From the Archives: June 20th, 1994

One of the North’s many atrocities happened on this day 21 years ago, when the UVF murdered six men and wounded five others at the Heights pub in Loughinisland, Co Down, as they watched the Republic of Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup. Gerry Moriarty reported on the aftermath

A heavy, solemn silence descends on a street or a town or a village visited with the major atrocities that are a recurring feature of the Northern conflict. And so it was in Loughinisland, Co Down, early yesterday morning.

People gathered quietly in little huddles, vacantly staring in the direction of the Heights pub, where on Saturday night six people were shot dead in a UVF gun attack. Locals couldn’t find in their hearts what to say, so they said little or nothing.

The bodies of five of the dead were still inside at that stage, only hours after the match. The scene-of-crime police and forensic experts went about their business amid the smell of death.

“It is not a very nice scene,” said Mr Kieran O’Toole, brother of the owner Mr Hugh O’Toole, who was away with pub regulars on a mission of mercy in Romania. No mercy in Loughinisland. “The bodies are all piled up on top of each other. They were shot as they were watching the game on TV. Many of them were shot in the back,” Mr O’Toole added.


Before the attack, the locals would have been sharing the excitement and tension that the rest of the island was experiencing and suffering. Ireland were one-nil up against Italy; there was less than 30 minutes to full time, concentration was fixed solely on the screen. Their attention might have been briefly diverted when two or three young women entered the bar. They didn’t stay long. Police have since eliminated the women from their inquiries.

Then the killers came. The driver remained outside with the engine running as two UVF men went into the bar armed with AK47-type automatic rifles. They sprayed the bar. Those inside had no chance. "It was done in a matter of seconds," said the RUC deputy chief constable, Mr Blair Wallace.

The UVF admitted they did it. They said it was in retaliation for Thursday's INLA attack on the Shankill which claimed the lives of two Protestants, one of whom was a very senior loyalist, Colin Craig. The UVF said they attacking a republican function.

"It's lucky they didn't call to my house," said one of the RUC press officers at the scene. He too had been watching the World Cup "republican function" on television at his home before being called out to yet another scene of death.

A priest from nearby Drumaness, Father John Cunningham, tried to comfort some of the bereaved. Like most people yesterday, he found it difficult to describe his reactions.

As for the killers, did he see them as purely evil? “I don’t know how you could describe them as men. I suppose in some ways you could, but they are behaving more like animals when they could do this. I suspect there is very little manly in them at this stage.”

Mr Wallace dismissed the UVF claim that they had attacked a republican function. “What you had here is a small rural community coming to their local on a Saturday night for a drink, and to watch the match,” he said.

Mr Jim Cochrane, chairman of Down District Council, arrived at the scene in the early hours of yesterday morning to voice his outrage and sympathy for the victims. An Ulster Unionist, he had been watching the "Eire" game, and was delighted "Eire" had won. He couldn't believe when he heard the scale of the outrage shortly after the game ended.

“I just can’t take it in. My feeling is one of shock and disbelief. I just feel it is a terrible nightmare,” he said.

“How could these people call themselves loyalists? There is no way they are doing anything for the Protestant people. All they are doing is abysmally affecting the Protestant people here.”

Perhaps the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, who visited the town yesterday, best expressed what the quietness of the huddled groups meant.

“I feel very anguished. It is easy to find words to express what is in one’s head, but it is much harder to find adequate words to express what is in one’s heart,” he said.

Read the original here

Selected by Joe Joyce; email