Miami Showband victims remembered on 40th anniversary of massacre
As family and friends prepare to gather today to remember their loved ones on the 40th anniversary of the Miami Showband massacre, Southern Correspondent Valerie Robinson looks back on what is regarded as one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.
AS showbands go Miami were among the most popular, playing regularly to packed venues and set for stardom well beyond Irish shores.
Talent and good looks meant the band appealed to fans on both sides of the border and across the political divide.
The musicians included Catholics and Protestants, southerners and northerners. But the illusion that music transcended the political and religious tensions of the time was shattered in the early hours of Thursday July 31 1975.
Miami were heading back to Dublin from a gig in Banbridge, Co Down, when their minibus was stopped at bogus army checkpoint on the road to Newry.
The fake patrol, made up of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the UVF, ordered the musicians outside while their vehicle was ‘searched’.
Senior UVF men – Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville - were in the process of concealing a bomb when it exploded at 2am, killing both.
The force of the blast blew the musicians into a field – all were dazed and hurt but alive. The gunmen then turned their weapons on the unarmed men.
Stephen Travers (24) was seriously injured by a ‘dum-dum’ bullet that splintered after hitting his hip, but he survived by playing dead. The bass player heard Fran O’Toole (28) begging not to be killed before the lead singer, who had two young daughters, was shot repeatedly in the face.
Lead guitarist Tony Geraghty (24), recently engaged, and trumpeter Brian McCoy (32), the father of a young son and daughter, suffered multiple fatal gunshot wounds.
Saxophonist Des McAlea (24) was hurled into a ditch by the explosion. He would later recall lying close to blazing vegetation, terrified the killers were still there, but desperate to know if his friends were alive.
Only Stephen answered his calls.
Des headed off in the dark to get help, persuading a young couple to drive him to Newry RUC station. And so began a 40 year search for truth and justice.
It is widely believed that the UVF had plotted with security forces to label the band as republican bomb smugglers and embarrass the Irish government into an IRA crackdown. The plan failed when the bomb detonated early.
UDR soldiers Thomas Raymond Crozier and Rodney Shane McDowell, and UVF figure John James Somerville, brother of Wesley, were jailed for their roles in the murders.
In 2006, Mr Justice Henry Barron found that his investigation into the Miami case and other murders “paints a clear picture of collaboration between members of the security forces and loyalist extremists”.
And the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) reported in 2011 that the killings raised “disturbing questions about collusive and corrupt behaviour”, revealing that Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson, RUC agent and leader of the notorious UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade, had claimed he was tipped off by a senior RUC officer that his fingerprints had been found on one of the murder weapons.
The survivors, along with the O’Tooles and McCoys, are suing the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI, based on evidence of collusion uncovered by Justice for the Forgotten.
Speaking on a UTV Ireland documentary, The Miami Showband Massacre: 40 Years On, due to air at 8pm tonight, Stephen Travers says: “We’re not going to get a public enquiry, so the route we are taking to get some sort of justice is by taking a civil case. We will never have peace, we’ll never have peace of mind, but what we may have is some sort of closure.”
Margaret Urwin of Justice for the Forgotten, who has helped prevent the murders being relegated to dusty archives by the both governments, told The Irish News she remains “pleased” to support the families “at this difficult time”.
While the cogs of the legal machine turn, for those left behind the loss of those killed remains palpable.
Miami’s road manager Brian Maguire, who was travelling separately after the Banbridge gig, remembers Brian McCoy as being “such a straight guy as well as being a great musician”.
“Fran had the looks. He was baby-faced, long-haired and charismatic, with a cheeky little smile. He was the kind of guy that when you were getting a cup of tea in a ballroom he’d be given the extra biscuit!”
Tony was a “very quiet guy but a really, really good guitar player”, in the same league as legends Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher and Philip Donnelly.
Brian, who remains emotionally scarred by the violent murders, fears the truth behind the massacre will not be known in his lifetime, saying: “No government is ever going to admit they were involved in that kind of carry on. Governments put things on the long finger and eventually they become part of the past and disappear.”
He is set to deliver an oration at 2pm tomorrow at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Miami Showband Memorial in Dublin’s Parnell Square, the site of the old National Ballroom, where the band had played regularly.
For Fran’s nephew David O’Toole, the day’s events are an opportunity for the men’s family, friends and fans to commemorate their lives.
“First and foremost we want to remember them and celebrate their lives, not just remember the way they died. Fran was a person who was full of energy and who had a huge talent and passion for music. We don’t want his life to be overshadowed by the events of his death,” David says.