Monday 20 January 2020

Premises offer for planned Miami Showband Peace Centre

Stephen Travers: Former member of Miami Showband. Picture: Provision
Stephen Travers: Former member of Miami Showband. Picture: Provision

Alan O'Keeffe

A generous offer of a premises for the planned Miami Showband Peace Centre has been received by those behind the project.

The building is located in the Newry area in Co Armagh and it is hoped details of the offer can be revealed in the near future, said Stephen Travers, chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Platform.

The centre will promote peace and understanding throughout the island of Ireland and will include a small museum dedicated to the showband.

Mr Travers was the bass player in the popular showband which consisted of Catholic and Protestant musicians from both sides of the Border. "We defeated sectarianism wherever we played," he said. He was badly wounded in an attack on the band which claimed the lives of its stars in 1975.

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He is the co-founder of the Truth and Reconciliation Platform which gives victims of The Troubles, regardless of their political, religious or cultural background, an opportunity to tell their stories so that the terrible consequences of the violence will not be forgotten and so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. "No 'side' has a monopoly on suffering and loss," he said.

"We're overwhelmed by the response to our statement that we were seeking to set up a centre. We're delighted with the offer of the premises and we have received several messages of support from several victims' groups. It is intended that various victims' groups will use the centre for their activities," he told the Sunday Independent.

"We are very grateful for any offers of funding for the centre. Our activities receive funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"We believe that victims' stories should be told so that young people won't be radicalised nor convinced there is some kind of glory in murdering people," he said.

A Netflix documentary about the attack on the band - which was released this year - prompted messages of support from all over the world.

Mr Travers (67), from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, was 24 when the Miami Showband massacre made world headlines in 1975. The band was returning to Dublin after a gig in Co Down when their minibus was stopped at a checkpoint near the Border by uniformed soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

It was a bogus checkpoint and the soldiers were clandestine members of the loyalist terrorist group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

They ordered the five musicians out of the minibus and told them to face the ditch. Two of the terrorists then sought to conceal a time-bomb underneath the driver's seat. Their plan was to allow the band to drive away so that the bomb would explode later and kill all those on the bus.

Stephen Travers believed it was an attempt to frame the musicians as bomb and weapon smugglers. The plot would have portrayed them as being killed by their own bomb.

The intended result was to bring about a complete clampdown on most cross-border traffic to thwart the IRA, he claimed.

Mr Travers, speaking previously to this newspaper, said a man with an upper-class English accent arrived and he asked the band for their names and dates of birth. But then the bomb exploded and killed the two people planting the bomb.

"The bomb blew us into the air and into a field," he said.

"I was shot in the right hip with a dumdum bullet that exploded inside me," he said.

Trumpet player Brian McCoy tried to lift Stephen but he was shot dead. "They caught our guitar player Tony Geraghty and shot him in the back of the head. I had heard him crying... Fran O'Toole, our good-looking singer, was crying and begging them not to kill him. But they shot him 22 times and 17 of those bullets were in his head and face.

"They walked around the field and fired into the lads, even though they were dead. I pretended to be dead. I kept my face in the ground and then a soldier shouted from the road: 'I got those bastards with dumdums, they're dead'. My guardian angel must have been on overtime because they just walked away," he said.

The fifth member of the band, Des Lee, injured by shrapnel, was blown into a ditch where he remained hidden. He raised the alarm.

Sunday Independent

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