The year was 1975. The Miami Showband–one of the most popular showbands in Ireland for the preceding decade and consisting of three Presbyterians, two Roman Catholics and one member of the Church of Ireland, thereby bridging an important cultural gap at the time–was heading home for a gig in Bainbridge, Northern Ireland (with the exception of their drummer, Ray Miller).
They were stopped on the way at what appeared to be a routine military checkpoint. This was during what was known as The Troubles, eg the conflict over Northern Ireland, which is why something as creepy sounding as a “routine military checkpoint” was considered normal. Anyway, they stopped, but it turned out the uniformed men were part of the loyalist terror group Ulster Volunteer Force. But also, at least four of the men were serving in the British Army’s locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment.
At first, the men engaged in friendly banter with the band members, but their demeanor changed when another military man speaking with an “educated English” accent pulled up in another car and gave orders to the men. According to band member Stephen Travers, “Next thing, this very suave Englishman in lighter colored fatigues appeared. He had a posh, clipped English accent and, all of a sudden, all the banter and good humor immediately stopped. I believe that this guy was an English officer. He had a different colored cap and said he wanted our names and dates of birth.”
The UVF gunmen attempted to put an armed bomb on the musicians’ minibus, with the plan that it would kill them as they reached Newry in Northern Ireland and also make it appear that the band-members were smuggling weaponry. This would supposedly drive the government of Northern Ireland to tighten borders and further crack down on the IRA. But the bomb exploded before it could be loaded on the bus, killing two gunmen and throwing the band members into a nearby field.
While the blast did not kill the band members, the gunmen realized that they were now witnesses to both a fake checkpoint and bombing, and as such, chose to fix that. Members of the band were chased and shot at with “dum-dum” bullets, projectiles known to fragment and maximize damage. Fran O’Toole Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy all perished in the shootings.
Stephen Travers got hit by a dum-dum bullet, and survived by pretending to be dead. “Although I didn’t know it then, a dum-dum bullet had entered my right hip and exploded inside me. The rest of the bullet went through my left lung and exited under my left arm. I was crawling around and saying ‘everybody alright?’ but they’re dead.”
According to Des Lee, “The blast had blown me over the ditch into undergrowth. I pretended to be dead by holding my breath for as long as I could. All I could hear was screaming and gunfire. The hedge was on fire because of the van exploding. I realized, once the fire got right to my body. I was going to have to run. Then it quieted down and I heard people running. Then I heard somebody shouting ‘are you sure those bastards are all dead?’”
The UVF took credit for the killing within 12 hours, but they took a few liberties with the description of events, claiming the stuffy old British officer, Major Doyle, had been suspicious of the van and sent the men over to investigate when a bomb detonated and the occupants of the vehicle began to fire on them. The patrol sergeant supposedly ordered fire to be “returned.” According to the report, “it would appear that the UVF patrol surprised members of a terrorist organisation transferring weapons to the Miami Showband minibus and that an explosive device of some description was being carried by the Showband for an unlawful purpose. It is obvious, therefore, that the UVF patrol was justified in taking the action it did and that the killing of the three Showband members should be regarded as justifiable homicide.”
The IRA used the massacre to justify attacks in the following weeks. Some claim that the IRA’s gun and bomb attack on the loyalist Bayardo Bar in Belfast’s Shankill Road August 13 was carried out in retaliation for the Miami Showband Massacre. Irish Times writer Frank McNally described the event as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time.” (The Irish Times 2010)
For more about this incident and its impact, check out the episode!
Belfast Telegraph: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/glenanne-gang-witnesses-and-victims-relatives-are-dying-without-closure-on-suspected-state-collusion-high-court-hears-36297954.html
For more Unpopular Opinion, subscribe to all of our podcasts for just $5/month on Patreon. You should also check out our YouTube page to see us do video stuff a little now and a lot more in the future.