The shoot­ing sounded like ‘peb­bles tin­kling off a win­dow pane’

On a Sun­day in Novem­ber 1983, a band of gun­men ap­proached a Pen­te­costal Church in Co Ar­magh

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Pe­ter Murtagh in Darkley, Co Ar­magh

Pas­tor David Bell of Moun­tain Lodge Pen­te­costal Church near Darkley in Co Ar­magh, is 60 years old but can re­mem­ber, as though it were yes­ter­day, the day that he found God. “The date was May 1st 1968,” he says. “That was my mo­ment – a sin­gu­lar mo­ment for me.”

Bell was just 10 years old at the time but that mo­ment, at an evening meet­ing of song cel­e­brat­ing God’s mes­sage and Bible sto­ries hosted by the Child Evan­gel­i­cal Fel­low­ship, had an im­me­di­ate and last­ing im­pact on his life.

Over the fol­low­ing days, he told his school pals what had hap­pened and how: “I dis­cov­ered I could speak to God through prayer and, as I read the scrip­tures, God could speak to me”.

In time, this son of a Pres­by­te­rian farm­ing fam­ily from Augh­na­cloy in Co Ty­rone, be­came a con­firmed ad­her­ent of Pen­te­costal­ism, which em­pha­sises re­birth, Bible study and the cel­e­bra­tion of faith, through prayer and song, with like-minded be­liev­ers. By his twen­ties, Bell was a reg­u­lar wor­ship­per at Moun­tain Lodge Church, where he helped with the ser­vices and had de­vel­oped strong friend­ships.

We are sit­ting in a small room off the side of the modern church built in 1990. Through a win­dow be­hind Pas­tor Bell, I can see the wooden As­sem­bly Hall that used to be the place of wor­ship for this small evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity. It was there, on Sun­day, Novem­ber 20th 1983, that the world got a hor­ri­ble glimpse of just how bad things were in North­ern Ire­land.

All was as usual that Novem­ber Sun­day. The morn­ing break­ing of bread ser­vice took place in the lit­tle church hall as it al­ways did. Af­ter­wards, David Bell drove his small blue Dai­hatsu car to the other side of Keady, to David and Doreen Wil­son’s farm for mid­day din­ner.

David Bell loved this weekly en­counter with the Wil­sons. The meal was fol­lowed by dessert and cof­fee. By 6pm, Bell was back at the cedar-clad Pen­te­costal church hall, pre­par­ing it for the evening’s wor­ship, which he al­ways tape recorded.

Mean­while, David Wil­son took up his place by the en­trance door where, with two other el­ders of the church, Harold Browne and Vic­tor Cun­ning­ham, they wel­comed wor­ship­pers as they ar­rived.

At around the same time from the south, a ve­hi­cle was mak­ing its way to­wards the church. In­side it were three, pos­si­bly four, peo­ple, armed with au­to­matic weapons. Three gun­men and a driver, it is thought.

By the time they were out­side the church, about 65 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 20 chil­dren, were in­side.

The singing was in full flow, Bell wrote later. The pas­tor Bobby Bain, son of a lo­cal farmer, was lead­ing the con­gre­ga­tion. They sang the hymn Are You Washed in the Blood? And as they be­gan the fi­nal verse, Lay aside the gar­ments that are stained by sin, the shoot­ing be­gan.

It was like the sound of peb­bles tin­kling off a win­dow pane, those present said later. The bul­lets that hit Harold Browne and Vic­tor Cun­ning­ham at the door struck them at point blank range and they died in­stantly.

David Wil­son, Bell’s spir­i­tual men­tor and friend, burst through the porch door and into the packed hall, blood stream­ing from his face. Still able to speak, how­ever, he shouted at ev­ery­one to take cover, get down un­der the benches, be­fore col­laps­ing by the emer­gency exit and dy­ing.

The gun­men car­ried on, fir­ing into the hall be­fore stop­ping, ap­par­ently to reload their guns and, from the out­side, spray­ing the side of the wooden hall.

In all, they fired about 70 bul­lets, 25 of them af­ter reload­ing.

In­side, Wil­liam Whyte took five bul­lets in his lower ab­domen. A bul­let grazed the flesh pro­tect­ing his wife’s spine, an­other passed through the trouser leg of their 18-month old son.

Sev­eral guns

Bobby and Muriel Her­ron were both hit in their legs.

Sally Bain, Pas­tor’s Bain’s daugh­ter, had her right el­bow shot off, the bul­let then hit­ting her thigh. Edith Kenny was wounded in her cheek. Nigel Whyte took a bul­let to his leg; his girl­friend Cathy in­jured the bridge of her nose and re­quired re­con­struc­tion surgery.

David Bell’s tape record­ing cap­tured the sound of the shoot­ing. Just 47 sec­onds long, it makes for un­com­fort­able lis­ten­ing. The snap­ping sound of gun­fire, the crack­ing and thud­ding noises of the weapons be­ing dis­charged and of bul­lets hit­ting home in­di­cate that sev­eral guns were used.

Be­hind the sound of fir­ing, screams can be heard.

At least one of the weapons was later traced to Do­minic McGlinchey, a no­to­ri­ous ter­ror­ist with the Ir­ish Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, the mil­i­tary wing of the Ir­ish Re­pub­li­can So­cial­ist Party. The atroc­ity – ac­cu­rately termed a mas­sacre by David Bell – was claimed by a flag of con­ve­nience or­gan- isa­tion, the non-ex­is­tent Catholic Re­ac­tion Force.

McGlinchey later ad­mit­ted that he pro­vided the guns, claimed not to have been oth­er­wise i nvolved and said he con­demned the at­tack.

It is hard to see God in the mur­der and shoot­ing of peo­ple wor­ship­ping, but David Bell sees Him clearly in all that hap­pened af­ter­wards.

No one thought that Wil­liam Whyte would live but he did. The pro­fuse bleed­ing from his stom­ach stopped as Pas­tor Bain prayed over him.

Sally Bain, then David Bell’s unan­nounced girl­friend, re­gained vir­tu­ally full func­tion of her right arm even though, in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the mas­sacre, LIAM MCBUR­NEY doc­tors con­sid­ered am­pu­ta­tion. She and Bell later mar­ried and have a grown- up daugh­ter.

“We see God in the af­ter­math of what hap­pened,” ex­plains Bell, who suc­ceeded Bob Bain as pas­tor in 1994.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the killings, Pas­tor Bain and oth­ers in the church said there should be no re­tal­i­a­tion – a view also ex­pressed by main­stream church lead­ers and politi­cians, north, south and in Bri­tain.

Car­di­nal Tomás Ó Fi­aich de­nounced the at­tack in stri­dent terms and the en­tire lo­cal com­mu­nity around Keady and Darkley, which is per­haps 90 per cent Ro­man Catholic, wrapped i tself around the church con­gre­ga­tion in sym­pa­thy.

Me­mo­rial tablet

“The sense of ab­hor­rence of the lo­cal peo­ple at what hap­pened, both within the Protes­tant com­mu­nity and the Catholic com­mu­nity, was very pow­er­ful,” says Pas­tor Bell.

At the time, the Moun­tain Lodge Pen­te­costal fel­low­ship was about 30 strong at its core. To­day, that has grown to around 65, some of the new mem­bers com­ing from south of the bor­der, some from Catholic back­grounds.

A new church was built in 1990. A block and con­crete struc­ture, it has a large as­sem­bly hall for wor­ship, sev­eral smaller meet­ing rooms and a kitchen.

Un­seen un­der the as­sem­bly hall, there’s a small heated pool for to­tal im­mer­sion bap­tisms (mean­ing re­born faith is no longer tested in the chilly wa­ters of nearby Lough Augh­nagur­gan).

There are signs ev­ery­where of nor­mal fam­ily and parish ac­tiv­ity, and the ter­ri­ble event of 1 983 is r emem­bered in a wall- mounted me­mo­rial tablet in­side the church door. Harold Browne, Vic­tor Cun­ning­ham and David Wil­son “who were killed by ter­ror­ists”, it says, adding “Who shall sep­a­rate us from the love of Christ” (Ro­mans 8.35).

If the mur­der­ers came to Moun­tain Lodge Church to­day, re­pent­ing of their sins and seek­ing for­give­ness, Pas­tor Bell would wel­come them openly.

“You never want such an ex­pe­ri­ence but af­ter it, you are able to em­pathise, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those that mourn,” he says.

“We are more about life than death. We have peace and com­fort know­ing that those who died were in right stand­ing and are in God’s pres­ence now.”

It is 35 years this month since the mas­sacre. Strong cross- com­mu­nity bonds have been built, no­tably through the pri­mary school in Darkley, which is al­most en­tirely Catholic in make-up. Pas­tor Bell says that as a Chris­tian church, their doors are open to ev­ery­one.

The spirit be­hind that sen­ti­ment is still not shared uni­ver­sally. The record­ing of the shoot­ing may be heard on YouTube ( search for Darkley Shoot­ings 21 Novem­ber 1983). In a com­ment, posted just four months ago, an anony­mous writer us­ing the moniker “Saoirse Go Deo 1986”, wrote the fol­low­ing: “Com­pletely jus­ti­fied. . . “It was in re­sponse to mem­bers of that con­gre­ga­tion of for­eign­ers launch­ing sec­tar­ian at­tacks against random Catholics. These peo­ple need to re­mem­ber that their [sic] in Ire­land not Eng­land and that if you want to at­tempt to eth­ni­cally cleanse the na­tive pop­u­la­tion, then the same treat­ment should be ex­pected back. Beir Bua!”

None of the peo­ple in Moun­tain Lodge Church were in­volved in any such ac­tiv­i­ties and none were con­nected to any of the se­cu­rity forces. All were born, raised and were liv­ing in the lo­cal­ity or close by.

Saoirse Go Deo (Ir­ish for Free­dom For Ever) is a slo­gan favoured by the INLA/ IRSP, and is used on com­m­me­o­ra­tive posters, badges and stick­ers as­so­ci­ated with the or­gan­i­sa­tion and dead mem­bers of the McGlinchey fam­ily.

The atroc­ity – ac­cu­rately termed a mas­sacre by David Bell – was claimed by a flag of con­ve­nience or­gan­i­sa­tion, the non-ex­is­tent Catholic Re­ac­tion Force

Pas­tor David Bell of Moun­tain Lodge Pen­te­costal Church who sur­vived the Darkley mas­sacre. “We have peace and com­fort know­ing that those who died were in right stand­ing and are in God’s pres­ence now.” PHO­TO­GRAPH:

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.