Miami Showband massacre survivor shakes with anguish as he remembers slain friends 40 years on
Published 01/08/2015 | 14:50
One of the survivors of the Miami Showband massacre has told how he shook with grief as he visited the site of the attack 40 years later.
Des Lee was one of only two people who survived after the UVF ambushed the group on August 31, 1975.
The popular band, known fondly as the Irish Beatles, had been travelling from a gig in Banbridge to Dublin when they stopped for what they believed was a routine Army checkpoint.
Instead, they were halted at Buskhill, near Newry, by UVF gunmen who included several UDR members among them.
The killers attempted to plant a bomb in the band's minibus, but after it exploded prematurely they opened fire killing lead singer Fran O'Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy. Des, meanwhile, was blown into a ditch by the force of the explosion. Guitarist Stephen Travers was the only other survivor of the attack.
Two of the terrorists were killed by their own bomb.
Des described revisiting the scene yesterday 40 years on as a "very tough day".
"I was shaking," he said. "It was not pleasant. I pass that site often when I drive to Dublin to visit friends
"Sometimes I pull over and say a prayer. Other times I turn off the radio as I pass and think about that night.
"I remember everything from that night, everything that was said, everything that happened."
He said the band never believed they would be targeted because they were simply musicians who helped people escape the brutal reality of the Troubles for a couple of hours a week.
"All we were doing was entertaining, putting a smile on people's faces," Des added.
"We played at ballrooms and halls all over the place. We helped people to forget all the horrible things that were happening for just a couple of hours in a very, very bad time.
"We played for all colours and creeds. I just think it is despicable to target innocent musicians who had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism."
Unfortunately for Des, the terror did not end after the atrocity, as he was threatened when those responsible were brought to court for trial.
He told how he could not play gigs after the atrocity because he felt he was not safe in his own city. Eventually, the stress was too much and he and his family moved to South Africa.
"I remember being at court and they said: 'We'll get you'," Des said. "It got so bad for me that I got my wife and children away. We moved to South Africa, where my sister was living. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders."
None of the terrorists involved in the attack have contacted Des to offer an apology.
But the Belfast man has reissued an appeal for a young couple who picked him up in their car on the night of the attack and took him to Newry police station to raise the alarm.
"They saved my life and I would love to have the opportunity to thank them," he said. "Hopefully I will be able to find them."
Flowers will be laid at the site of the massacre in Buskhill tomorrow at 2.30pm.
The ceremony is open to the public, and Des has encouraged people to turn out in memory of his three slain friends.
"It will be a day of peace and reconciliation," he said."I believe we have to start moving forward as much as possible."
The Miami Showband will play their last ever gig at the Linenfields Festival in Banbridge on August 21. Tickets priced £15 are available from Ticketmaster.
Even amid the horrors of the 1970s, the slaughter of three musicians from one of the most popular bands of the day shocked Northern Ireland. Singer Fran O'Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy were killed, and Stephen Travers and Des Lee were injured. Two UVF men, Wesley Somerville and Harris Boyle, were killed by their own bomb.