The man behind a film documentary charting the depths of collusion between a gang of loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces in rural areas during the Troubles has urged people from across County Derry to attend a screening of the film this Friday night.
Unquiet Graves, the recent recipient of the Royal Television Society’s Best Documentary award, will be screened this Friday night (November 22) in Dungiven.
The film is a hard-hitting expose of the Glenanne Gang, a group involving members of both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment and the Mid Ulster Brigade of the UVF responsible for the murder of more than 120 civilians in the 1970s.
The screening is the beginning of a weekend of events in Dungiven organised by the Pat Finucane Centre.
Film maker Sean Murray said: “It is important that people come to see the film because these were the type of rural areas where the Glenanne Gang were targeting people and caused most devastation.”
The gang operated mostly in rural Tyrone and Armagh for the majority of the 1970s, but their activities also affected other areas of the North.
It has been alleged that some key members of the organisation were also double agents working for British military intelligence.
Attacks attributed to the group include the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974, the Miami Showband killings 1975, the Reavey and O'Dowd killings 1976 and the Hillcrest Bar bombing in the same year.
Many of the victims were killed at their homes or in indiscriminate attacks on Catholic-owned pubs with guns and bombs. Some were shot after being stopped at fake British Army checkpoints, and a number of the attacks were co-ordinated. When it wished to “claim” its attacks, the group usually used the name “Protestant Action Force”.
The name “Glenanne Gang” has been used since 2003 and is derived from the farm at Glenanne (near Markethill, County Armagh) that was used as the gang's main base of operations. It also made use of a farm near Dungannon.
In 1975, Colm McCartney a cousin of the late Seamus Heaney was murdered by the gang on his way home from a football match in Croke Park.
A fake UDR checkpoint halted Mr McCartney's car in South Armagh and shot him and his friend Sean Farmer dead.
It caused the poet to pen 'The Strand at Lough Beg' - a haunting eulogy in memory of his relative that contained the words “What blazed ahead of you? A faked road block? The red lamp swung, the sudden brakes and stalling. Engine, voices, heads hooded and the cold-nosed gun?”
Unquiet Graves ends with a striking animated portrayal of the murder set to the poem read by renowned actor Stephen Rea.
Sean Murray continued: “Things were different in Belfast and Derry city for example where the conflict took place at close quarters.
“The Glenanne Gang were highly effective at operating in isolated rural areas.
“They had a dedicated policy of targeting rural areas. Whilst Sean Brown wasn't a victim of the Glenanne Gang his murder was typical of this type of attack.”
Mr Brown from Bellaghy was murdered by loyalists in 1997 as he locked the gates of Wolfe Tone GAC in the south Derry village of which he was chairman.
The victim was abducted and driven some ten miles to Randalstown where he was shot six times in the head and his remains were located behind his burned out car.
Initially, the atrocity was claimed by the UVF but is believed to have been the work of the LVF.
“The reason for making Unquiet Graves is to empower people and make sure that this never happens again. The film has now been shown around the world. It began with a meeting of some of the families of the victims at Benburb in Co Tyrone about four years ago. So, the award is acknowledgment of what we've done,” Sean Murray said.
In adjudicating the award the Royal Television Society panel said the film was “a powerful documentary and such an important story to be told. Beautifully directed with thoughtful use of music and dramatic reconstructions, the programme structure was excellent and well researched.”
However, Sean Murray says that impact of the film reaches well beyond the rural districts of Northern Ireland in terms of demonstrating the wide ranging of allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries including his own native West Belfast.
In January 1994, loyalists carried out a rocket attack on the Rock Bar in the heart of the Falls Road.
Around half an hour before the attack RUC officers accompanied by British soldiers entered bar but left without questioning or arresting anyone. No one was killed in the subsequent attack that targeted the upstairs lounge, but those present have always believed that the security forces had acted as scouts for the loyalist attackers. Sean Murray said: “We showed the film in the Rock Bar and it was attended by some of those who were there in 1994, including the bar man who was working that day. He told us, ‘You don't understand how much this means to us’.
“To get that type of public recognition for the film is cathartic. People want the details of the story of what happened to be told.”
Unquiet Graves will be shown at Glor Dun Geimhin in the town this Friday at 7.30pm and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Paul O’Connor, Director of the Pat Finucane Centre. The event is free and no tickets are required in order to attend.
On Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 November, two more fascinating events willtake place at Glor Dun Geimhin.
The powerful exhibition ‘In Their Footsteps’ begins on Saturday at noon.
This exhibition began as an initiative from the Pat Finucane Centre to place pressure on both the British and Irish governments to put in place an acceptable and effective mechanism to deal with the past in Northern Ireland.
Any family who lost a loved one or anyone who was seriously injured during the Troubles was invited to provide a pair of shoes to form part of the exhibit and these were accompanied by a picture of the person and a synopsis of the incident they were involved in.
The powerful impact of this exhibition was also designed to illustrate that there should be no hierarchy of victims with regards to the Troubles. What is unique about this campaign is that all the victims here are represented equally, regardless of the status of the victim or who the perpetrator was, or whether their loved one was killed as part of a mass atrocity or in a single incident.
At the official opening of the event, friends of a Dungiven man regarded as one of the first victims of the Troubles will add his shoes and his story to the exhibition.
Francis McCloskey was 67 years old when he died on July 14, 1969.
A farmer, he was found unconscious the day before near Dungiven's Orange hall following a RUC baton charge against a crowd who had been attacking it.
Witnesses later said that they had seen the RUC attacking a figure in a doorway where the victim was found.
The RUC claimed that Mr McCloskey had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone.
An inquest later found the victim had died from a brain haemorrhage.
Running alongside the ‘In Their Footsteps’ exhibition will be a second called ‘The Legacy of Colonialism’.
This exhibition focuses on the effects of colonialism both in Ireland and across the globe.
It was first staged in 2017 to mark the 70th anniversary of the partition of India.
One footnote recorded by the Pat Finucane Centre is that in the grounds of the Royal Academy in Dungannon there is a statue to Brig General John Nicholson.
He was killed during the siege of Dehli. He advocated the “flaying alive, impalement or burning” of Indian prisoners and added: “I would inflict the most excruciating tortures I could think of on them with a perfectly easy conscience.”
So, the organisers have asked if should we have statues to such people? In a preface to this exhibition the organisers said: “Relatives of those who were killed (and were then labelled terrorists, gunmen and bombers) continue to seek truth and acknowledgement. Many of the victims of torture are still with us.
“And crucially, the military policies and practices that defined Operation Banner, the military name for deployment in the North from 1969 to 2007, did not begin nor did they end on the island of Ireland.
“Internment, mass screening of civilians, the use of the five torture techniques, waterboarding and electric shocks, states of emergency, massacres by troops and the use of undercover secret units had long been standard practice in the counter-insurgency wars fought during the retreat from empire.
“The exhibition also hones in on the case of the 'Hooded Men' whose ordeal took place in County Derry after the were singled out.”
The Pat Finucane centre continued: “In 1971 allegations of torture began to emerge from interrogation centres in the north.
“This led to the Irish Government taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“The location of the most egregious torture, including the use of the ‘Five Techniques’, has only recently been revealed.
“Declassified documents found by the Pat Finucane Centre confirmed that a selected group of men were tortured at Ballykelly army camp.”
Entry to both exhibitions at Glor Dun Geimhin this weekend is free.
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