A story of love and loss. Eugene Reavey Part 2

Eugene Reavey went to his first All-Ireland final in 1960 and hasn't missed one since. Picture Mal McCann.
Eugene Reavey went to his first All-Ireland final in 1960 and hasn't missed one since. Picture Mal McCann.

The night after the shooting at his parents' house, Eugene Reavey and his family drove in convoy from Whitecross to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry to bring home murdered Brian and John Martin. Along the way they were stopped near the crossroads at Kingsmills...

A STENCH he’d didn’t know existed hung thick over the dark country road.

An eerie silence. A minibus with the lights still on stopped near the hedge and behind it a mound of... something.

Steam rose out of it.

Eugene Reavey’s mind tried to make sense of the scene. At first he thought a gate had been left open and that a herd of cattle had run out onto the road and been knocked down.

Then, as he got closer, he realised the mound wasn’t cattle. It was people. The bodies of 10 Protestant workmen slaughtered in an unwanted reprisal for his brothers’ murder.

“I’ll never get over it,” says Eugene.

“People say there is a smell of death - there is.

“I said to the fella who had stopped us: ‘I’m not much good to you… I have my own trauma…’ I wasn’t thinking straight but I wish I had have been because Alan Black was there and he was still alive.

“I told him to run over to Magee’s house and raise the alarm, which he did. The ambulance came out but there was no police for a couple of hours.

“We took a different route into Newry. We went into the morgue and said prayers and we took the coffins and put them in the hearses but when we tried to leave the road was all blocked with the bodies’ coming in from Kingsmill. The place was teeming with soldiers.”

Those soldiers harassed, threatened and intimidated the Reavey family before they eventually let them get leave.

Read more: Eugene Reavey: A story of love and loss. Part One

The bullet-riddled minibus at the scene of the massacre of 10 protestant workman shot dead in a massacre at Kingsmills in January 1976
The bullet-riddled minibus at the scene of the massacre of 10 protestant workman shot dead in a massacre at Kingsmills in January 1976

WITH throw-in time for the 2016 Armagh Intermediate football championship final fast approaching, the taxi from Daisy Hill drove Eugene home to Whitecross and it was only then that he realised he had no key to get into his house.

Then he remembered he had hidden a key out for his children to use when they came home late from nights out and so he used it to let himself into the empty house – everyone else was at the match.

“I got in and there was my clothes sitting in a plastic bag on the kitchen table,” he explains.

“I got myself dressed.”

Then he realised he had no money to pay for the taxi. But he hunted around the house and scraped up enough to pay his fare

“I went back out and said to the taxi man: ‘Take me to the football in Armagh’.

“He says: ‘You’re only out of the hospital!’

“But on we went to Armagh.”

WHEN John Martin and Brian were laid to rest, thousands attended the funerals including representatives from clubs throughout Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and Down as well as the schools that Brian and John Martin had played against.

“From the grassroots up, it was unbelievable,” says Eugene.

Losing two sons and brothers was enough grief for any family to take but, sadly, there was more to come for the Reaveys.

Anthony passed away at the end of January. He had come home from hospital, was doing well and had visited his girlfriends’ house in Belleeks.

With an Army checkpoint set up right outside their house, Mrs Reavey advised him to stay the night in Belleeks and Anthony did so. Later, fearing he wasn’t safe, he went to his girlfriend’s aunt’s house.

He slept there and the following morning had breakfast in bed but when his girlfriend came home from Mass, Anthony was unwell. Sadly he had suffered a Brain Haemorrhage and died the following Friday.

Read more: Eugene Reavey: A story of love and loss. Part One

Adam Reavey, with the silverware, captained St Paul's Bessbrook to the Rannfast Cup earlier this month
Adam Reavey, with the silverware, captained St Paul's Bessbrook to the Rannfast Cup earlier this month

THE teams were already on the field when the taxi dropped Eugene off at the Athletic Grounds. He made his way into the ground and came out through the tunnel and went out onto the field.

“Our ones were sitting in the stand,” he says with a chuckle.

“Our Sarah saw me and said to Roisin: ‘Mummy! There’s Daddy!’

“Roisin says: ‘It couldn’t be your Daddy, sure he’s in the hospital’.

“Our boys were warming up in the far corner and I was going over to them but when I got halfway I stopped. There must have been some sort of a blockage (in his heart) and I could not get one leg past the other. I thought to myself: ‘This is it…’ But then, all of a sudden, it passed and I got motoring again and I never looked back.

“The boys were in a big huddle and somebody was saying: ‘We have to win this for the chairman, he’s lying in hospital!’ and then they looked up and there was I, standing looking in at them!’”

ANOTHER funeral, another name of a young man cut down before his time on the headstone. Eugene had been a pillar of strength for the family throughout the trauma but there is no hiding place from grief and the shock finally caught up with him a couple of months’ later.

Whitecross played their neighbours Clady in a challenge match and Eugene was on the line. His late brother Brian had had a distinctive, cross-armed manner of catching the ball and, coincidentally, one of the Clady players did the same thing.

A switch flicked in Eugene’s mind. He collapsed.

“I went down like a wet bag,” he said.

After tests at the hospital, he was told he was suffering from delayed shock.

“I had been very strong, or tried to be, for the family all throughout what had happened,” he said.

“Our family was in pieces. That year, if there was a football match between here and Omagh, or Derry or Newry or wherever I would have been away to it.

“For those couple of hours I had a bit of peace, a bit of craic in the car or whatever. The GAA saved us because at that time it was easier to join a paramilitary group than it was not to join. My father had made us all promise that we wouldn’t join any paramilitary groups but there were times, when we were getting all the hassle, that it wasn’t easy.”

Eugene Reavey. Picture by Mal McCann
Eugene Reavey. Picture by Mal McCann

IT was the football that kept him going and, when you strip it all back, that is the purest, truest value which makes the GAA unique.

1976 rolled into 1977 and 1977 was Heaven-sent for Armagh people. A first Ulster Championship for the Orchard County since 1953, a return to Croke Park for the semi-final win over Roscommon and then an All-Ireland final against the Dubs.

“We went to the Capuchin Chapel in Dublin for 8am Mass the morning of the final,” says Eugene. “The match wasn’t to 3 o’clock! They were great days.”

Of course he was back in Dublin 25 years’ later for the greatest day when Armagh captured the Sam Maguire on that unforgettable September Sunday. Over a lifetime of watching the Orchardmen through good times and bad, the most important player his county has ever produced, he says, is Oisin McConville.

“We had players who busted their guts but we never had a player that could score like Oisin, never,” he says.

“Diarmaid Marsden was a good player but a different kind of player, Geezer drove the team on, Paddy Moriarty was the same in his time, Paul McGrane was brilliant in the middle of the field, the McEntees, Stevie McDonnell got some wonderful points… But there was nobody like Oisin for Cross and Armagh.

“He pulled Cross and Armagh out of some holes; a scoring-machine and a big-game player. He was fabulous. We have nobody like him now and we have good players.”

For the 25th anniversary of the murders in 2001, the Reavey family presented a plaque to the Whitecross club. GAA President Sean McCague was the guest speaker and Mickey Harte, Eamon Coleman and Joe Kernan were among those in attendance.

For the 40th anniversary in 2016, Armagh played Donegal at the Whitecross grounds and, like the rest of his family, Eugene’s thoughts were with John Martin and Brian and Anthony that day.

But he thinks of them often, every time he goes to a match, wherever it is.

“They come drifting back into my mind,” he says.

“Either on the way up the road or the way home. I try to keep it out of my consciousness but they always come back.”

IN the aftermath of the evil that had been done to them, the Reavey family was allowed no peace. They were constantly harassed, intimidated, threatened and assaulted by the security forces.

“It’s a terra what the police and the authorities can do to a family,” says Eugene.

“They blackened us and they started a smear campaign that we were in the IRA and that the IRA had asked us to shoot some UDR men and we wouldn’t do it so then the IRA shot our boys. Every time they stopped us on the road they would be pulling the car apart.

“I remember we (Whitecross) were playing Culloville one day. I was driving home over the road and we were stopped. UDR and police. This fella told me to empty the boot. I had all the jerseys and my veterinary drugs for work (he was a poultry advisor) in it and I said to him: ‘I’m not taking all that out, you take it out’.

“Roisin was in the front and she was pregnant and she told me to take the stuff out for him. I was bending over into the boot taking it out and this boy hit me with the butt of his rifle in the ribs. He hit me some dig!

“He says: ‘Your boys wouldn’t have been shot only they were in the IRA’. I looked up and I saw that boy looking down at me and I hit him, I put him clean out. They jumped on me, fired me into the Land Rover and kicked the shite out of me the whole way to Bessbrook.

“That sort of stuff went on for years.”

Eugene Reavey
Eugene Reavey

BACK to that final in 2016 one last time. Whitecross beat Tullysarran by three points.

Afterwards there was a bit of a do back at their clubhouse but Eugene wisely accepted the fact that he was pushing his luck and had better get back to hospital.

He had heart surgery and after the operation the surgeon asked him: ‘Eugene, what is this football all about?’

“Ah, don’t be talking about me and football,” Eugene replied.

He told him how he lives opposite his club’s field and that when he hears the thump of a ball being kicked he’s away across the road.

He tells me proudly how his grand-daughters and grand-nieces are playing at underage and senior level for Whitecross and that he goes to every game, every training session to cheer on the girls.

Last Sunday Adam Reavey, his grand-nephew, captained St Paul’s Bessbrook to their first Rannafast Cup in 57 years. Adam’s cousin Cian Rigley was also in the squad.

We shall overcome…