A woman who came face-to-face with her brothers’ loyalist killers moments before they were shot, thought the attack was a Halloween prank.
Róisín Cairns, who is now aged 35, looked on helplessly as two UVF gunmen entered her home and shot dead her older brothers Gerard (22) and Rory (18).
The callous killers struck minutes after the loving family had gathered to celebrate Róisín’s 11th birthday, 25 years ago this Sunday.
Now for the first time the brave Co Down woman gives a chilling account of how the masked gunmen motioned to her to be silent after they rushed into her family home near Bleary on October 28, 1993.
On the night the killers struck, her family had gathered around the kitchen table to hold a small birthday celebration for Róisín.
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A precious photograph of the children sitting playfully with their father Eamon less than an hour before the savage attack still takes pride of place in the family album.
It was the last time the family would be pictured together.
As the youngest in the house Róisín was doted on by her big brothers, spoiled by Gerard and lovingly teased by teenager Rory.
Now, almost 25 years after their lives were cruelly cut short by a gang of sectarian killers, Róisín reveals the terrible impact the violent events of that night have had on her.
After the birthday celebration Eamon and his wife Shelia left home to go to an Irish class in nearby Lurgan, leaving Róisín in the house with her older brothers.
Another sibling, Liam, then 14, had gone to a neighbour’s house while her older sister, Paula, then 21, was studying in England.
Sitting in the same kitchen where Róisín shared those last treasured moments with her brothers she explains how they moved to an adjoining living room to watch TV while she remained to finish off some birthday treats.
“I was just lying up eating sweets, just loving it, the house to myself and then I was going to go over for a drink and something spooked me and I could see there was shadows (through the back door),” she said.
Her brothers dismissed her concerns saying it was probably Liam and a friend standing outside talking.
Despite this Róisín was anxious to move next door to the security of her brothers.
“I kind of wanted to get out of the kitchen quickly and I was going down to take the plug out of the TV, I knew something wasn’t (right), I wanted to get around the table and into the living room as quick as possible,” she said.
Suddenly the peace of the typical family home was shattered as the murder squad struck.
“I had only just got half way around the table (when) the gunmen busted in the door and they were in their boiler suits and balaclavas,” she said.
“They were totally covered.”
Coldly one of the killers motioned to the child, who was frozen to the spot, to be silent.
“One of them ran on, ran in, and one of them just stood and put his finger up to tell me to be quiet and just stood and watched me,” she said.
“I don’t know what I was really doing, if I was squealing or what was going on, but in my head I was thinking it was a Halloween prank.”
Róisín says the killers showed no sign of nerves.
“They were very steady,” she said.
She explained how the gunman who was initially standing over her also went into the living room and began shooting before both killers, who were armed with VZ58 assault rifles, fled.
Róisín says she then walked several feet to the living room where she found her brothers.
“They (the gunmen) left and I went up into the living room, and I was shouting at Gerard, because I could see Rory’s head and I could see the blood coming out of the head and I could see the hole and I was saying to Gerard ‘what’s wrong with Rory’ because I thought Gerard was kind of moving, still alive or something you know, but he was on the floor with his back against the chair,” she said.
The terrified child then ran for help.
It is believed Rory died instantly, while Gerard may have lived for a short time before succumbing to his injuries.
She reveals how in the aftermath of the murders she struggled to cope with the horror of what happened.
“Ah God, teenage years were just pure black,” she said.
“I never want to have to go back there again.
“I suppose for a few years you are numb.”
She explains how she suffered from “constant nightmares” and feared the dark as a child.
“I would have had to sleep with mum a lot,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have actually slept until it got light outside, I was totally afraid of the dark and that kind of thing.”
“(They were) very lonely, very painful, very distressing, horrible teenage years.”
The trauma of what she witnessed also triggered flashbacks.
“You are getting flashbacks all the time, that would have just happened anywhere, any time,” she said.
“Well, it would have been nearly all the time.
“It was just running through your head all the time.
“So you are just terrorised by that all the time and that’s one aspect, the greater thing is the loss of Gerard and Rory and seeing the pain in everyone else.”
Róisín explained the shocking impact the murders had on the wider family.
“It was very hard to speak to each other and you know it would even be hard to even look at each other,” she said.
“I found that anyway, because you could just feel their pain and it just triggered you off.”
She said that dinner time “became a very painful part of your day” as the absence of her brothers was keenly felt in the family home.
“You couldn’t speak, nobody could really speak, we would have ate in silence,” she said.
She said that her father Eamon always encouraged family members to speak and write about their feelings, but the sense of loss can still at times be very powerful.
“Their loss is still a really, really big thing,” she said.
“That can just hit you very randomly at different times.
“You can really feel like you are in agony.”
She says the memory of her brothers is never far away as she ponders “where would they be and how our lives would have been different with them here”.
Now a successful natural health therapist, Róisín continues, along with her family, to demand the truth about the murder of Gerard and Rory.
She believes that her family and other victims have been treated poorly by state agencies.
“The same thing that has been denied to everyone else here,” she said.
“The lies, the cover ups.
“You are certainly made to feel like you don’t matter, you’re worthless.”
She also believes those who carried out the attack have no regrets.
She continues to hold positive memories of her brothers.
“The good memories of Gerard and Rory override any of what happened that night,” she said.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the murders the Cairns family held a special night of remembrance for the boys.
Róisín says that before that event she found it difficult to look at photographs of her brothers.
“But after the 20th I was able to look at them more and actually see the smiles,” she said.
“There are photographs of Rory over there and he is laughing and I wouldn’t really have noticed that before.
“I only seen it and felt really sad.
“Now I can see it and see Rory laughing.
“I can really see them properly now.”
With the passing of 25 years she continues to get on with her life.
“It’s like that battle all the time of trying to live your life and get as much out of it but meanwhile also trying to not ignore the hard facts,” she said.