Published Monday, 22 October 2012
I know exactly where I was when news of the "Kingsmills Massacre" came in. I was at the large desk which was the centrepiece in the Good Morning Ulster office, in the BBC in Belfast.
It was teatime on Monday 5th January 1976.
To put that period into context, the previous night, I had covered one of two unprovoked murderous attacks on Catholic families. One was the Reavey family from Whitecross; the other, was the O'Dowd family, who lived near Gilford. I had been reporting on that incident.
So, 24 hours later, this 22-year-old reporter was dispatched to south Armagh with my Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder slung over my shoulder. I drove myself.
Less than two hours later, I arrived at the scene. My memory is clear; though there were lights surrounding the vehicle, the area was not secure. While, most likely, there were police and army in the vicinity, nobody stopped me approaching the red van, which was exactly where it had been stopped. The bodies had been removed. I was able to walk around the van, and see the bullet holes. The back door was still open and I could see where the bullets had ripped through the seating, and exited on the other side.
As I stepped back, I recall seeing two items on the damp road. One was an empty quarter bottle of whiskey. I believe it would have contained milk for a flask. The other, was half a set of false teeth. The sight of these two things has never left me.
I spent the whole night working on that story. I was kindly pointed in the direction of a number of homes. The scene was the same, at each one - many people, and many unashamed tears. I can still hear the wailing of a woman at one rural address; the only light in the darkness coming from the front door, which was wide open.
A local Church of Ireland minister, who I learned later, was the rector of Bessbrook, provided me with the only interview that night; such was the fear and shock in the area, at that time. The rest was up to me. I would have to describe that terrible scene in word pictures.
Then it was a rush to return to Belfast, to edit the story. But, I hadn't counted on one thing - the police.
As I was driving along the Malone Road, back to work, I was stopped for speeding! I made my excuses, but I had broken the law. In those days, such an offence meant going to court.
In due course I attended the Magistrates' Court. It was a simple plea, on my part. I admitted it, and was duly fined £5, by the Resident Magistrate, the late Harry McDevitt.
When he asked me if I had anything to say, I explained that I was returning to work with the story of Kingsmills. He reduced the fine to £2.50, but reminded me that he was fed up with people using the Malone Road as a race track.
Often, I think of his words of remonstration, as I sit in traffic on the Malone Road, on my way to work at UTV.
No chance of breaking the speed limit today...
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