On Friday 24th May 1974, Day 10 of the UWC strike we went, as usual, to evening Mass in Tannaghmore chapel. As always we were in good time and there was the regular group of men standing chatting at the chapel door. This had recently become an ordeal for me, passing those men, neighbours and family members, for I was 20 years old, six months pregnant and unmarried. Forty years ago this was no light matter. John Heffron and Uncle Sean smiled and nodded at me but Uncle Brendan was not on speaking terms with me and made no acknowledgement. This was hurtful but understandable. I'm sure, that if given the chance, once my daughter was born, he would have come round. Brendan had a great fondness for children and was a very well-loved uncle.
After Mass my parents went to visit Mum's family in Randalstown. The first hint of something wrong was a series of strange phone calls. My younger sister took the first call that alerted us to something badly wrong. A shooting at the pub. A neighbour called to the door and took my brother down to Randalstown to inform my parents. I took a call from a woman who did not identify herself.
“Is that Byrne's?”
“Tell Sean we'll be over for a carry-out.”
There was laughter in the background. It sounded like they were having a party. I took it to be a malicious call.
The younger children were hysterical with fear. They thought that maybe the gunmen were coming to our house too. I tried to reassure them. By the time the tragic news came to us the gang had left the Wayside Halt and were already in police custody.
The thing is, the RUC were well aware of the gangs' activity. They were a ramshackle band of UVF, UDA and other loyalists who had come down to our area to reinforce the strike. Around thirty in number, they were armed with cudgels and sticks and at least one carried a loaded firearm. A neighbour of ours saw them at their work in the Harryville area of Ballymena where they smashed up pubs that were open in defiance of the strike. Their way back to Belfast took them past the Wayside Halt public house and it was there that a gun was used to shoot my uncles. That is when the police went in pursuit. That neighbour reported their activities in Harryville at the time. Had the RUC moved in Ballymena my uncles would not have died that night.
So there it was. Two devastated widows, eight fatherless children, a community torn apart, a loss felt as keenly today as on that terrible evening 40 years ago.
That link above is well worth reading as it is my sister's account of the events of that night and there are details that I have not included here.