On October 23, 1993, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb prematurely explodes as the bombers carry it into a fishmongers on the Shankill Road in Belfast. The IRA’s intended target is a meeting of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leaders, including brigadier Johnny Adair, which is to take place in a room above the shop. Unknown to the IRA, the meeting had been rescheduled. Eight Protestant civilians, a UDA member and one of the IRA bombers are killed in the blast. This became known as the Shankill Road bombing.
The UDA launches a number of “revenge attacks” for the bombing. Later that day, it fatally shoots a Catholic delivery driver after luring him to a bogus call at Vernon Court, Belfast. On October 26, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an attack at the Council Depot at Kennedy Way, Belfast.
The massacre is carefully planned. The order for the attack comes from the UDA leadership and it is believed Greysteel is chosen partly because it is well away from Belfast, where security force activity is intense after the Shankill bombing. Those involved in planning and organising it include Billy McFarland, ‘Brigadier’ of the UDA’s North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade. Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, all members of the brigade, are to carry out the shooting. The gunmen are first briefed on the plans for the massacre on October 27 in an office owned by the Ulster Democratic Party at Bond’s Place, Londonderry. Before the massacre, the gunmen go to the pub to familiarise themselves with the layout and choose the best positions to shoot from.
On Saturday, October 30, the gunmen drive to the pub in an Opel Kadett, with UDA member Brian McNeill driving a ‘scout car’ in front. Just before 10:00 PM the three gunmen, wearing blue boilersuits and balaclavas, enter the “Rising Sun Bar” in Greysteel. There are at least 70 people inside attending a Halloween party and at first some believe the men are playing a Halloween prank. Stephen Irwin yells “trick or treat” as he opens fire with a vz. 58 assault rifle on the packed crowd in the lounge. He keeps shooting until the magazine empties, quickly reloads and continues shooting. Geoffrey Deeney opens fire with a 9mm handgun at a fleeing woman, but it jams after one shot. Torrens Knight, armed with a shotgun, guards the entrance while the shooting is taking place. There is panic and screaming as people scramble for cover and women plead for mercy. The scene in the Rising Sun is described as “hell-like”; bodies lay everywhere and the lounge and dancefloor are covered with blood and broken glass. The gunmen, laughing, then make their escape in the Opel Kadett driven by Knight. While driving away from Greysteel, the getaway car’s wing mirror is hit by a police car speeding towards the scene. The gunmen drive the Kadett to a pick-up point near Eglinton, where they meet McNeill and burn the car.
Seven people are killed outright and nineteen are wounded, with another later dying of his wounds. The dead are Karen Thompson (19), Steven Mullan (20), Moira Duddy (59), Joseph McDermott (60), James Moore (81), John Moyne (50), John Burns (54) and Victor Montgomery (76). Six of those killed are Catholic civilians and two are Protestant civilians.
The following day, the UDA claims responsibility for the attack using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). Its statement says that the “Greysteel raid” is “the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday’s slaughter of nine Protestants.” A UDA West Belfast Brigade member claims that his organisation “had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun… Unfortunately they were not there on Halloween but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given.” Afterwards, the gunmen are said to have boasted about the killings.
The UDA members involved are arrested shortly after the massacre. During their first court appearance, Knight is filmed laughing, taunting and shouting abuse at the victims’ relatives as he is led from the building. In February 1995, Irwin, Deeney, Knight and McNeill are sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. Knight is also convicted for the Castlerock killings. In 2000, they are released early, along with other paramilitary prisoners, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The pub is still open in Greysteel. There is a memorial to the victims outside the building that says: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”