RTÉ Radio One
Today with Seán O’Rourke
Seán O’Rourke has Eugene Reavey, Stephen Travers and the Reverend Chris Hudson in studio to discuss their backgrounds prior to the three day Truth and Reconciliation Platform to be held at The Knock Hotel in Mayo beginning on 3 February 2017. (begins time stamp ~ 0:50)
Seán: More than two decades on from the breakthrough paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland, the long road of truth and reconciliation still stretches some way into the distance. It’ll be the subject this weekend of a special three day event at the Knock House Hotel in Co. Mayo, bringing together a range of different people with stories of murder, of tragedy, of negotiation and forgiveness. I’m joined now in studio by three men who sadly have direct experience of this. Eugene Reavey is with me. His three brothers were murdered in January of 1976 and his father became the first victim of The Troubles publicly to ask for no retaliation. Also here – Reverend Chris Hudson, who sat down with the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) to negotiate a ceasefire and act as go-between between the UVF and the Irish government. And also here – Stephen Travers, a survivor of the Miami Showband Massacre of 1975, and Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Platform.
Eugene Reavey, as I mentioned, your parents, for your parents, quite remarkably, forgiveness was their response to the murders of your three brothers. How well do you remember your three brothers? We’re going back now over forty years and the events of that horrible Sunday night.
Eugene: Well, it’s just like yesterday. I mean youth sparks eternity you know and my brothers never grew old in my mind. And they were lovely lads – they were just mad about football – played football. Brian represented our county at the same time as Joe Kernan. John Martin was a bricklayer and Anthony was a plasterer-cum-electrician – he was going on to be an electrician but he was plastering at that time. They were just ordinary young lads. They had no interest in politics whatsoever.
Seán: John Martin, twenty-four. Brian, twenty-two and Anthony, just seventeen. Was he the youngest of the family?
Eugene: No, not at all. No, no, no, no. There was a whole lot more after that.
Seán: Yeah, I mean – there were what? Ten children?
Seán: Twelve children.
Eugene: Twelve children.
Seán: And is it true that there were eight lads – did you all shared the same bedroom?
Eugene: Two beds. Two beds in the one room – well three beds all together. One for my mother and father, one for the four girls and one for the eight boys. Two at the top and two at the bottom. Twice!
Seán: That’s extraordinary!
Eugene: It’s wasn’t extraordinary at all. It was the norm.
Seán: Yeah. And what happened on that Sunday night in January 1976?
Eugene: Well, my mother and father had just gone over to visit Mammy’s sister in Camlough about six o’clock and they took four of the younger children with them. And Oliver went and he drove them over because my mother and my father couldn’t drive.
And he was back again inside maybe twenty-five minutes and when he come home he found John Martin, the eldest, lying on the floor and he was riddled with bullets – I gauged forty-two bullets in him all together. And he went up into the room then and he found Brian lying in the fireplace. He had a single shot to the heart. And Anthony, the youngest fella, he had managed to dive under the bed, you know up in the room, and they got up on the bed and they sprayed the whole bed with gunfire. And whilst he was badly injured all round the groin area but he didn’t have any damage done – didn’t have any lasting damage done – so he was able to manage to crawl out from under the bed and he come down and he found Brian. Now, the light had been shot out and he found Brian in the fireplace and he felt his pulse and he was dead. And he crawled then up into the kitchen and he found John Martin. And then he got out through the door and the neighbour’s house, it was a couple hundred yards up the road, and he crawled up there on his hands and knees and he banged on the door. And when Mrs. O’Hanlon come out he said, he just fell into her arms, he said: ‘I’m shot. We’re all shot.’ And it was just a very very, very, very sad time you know? And like of all the houses around us like there was none of our boys had any interest in politics or paramilitaries or anything like that, you know? It was a soft target, really. But if anybody had have told me on that night that it was the police and the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) that shot my brothers I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have found it incomprehensible.
Seán: Tell me about your parents’ reaction.
Eugene: Well, I suppose it was one of shock, you know? My father, the next day, he was on the radio and he appealed for no retaliation in the Reavey name – that he didn’t want anybody else shot just because his sons were shot. And he said: If my sons’ deaths would stop the killings in Northern Ireland then they would not have died in vain. And my mother went on then, over the next say forty years nearly, every morning she lit a candle for those killers and she prayed for them every day of her life. And she never blamed the people that shot her boys. She blamed the people that sent them out.
Seán: And your Dad did an extraordinary thing with the rest of you who had survived just to make sure that you took what he said publicly seriously within the family.
Eugene: Yeah, I mean he made us all – he brought us all and he just asked us all not to get involved for this – to stay away from the paramilitaries. And thanks be to God! Nobody in the house ever turned to those paramilitaries.
Seán: And did he make you do that in a kind of a formal way?
Eugene: Not in a formal way but you know like I mean…
Seán: …Did he make you use the Bible?
Eugene: No, no. No. No. That’s not true. Like I mean, somebody’s has taken liberty somewhere and said that but that wasn’t right. No it was just – I mean it was in a very – when he spoke and he asked you to do something he was telling you to do something. He wasn’t asking you.
Seán: Yeah and you discovered close to his death that he found out very quickly who was responsible – you talked about earlier that you wouldn’t have believed the people who were involved were.
Eugene: My father found out about three or four days after the shooting, or sorry after the funerals, there was a man come up out of Markethill. He was a publican, he had been very friendly with my mother and went to school with him. And he told my father the names of the people that shot his sons. And he, five years later he died after fourteen heart attacks. And a couple of nights before he died I was in visiting him with the rest of my family and he called me back and he said to me: ‘Do you know, Eugene, who shot our boys?’ And I said ‘no’ I don’t. Now I had heard rumours but I didn’t give it much credence and he told me the five names of the people and he told me never to give those names out to any paramilitaries around because he didn’t want any more shootings. So I carried that with me from 1981 until 2006 until I met Dave Cox from the Historical Enquiries Team. (HET) And I asked Dave Cox at the very first meeting did he know who shot my brothers and he said: ‘Yes, I do.’ And I said well, would you tell me? I said it’ll help build a wee bit of confidence before we start and he said, No, it’s too soon in the investigation. So I said to him: Well I’ll write down my names and you write down yours and this young lady here and she can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And she said: The names are exactly the same.
Seán: And there’s a lot more that you want and can tell me as well but I just want to bring in Stephen Travers, a survivor as I said, of the Miami Showband Massacre of 1975, again, another horrific event that’s seared into the public memory.
Stephen: It did. And the story is well known. I suppose new generations come along and they don’t know it so the importance of telling the story, listening to Eugene there and our own story, is to make sure that, because there’s so much division happening in the world today – even in the last ten days or the last six months – that I think it’s very important that if we tell our stories and the consequences of our stories that – you see division can cause frustration, people can become angry – but if that anger turns to violence then these are these are the consequences. And that’s what we do with truth and reconciliation.
Seán: And I know you’re primarily responsible for the event that’s happening in Co. Mayo at the weekend. But just for people who may not have heard you speak before, Stephen, if you can just recount briefly what happened on that fateful night.
Stephen: Well I was the last to join the band. I was joined..
Seán: …You were very young at the time weren’t you?
Stephen: I was twenty-four going on seven, you know one of these deals? And really excited. You know, from South Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir – I mean it was a big deal, not just for me but for everybody, so it was a big adventure for me and every night.
So on the way back from the gig in Banbridge we were looking forward to the following night off because we had played two nights at the Galway Races and then we were heading up to Banbridge and we were going to have Thursday off. And on the way home (Ray Millar went home to his own family in Antrim) and we were stopped by a group of soldiers and we were asked to get out. And there was joking and it was a bit of fun, really. We had our hands on our heads looking – the van, they were searching the van and we thought: Well, this is usual enough. And while they were searching – there was a couple of people we saw searching the van – a British officer came along – without a shadow of a doubt he was and people tried to tell me I was mistaken but he took charge. All the joking and the banter stopped. And what we didn’t realise that there was two men placing a bomb underneath the driver’s seat, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, and for some reason the bomb went off prematurely and killed the two of them. I mean, their injuries were horrific and I was about three or four feet from the van, the minibus, and it blew me into the air and down into the field – about a ten foot drop into the field and the lads fell on top of me and when they got to their feet – I had been shot in the right hip with a dum-dum bullet which exploded inside me, went up through my lung and out under my left arm so there was a lot of damage done inside. But instead of just running off they tried to drag me and they dragged me a few feet into the field to get away from it but they thought I was dead because I had been shot. And it’s ironic that, as far as I remember now, it would have been Brian McCoy, who was the son of the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge in Tyrone, who probably died trying to save my life.
Seán: He was the driver and he played the trumpet and then there was yourself – there was Tony Geraghty, Des Lee and Fran O’Toole, the lead singer. They all died.
Stephen: Yes. They all died. And I spent about forty-five minutes crawling around reassuring them that everything would be alright. Des had got up onto the road to get back and get – and these memories just came back to me over the last five or six years – but I remember whispering into Fran’s ear but the crazy thing is, at that stage, Fran didn’t have any head. But you don’t accept that type of – it’s the horror – and it’s hard for us to regurgitate that every time but I think it’s necessary.
Seán: Chris Hudson, you came to prominence, Reverend Hudson, as somebody who was liaising with Loyalist paramilitaries but, as it happens, or happened, you had worked in a band and you had played with Fran O’Toole.
Chris: Well, I wish I had, Seán, but in actual fact Fran was a friend of mine. I never – I’m a useless musician while Fran was…
Seán: …Maybe I exaggerated…
Chris: But no, Fran O’Toole was a close friend of mine. And more by accident than design in early ’93, through David Ervine I ended up meeting with the leaders of the UVF and having a dialogue with them. And of course, what was partially motivating me was my friendship with Fran O’Toole. I mean Fran was always at the back of my mind. But out of that, out of that meeting, it ended up that I acted as a conduit between the UVF, informally, back into the Dublin government and did that through a number of various governments. I worked with them up until their ceasefire on the thirteenth of October ’94, a few weeks after the IRA ceasefire. And I’m now – at that time, Seán, I was a trade union official down here in Dublin.
I’m now a Unitarian minister in Belfast and I still work into those communities particularly I still meet with people who – well let’s take it – they have close association still with paramilitary organisations, with particularly with the UVF, and I’m helping them to some extent to deal with what happened but also to try and work towards the legacy issues, inform people on the legacy issues. If I can put it this way, Seán, and I know people get a little bit tired thinking: Here we are twenty-three years after the two ceasefires and why have we still got paramilitary organisations? Because we’ve never been here before, Seán. We’ve never been here doing this before and we don’t have a template for ending a conflict. But I actually think we’re doing extremely well. If you look at other conflicts around the world, the Oslo Agreement, Sri Lanka – they all collapsed. And the Irish peace process has survived and survived well and I think that’s a good thing.
Seán: You say: Why do we still have paramilitary organisations, if I heard you correctly, but I mean we were told the IRA, for instance, has been disbanded. So I mean what’s your sense of what paramilitary organisations are still there?
Chris: Well Seán, I’m probably a unique person in that, and the Loyalists know this, that my family background was a Republican background. My father was in Na Fianna na hÉireann in the War of Independence and in the Civil War and my Uncle Joe Hudson was killed on active service in Dún Laoghaire by the Free State Army during the Civil War. I always take the view, the philosophical view, that none of them even left the IRA and yet my father went on to be a founding member of Fianna Fáil but he never actually resigned from the IRA so I don’t think people resign from paramilitary organisations. I think that we have to be real and understand that continuously asking people are they a member of a paramilitary organisation actually goes no where. We’re talking about transformation and when you – sorry, Seán…
Seán: No, go on ahead.
Chris: I was going to say – what I was going to say, Seán, is we’re talking about transformation of paramilitary organisations. In the recent Fresh Start Agreement I was asked to make a couple of proposals to the unit that was set up under Lord Alderdice to look at the disbanding of paramilitary organisations. And I said maybe we should look at the stage, come to the position, where we decide that we decriminalise paramilitary organisations, particularly those, well in particular, those who have been on longtime ceasefire. You know, we did end up with the old IRA becoming the old IRA and becoming respectable so we do need to look outside the box as to how we’re going to resolve this.
Seán: Eugene, you wanted to come back in there and you were nodding when Chris was talking about they’re still there in a kind of a loose way or at least you have to accept that there are old IRA men or whatever.
Eugene: Well, there are old IRA men and there always will be old IRA men but as along as they have put their guns to one side I think that we should give them a little bit more respect and that goes for all paramilitaries you know? Because they’re never going to say like that I’m not in the IRA or I wasn’t in it.
Eugene: And it’s a futile question.
Seán: The extraordinary thing, and again it just added to the grief in your own community, was I think when you were dealing with the morgue in relation to the three brothers of yours who had been shot there were other families coming in…
Eugene: …Oh, yeah…
Seán: …that was in relation to what’s known as the Kingsmill Massacre.
Eugene: Well Daddy was on the UTV news that evening at five-forty and he made that speech which he was very famous for, God help him. But we left home at about five fifty and there was a convoy of about thirty cars, footballers and whatnot, and we drove over the road scarcely a mile and we got up to the top of the hill and there was a guy coming, waving his hands, you know, for them to stop.
And I was in the first car with my wife – and I just don’t know who else was with me. And I got out of the car and I walked up that hill, from about here to the end of that studio, and I could see – the lights of the minibus were still on and I could see all this steam rising, rising out of the road and all these bodies lying on the road and for, just for one second I had thought it was neighbours’ cows that had been killed and then, as I got closer, I realised it was bodies. Now Alan Black had been there at the time. The ambulance hadn’t got there. There was no police. There was no Army. There was nothing. But I didn’t see Alan. And I told someone that it bugged me that I didn’t take time to but – with the horror and shock of my own family’s – the night before – and for to see all this – and the smell of that blood and the smell of death…
Seán: …and the extraordinary thing is that members of your family had been with, in the company of, some of those victims.
Eugene: Yeah. On the Saturday night now, which was only forty-eight hours ago, Brian and John Martin had been playing pool in Camlough with the Chapman brothers. And Brian had played football for the Chapman brothers over in Bessbrook even though there was a ban in the GAA at that time. And when they were in the pub that night there was a bomb scare. They all had to run outside. And they all run and had a smoke and waited and then went back in again and finished their game.
Seán: And that was a sectarian massacre. Was it ten people died in that mini-bus literally days after?
Eugene: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Seán: Stephen, I’m looking at a piece in the Mayo News about the Truth and Reconciliation Weekend as I said at The Knock House Hotel – you’re there as indeed are Eugene and Chris and you have Michael Gallagher, who has lost people in the Omagh bombing, you have Joe Campbell, son of an RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) sergeant who was shot dead – Seamus Mallon is going to be there and others. What do you hope this weekend achieves?
Stephen: Well as I said – it’s a warning. If I could just say something about, with regard to, the paramilitaries, you know – the transformation. When I met the UVF leadership, and Chris facilitated that in 2007 when we wrote the book first – I have to say that I asked the man that’s referred to in the book as ‘The Craftsman’, he’s a senior member of the UFV and I asked him if there would ever be a return to violence and he said: ‘Hopefully not.’ I said under what circumstances would there be a return to violence? And he said: Well, we always maintain a praetorian guard in the event that our Britishness is threatened. Now, one of the reasons that we’re, well the main reason, that we have the Truth and Reconciliation Platform is that, as I said earlier, the division, whether it’s caused by the American president or whether his policies or whether it’s caused by Brexit or wherever they’re going to put the border. I mean if there’s a border, if the main border’s going to be at airports and in Britain itself then Northern Ireland Unionists/Loyalists are going to feel disenfranchised. If that turns to anger then we’re looking at violence again. Will they blame Brussels? Will they start to bomb Brussels? Who will take the brunt of it if there’s say, for instance, a Garda post put up there – will they shoot them so?
Seán: Would share those concerns, Chris?
Chris: I would to some extent, Seán. As Stephen has rightly pointed out, the meeting we had with the senior member of the UVF. But, Seán, I sometimes sit in rooms up on the Shankill Road and I’m probably the only person in the room who never killed somebody. And I’m sitting with people who have all done long prison sentences for murder and their involvement in paramilitary organisations. I am convinced those people are fully committed to maintaining the peace we have in Northern Ireland. And I think it’s important to say as well, Seán, that most people in Northern Ireland, most young people because as we’re nearly a generation on, they are not as caught up in these discussions as say our generation and Northern Ireland has moved on. But, there is always within the structures in Northern Ireland, within the ethnic divide in Northern Ireland, there’s always a slight tension that’s there where the two communities look at each other with a suspicious eye but, for pragmatic reasons, make the place work.
Seán: We have to leave it there. Thank you all, the three of you for coming in. My thanks to you, Chris Hudson, Reverend Chris Hudson. Also my thanks to you, Gene Reavey, whose three brothers were murdered and also Stephen Travers, who’s Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Platform and, of course, who was there on that awful night…
Stephen: …Seán, if I could just say…
Seán: Yes, Stephen.
Stephen: …quickly that with a view to helping the reconciliation process that I intend to run at the first opportunity for a seat in the Seanad.
Seán: Okay. Well look, God knows when that will be. (all laugh)
Stephen: It’s got to be soon.
Seán: Thank you very much indeed. (ends time stamp ~ 24:08)