The lights of the Heights Bar shine out over the darkening fields of Loughinisland on Saturday evening. The occasional car slows down on the narrow country road and turns into the yard to park.
Inside the small pub, Aidan O’Toole took over from his sister, pouring pints and bantering with the regulars, a handful of them soccer fans in to watch Ireland face Denmark in Copenhagen.
O’Toole was pouring pints in this, his father’s business, in June 1994, when Ireland played its World Cup opener with Italy. The television was behind the bar then, and the men had their backs to the door.
During the past 23 years there has not been a single day on which O’Toole has not dwelt upon the horrific events of that night, when masked men burst through the door and opened fire, killing six men, injuring five, and leaving everyone else present marked for life with shock and sorrow.
“I think about it day in, day out,” he says. “You wonder what they would have been like as time went on. You couldn’t have met a more decent lot of men.”
I'm nearly that age myself now and I realise how young he was. Mummy was even younger than I am. It was just so cruel and so brutal
Aidan was shot too, but survived. He describes a constant anguish. “I am lucky to be here, though it does not always feel like luck. Sometimes you don’t even want to be here. I would say I relive that night all the time. Only for my wife and my ma and my da, all of them strong people, I wouldn’t be here today.”
He takes tablets for depression and anxiety and goes for counselling. He has also been part of a patient and dignified campaign by the families of the murdered men to find out why no one was ever prosecuted for the massacre. Last year the North's police ombudsman, Michael Maguire, came to meet the families at the local GAA club where he told them he had conclusive evidence that the RUC had colluded with the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force gang that carried out the atrocity.
‘Cruel and brutal’
Emma Rogan was just eight years old in 1994. She, her parents and her brother had just come back from their first holiday abroad, in Spain. Her father, Aidan, nicknamed Frosty for reasons no one can now remember, had taught her to swim. “I was his blue eye,” she says.
He went over to the Heights to pick up his ticket for a GAA game the next day. He was a passionate Down man and they were playing Monaghan. He was one of those killed. “Daddy was 34 which seemed old to me at the time,” Rogan says. “I’m nearly that age myself now and I realise how young he was. Mummy was even younger than I am. It was just so cruel and so brutal.”
The RUC came quickly that terrible night, and vowed to catch the killers. The Queen sent letters of sympathy to the families. The Conservative secretary of state, Patrick Mayhew, visited and told reporters outside the bar that the authorities would leave "no stone unturned", a phrase which became the title for Alex Gibney's extraordinary documentary about the massacre and its aftermath, which opened in cinemas on Friday.
Rogan and O’Toole both feature in the film, made in conjunction with Belfast based Fine Point Films, and painstakingly researched by journalist Barry McCaffrey. The documentary reveals an outrageous litany of corruption before, during and after the massacre. The RUC’s Special Branch were implicated. Chillingly, it reveals that the gang, which included at least one informer, went on to carry out other attacks.
Rogan went to the opening night in nearby Downpatrick. “I half expected an injunction or a bomb scare, but it went ahead,” she says. “There was total silence throughout the film and even after it ended and people were leaving. People were just shocked and numb.”
A bad atmosphere
The Heights reopened within weeks of the massacre, and O’Toole was behind the bar. “We wouldn’t let them defeat us,” he says. The layout has been changed, and the door used by the gunmen has been locked forever, with two chairs now placed in front of it and a pool table where the bar used to be. Some of the young men playing pool on Saturday would not have been born in 1994.
On the wall of this room there is a plaque made from black Mourne granite with photographs and the engraved names of the six men tragically killed: Adrian Rogan, Barney Green, Dan McCreanor, Eamon Byrne, Malcolm Jenkinson and Patsy O'Hare.
There is a new lounge, with whitewashed walls and comfortable seats. Some of the men complain genially that the women who now frequent it make a lot of noise. Hearing them, a couple of women laugh and raise their glasses. Michael Mahon spots Rogan and comes over. “More power to you,” he says. “I saw the film. Heart wrenching.” He places his hand on his heart.
Mahon is having a pint with his friend Brendan O’Rourke, who had got married the day before the massacre, with Mahon his best man. The wedding group had gone to another pub a few miles away that night. Mahon recalls an uneasy feeling, a “bad atmosphere” in the area, following the murder by republicans of three UVF in Belfast. Retaliation was expected.
There were known “bad boys” rumoured to be members of the UVF, in the nearby village of Clough. Some local Protestants who had been in the notorious “B Specials” element of the police in pre-Troubles days had gone on to join the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army. Others had joined the UVF. Some had joined both. Mahon says that as they drove past the Heights that night someone commented that it was just the sort of isolated place that would be easily targeted.
"The Greysteel massacre was still in people's minds," he says. That attack on a rural pub by another loyalist gang had happened in 1993.
Several people talk of a sense from early on in the period after the massacre that there was “something not quite right” about the investigation. “We are a law-abiding community and people did trust the police to do their job – but I do remember my Mummy saying that on the night it happened, one of my aunties came and said that the bodies should not be left alone in the bar because the police might plant something on them,” says Rogan. Another man recalls a grief-stricken relative shouting at the police “you bastards, you’re in this up to your necks”.
“Protestants, Catholics and dissenters” have always been welcomed in the Heights, says O’Toole. “Some of our Protestant neighbours came and said to us they were ashamed of what happened and that it wasn’t done in their name,” he says. “I always say, don’t be stupid, this wasn’t done by Protestants it was done by sectarian bigots.”
People are proud to say they are from Loughinisland. We are going to take this documentary to the four corners of the earth
A notorious loyalist from Clough is believed to have been the instigator of the murder of local Catholic teenager James Morgan, a relative of the O’Tooles, in 1997. He was not prosecuted. In the village huge union jacks and a few Ulster flags hang from lampposts. A crudely painted sign appeared a few weeks ago outside a site on which new houses are to be built. “Taigs out,” it said.
Mahon says one of the men watching the Copenhagen match on Saturday was in the pub on the night of the massacre. He gestures to him to come over and speak to The Irish Times. The man looks over with sad eyes and shakes his head briefly.
“What happened that night happened to everybody. It affected everybody. It still does,” says Rogan. “People are proud to say they are from Loughinisland. We are going to take this documentary to the four corners of the earth. But still. It doesn’t matter where we go or who we talk to – it doesn’t change the fact that the six men aren’t coming back.”