RTÉ Radio One
Joe Duffy speaks to Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband about the recent High Court decision that is a victory for the survivors, victims and their families of the Glenanne Gang; a victory that was achieved just days before today, the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the band.
Joe: Now forty-two years ago today people remember – it happened, of course, during the night – the Miami Showband massacre took place. Fran O’Toole, the great Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy, three members of the band were taken out of their van coming back from Northern Ireland. They were in a roadway in Co. Down and there was an explosion and they were massacred. Two people survived: Stephen Travers and Des Lee. And there’s been a significant development over the weekend in the Miami Showband investigation – at least as far as the relatives and the survivors are concerned. Stephen Travers – Stephen, Good Afternoon!
Stephen: Afternoon, Joe.
Joe: Every day is a difficult day in terms of – for people who remember the massacre. For you today, I presume, it’s a anniversary. Have you, for example, have you spoken to Des Lee, the other survivor? Do you still keep in touch?
Stephen: I have. I have to as yet. Des called me this morning. He’s actually in Singapore. His grandson, his only grandson, is being christened this week so Des’ son, Darryl, took Des out to – so he’s – yeah, he’s enjoying himself out there. A well-deserved rest.
Joe: And did you deliberately contact each other because today’s the anniversary?
Stephen: You know, Joe, we didn’t even speak about it because we talk to each other a couple of times every week….
Joe: …Oh, great, great…
Stephen: …in the last few years. Yeah, we stay in touch and support each other all the time.
Joe: And Stephen, can I ask you, because forty-two years have passed, I’m conscious that not everybody – it was of such horror in the period of horrors – but it was of such horror that anyone who was alive then remembers it – but for those who weren’t, Stephen, can you tell us how that horror unfolded?
Well at the time the security forces in the, the British security forces, weren’t too happy with the Irish government with the security arrangements on the southern side of the border. So they came up with this brilliant but very evil plan to – you know, they felt that if the IRA committed some atrocity in The North that once they got to the border they had relative safety so they wanted ‘stop and search’, this is what we believe, they wanted stop and search on the southern side as well. But the southern TDs were fairly reluctant to do that because people living along the border would have crisscrossed the border every – couple of times a day – whether it was for groceries or cigarettes or cheaper petrol or whatever it was. So and to stop and search these people, as you can imagine will happen if Brexit has a hard border, it’s a real inconvenience. So in order to force the Irish government’s hand on that the British security forces, through their proxy army, the paramilitaries, in our case the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), they decided to try to frame the most trusted commuters which would be – and among them, we were among them so we would have played – The Miami would have played in The North a couple of times every week, especially in the summer, so if they could frame us as being terrorists then the whole world would insist that the Irish government would stop and search everybody but… So on our way home from our gig in Banbridge that night, on the Wednesday night, they stopped us and…
Joe: …And was it a marked checkpoint? Or just a few fellas sort of in front of the van or? How did they manage?
Stephen: It was a usual type of checkpoint that the soldiers stand out in the road and flag you down. They told Brian, Brian McCoy to, he was driving the personnel van, to pull it into the side and that they wanted to do a search on the minibus – this was the personnel minibus – we didn’t travel with the gear. And they told us to get out. And while they were questioning us at the side of the road with our hands on our heads they were secretly planting a ten pound commercial explosive underneath the driver’s seat which when that was done they would have told us, presumably, to get back in and ‘Thanks very much. Off you go!’maybe. We believe from the forensic reports that about ten to fifteen minutes later it would have gone off, killing all of us and we would have been framed as terrorists carrying bombs but that didn’t happen because while they were planting the bomb it accidentally went off and killed the two men planting the bomb so it blew us over the ditch and they jumped down after us and murdered the lads and shot me.
Joe: And a development over the weekend, this report – it’s by a judge, they’re called the Glenanne Gang – because apparently that’s the farm, the name of the farm where they used to – just bring us up-to-date on that, Stephen.
Stephen: Well the Glenanne Gang’s the name given to the gang that made up of security forces – this would be police and UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) and Army and they were operating out of Mitchell’s Farm which is in South Armagh. And it was under surveillance but obviously allowed to continue. And there was a case taken by members, by family members, against the Chief Constable of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) to finish the report that the HET, which was the Historical Enquiries Team, hadn’t finished and the families wanted it finished.
So they took the case and they won it, thankfully. And that will impact on us. It was taken by a man called Edward Barnard and thankfully the judge came down so the result of that would be that you know that people – there’s no doubt whatsoever now that there was collusion between the British security forces and the terrorists.
Joe: And was it – when you say the Glenanne Gang had members of the UDR or whatever – were they disaffected members – I presume?
Stephen: Oh, no! They were serving members and they were also being run, we now know, that members of that gang were being run by the security force. No, the security force, British knew exactly what was going on there. It was collusion. And the judge used the word ‘collusion’ on a number of occasions.
Joe: Okay, so the Glenanne – the Historical Enquiries group were investigating the Glenanne Gang so to speak…
Joe: As we know that was disbanded as such, wasn’t it? It was an independent body, and they were – the PSNI took over – they all went, they had their own budget and whatever. But the PSNI then took the report and then they decided that they were not going to finish the Glenanne Inquiry and so the court, the decision of the judge on Friday, does that mean they would have to finish the inquiry and release it?
Stephen: Yes, they will. And that’s very important because I mean they’re just – it’s so important in so many cases. And for us it’s very important that they finish that report although we already have – we’ve taken a civil action against the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) but this all helps.
Joe: And your civil action is to what end? To get them to publish that report or to take it even further?
Stephen: Oh, no. Civil action is the only option that was open to us because there was delay and delay and prevarication. They’re good at that. Britain has five hundred years experience at that so but we thought we’d force their hand and take a case and it’s going very well. We’re very happy with it.
Joe: Okay, okay. And Stephen, like on the night when – because you were such a well-known band, The Miami, going back to Dickie and then it’s various incarnations, you were there for a lot of them and then Fran O’Toole – they were so big in Ireland at the time – but when they stopped the van was there any conversation?
Stephen: Oh, there was. Very friendly conversation, Joe. I mean they were joking with us. It’s hard to believe now. I mean we had no inclination whatsoever that these people were in the process of murdering us. But they were joking. You know, Fran – you remember Fran had a great sense of humour and one of them said to him: You know, I’d bet you guys would rather be home in bed than standing out on the side of a road – and Fran very quickly said: I’d bet you’d be rather home than sitting in a ditch and everybody laughed I mean – that was, you know it great fun. The atmosphere changed when a man arrived that I believe absolutely was a British Officer. This is something that the HET tried to convince me that I was wrong but when he arrived and he spoke in his very crisp English accent all the banter stopped. All the fun and joking stopped and it became very professional. And that actually – Brian McCoy nudged me and said: Don’t worry, Stephen. This is British Army. And we’ll be away soon. So, but little did we know that he was part and parcel of this thing.
Joe: And why did the Historic Enquiries Team want to try to disavow you of that theory? How did, sorry, they were, I presume, independent. How did they – who did they argue it was? Or?
Stephen: Well they said it was one of the others putting on an English accent. Now I had been a – when I left school, Joe, I went to London and I was a trainee broker at Lloyd’s so I was well used to all of that, apart from the fact that I had a musical ear, well used to the varying degrees of posh English accents I was in no doubt and neither was Brian. And the HET, when they were talking to us with the report they actually said we’re not sure when you actually brought this British Officer into the narrative. And that worried me. So I came home and my wife, Ann, I told her and she said: Well, she said, I’ve got a copy of the paper, which was the Irish, it was the Evening Herald which was published on the tenth while I was still in hospital and it was I did an interview with a man called Tony Wilson from the Evening Herald and I actually say that – I tell him in the interview that Brian McCoy mentioned ‘British Officer’ and Ann had that clipping from the paper and it was there but even at that they even refused to acknowledge that but it’s in black-and-white that I was saying that from my hospital bed.
Joe: Okay, so it’s not as if twenty, thirty, forty years later you were suddenly colouring it or your memory was being coloured by something, that stands, Stephen. And Stephen, what were your injuries on the night?
Stephen: I was hit in the right hip with what they call a ‘dum-dum’ bullet. I didn’t know what a dum-dum bullet – but it’s an explosive bullet that’s hollowed out and made to – it’s designed to explode on impact and it hit me in the right hip and traveled up through my body and it exploded into sixteen pieces inside and then the rest of it traveled through my left lung and out under my left arm. Just very badly injured at the time.
Joe: And were you rendered unconscious? Could you hear the horror that was unfolding all around you?
Oh, I could hear it all. Some of our lads tried to drag me out into the field but I was a dead weight and they thought I was dead. This was just before they were murdered. I heard them being murdered. And I heard them. I heard them. Brian was killed very quickly but I heard Fran and Tony begging for their lives but these people were totally callous. I thought they were going to kill me then but I pretended to be dead and thank God they actually walked away because somebody on the road shouted down: C’mon I got those bastards with dum-dums. They’re dead. And I thought a dum-dum was a blank. I didn’t know what a dum-dum was but I didn’t feel any pain at that stage although my stomach was extended all my injuries were internal, there was internal bleeding but thank God I survived and Des survived.
Joe: And who then raised the alarm? Who came across? It’s the middle of the night!
Stephen: Yeah, it was about, I think, it was about half two. Des actually had been blown into the ditch but the ditch was on fire and he was worried he’d be burned to death but he witnessed a whole lot from the ditch under the hedge under the road and he – when these people left and went away – he called all of our names out and there was no response and he called my name out – I thought I was answering pretty clearly but he said I was just moaning. So he told me that he was going off to get help. And he climbed up onto the road, there was a lot of fire and carnage on the road where our van had exploded and he was – so any vehicles passing would have had to slow down to manoeuvre through it and a lorry first of all came along but thought that Des had been part of some terrorist incident himself and that he refused to take him. And then a young couple agreed to take him and he went into Newry into Newry Police Station.
Joe: Yeah. And he raised the alarm.
Stephen: He did.
Joe: This was obviously before mobile phones. And then – how soon after you were shot did, Stephen, did help arrive – did an ambulance arrive?
Stephen: About forty-five minutes because the police were afraid to come in. There was always the danger that the bodies would have been booby-trapped so I was crawling around and standing up and falling down and trying to talk to the others and I refused to believe they were dead. I was telling them that Des was gone to get help and we’d all go home – you know you’re sort of not thinking very logically but that’s emotional trauma – I don’t know.
Joe: When did you discover that Fran, Tony and Brian had been murdered?
Stephen: A couple of days after the incident. I was at Daisy Hill Hospital and I have to say that they’re wonderful people up there. They renewed my faith in humanity. But I kept asking, you know: How are the lads? And the answer they gave me all the time was: Well some are better and some are worse but they eventually had to tell me so it would have been the best part of a week I’d say.
Joe: Was it that long before you discovered? And at that stage had Fran – had the lads been buried?
Stephen: Oh, they had, yes. I didn’t know anything about it.
Joe: You now know, looking how big the funerals were, how traumatic the whole event was…
Joe: …on an island that was traumatised anyway…
Joe: …it, it – new depths of depravity were forever being plumbed but anyway that was a horrific one. But Stephen, like how are you now? I know you’ve written a stunning book. You’ve campaigned – you are campaigning on a truth and reconciliation platform. Isn’t that right?
Yes, my friend, Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were murdered by the same gang, the Glenanne, the Reavey Brothers – and said all they were ever interested in was football – well, Eugene and I formed a group called Truth and Reconciliation Platform which allows people from both sides of the political divide and both sides, people from all communities, to actually stand up and tell their stories. And the reason we do that, Joe, is because we believe that when people tell of the consequences of violence and how it impacted on families and how it destroyed lives and the futility of the violence that we believe that it may act as a deterrent and it’s particularly important now that with the dangers that Brexit might bring with it. If there’s a hard border there, God knows, but the shooting could start again – I don’t know.
Joe: And Stephen, are members of that Glenanne Gang still alive? Do you know? I don’t want their names, obviously. But are they still alive?
Stephen: Yeah, yeah, well they are, yeah. Obviously, three people were convicted of the crime and one of them has since died (God rest him). But the other two people are alive and then there are other people that we know that were there on the night that are alive as well.
Joe: Why do you say ‘God rest’ to a man who tried to kill you and killed your three friends?
Stephen: Well, why wouldn’t I say that? I mean it was a terrible thing to happen to all. I think everybody that was there – it just was a disaster for everybody, you know?
Joe: And have you ever – do you think you’ve ever met them?
I – we wanted to meet them. When Neil Fetherstonhaugh and I were writing the book in 2007 we wanted to get as comprehensive a view as possible, you know? And we eventually contacted the UVF leadership through our friend, and it was a friend of Fran O’Toole’s actually as well, but he was a man called Chris Hudson (he’s now Reverend Chris Hudson) and he was the liaison between the British and Irish governments and the UVF and so he organised a meeting with the leadership of the UVF and we were due to talk to him – he’s known in the book as ‘The Craftsman’ but I know his name – and we were due to talk to him for about twenty minutes, half an hour, maximum. And the meeting lasted – it was a secret meeting in a church – and it lasted for five hours. I think we all got something very important from it, you know? An understanding of each other.
Joe: Stephen, Mary Murphy is on the line. (Joe takes Mary’s call.)
Audio: Joe takes Mary’s call.
Joe: And Stephen, that was true about The Miami, wasn’t it? At that time the showbands did travel through the country no matter what was happening politically or militarily or in terms of the IRA or whatever. Stephen, what reaction do you get when you say the reason we want to memorialise and the reason we want people to remember all the deaths is not necessarily for blame but for to remind people that violence can be such a debilitating, long-lasting, have an impact on, obviously the victims, but their families, their friends, their children – probably that never knew them – what reaction do you get to that position, Stephen?
Stephen: Well when Eugene Reavey and I hold the events, we call them TARP, Truth and Reconciliation Platform events, we’re usually joined by people like Alan McBride who lost his young wife in the Shankill Road bombing and people like Joe Campbell and lots of other people from the various communities. And what we say to them is: Look, we’re not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t use violence or even accept or support violence as a political expedient but what we are here to tell you is if you do, our story becomes your story and here are the consequences. And when you put it like that – you know we’re not lecturing anybody – and when you put it like that I mean people see the legitimacy of that.
Joe: It’s very powerful. Stephen, would you – I know you played on it so you’ve played it so many times but would you on this day, it’s a difficult day but every day is difficult on the anniversary of the Miami Showband massacre – and it was a showband massacre – would you on this day – okay, the caller wants to. Okay, I’ll take the break. Let me take the break and then I’ll say something to Stephen.
Joe: Talking to Stephen Travers, one of the two survivors of the Miami Showband massacre on this day, forty-two years ago – Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty, Brian McCoy – murdered just outside Newry. Betty, Betty. Good Afternoon!
Audio: Joe takes Betty’s call.
Joe: Stephen, on this anniversary, a song I know you played so often very much identified with The Miami, Love Is, would you introduce it for us, please, just to finish this piece, this segment, which I think you made extraordinarily powerful.
Stephen: Well Love Is is a song written by Fran O’Toole and Des Lee and on this particular day I’d like to dedicate it to everybody that was affected by The Troubles and I hope the words resonant for everybody in the country.
Audio: Portion of the song, Love Is, is played.
Joe: That’s the Miami Showband – forty-two years ago today – Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty, Brian McCoy and you heard Stephen Travers and Des Lee – that’s the band you heard there – Love Is – a most powerful song. And that powerful evocation from Stephen about if he’s talking to people about violence he says to them: Remember, if for any reason you take up violence remember I become part of your story. Fran, Tony, Brian, the three thousand six hundred people killed in The Troubles become part of your story so think not once, not twice but many, many times. And when we’re researching the children that were killed (aged sixteen and under) so far a hundred and forty-eight children killed in The Troubles and Stephen’s words, Stephen Travers’ words today, very, very powerful and we remember the families of Fran, Tony and Brian. (ends)