has hunted down and killed its prey.
It is a noise that sounds beneath the beautiful music of civilisation: the great primal exultation over the bloody corpse of a dead Jew, a dead Black, a dead Serb, a dead Muslim, a dead Tutsi, a dead Papist.
Finbarr King was unlucky enough to hear it on a March afternoon near the Dundalk-Newry road, just across the Border, close to to McGeough’s garage, where he worked as a mechanic.
He was coming back with his colleague Packie O’Hanlon after fixing a broken-down truck near the old customs post at Carrickagh when they were stopped by an armed man in combat gear and made to get out and lie face-down on the grass.
Minutes later, the red Vauxhall carrying the police officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan approached the same roadblock and was ambushed by the IRA. Finbarr King heard the shooting in which the two men were killed. But he also heard something else. After Harry Breen, unarmed and waving his white handkerchief, was shot in the back of the head, the IRA men got back in the van in which they had arrived. And, as King told the Smithwick tribunal, “as they were exiting the area, they let out a big roar like ‘hurray’, or whatever”.
That big roar, the explosion of pure joy at the triumphant conclusion to the hunt, is not often recorded in the documentary traces of the Troubles. Michael Harding heard it in Fermanagh in February 1985 when the IRA bagged Jimmy Graham, a Protestant small farmer and part-time member of the UDR, as he was driving the primary school bus to the local swimming pool. They had previously hunted down his two brothers and now they had finally wiped out the Grahams. Harding recalled, in Colm Tóibín’s book Bad Blood, hearing the roars from their van as the IRA men sped back across the Border to safety: “Ya-hoo! Ya-hoo! Ya-hoo!” No doubt many a loyalist gang who had caught and murdered a Teague gave vent to the same inchoate bawl. It is a universal noise, beyond all differences of culture or language.
The big roar that King heard after the murders of Breen and Buchanan is inarticulate but oddly eloquent. We need to attend to it because it gives the lie to the story that Sinn Féin would have us swallow about those killings and so many hundreds more.