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THE TROUBLES,
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND, 1988

Milltown Cemetery Massacre, March 16, 1988

"Milltown Cemetery on that day was probably the most scared I have been and set in train a number of incidents that had Belfast set to explode in an orgy of sectarian hatred."
-
Richard Moore

 

 

 

 

 

I flew into Belfast from London on March 15, 1988.

A funeral was to be held the next day for three IRA volunteers who had been killed by the SAS while they were planning a bombing in Gibraltar.

The trio - Danny McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell - were going to detonate a car bomb at the Governor's residence during the weekly changing of the guard.

The main target of the attack were bandsmen of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

It wasn't the first time the IRA had gone after military bandsmen. On July 20, 1982, two bombs were detonated - one in Hyde Park the other in Regent's Park.

The Hyde Park nail bomb killed three soldiers of the Blues and Royals outright and a fiourth died later of his wounds. Many other soldiers were badly hurt, as were tourists watching the parade. Seven of the regiment's horses were also killed or had to be put down.

In Regent's Park the IRA placed a time bomb in the bandstand at which a concert of Oliver music was going to be played by the Royal Green Jackets musicians. Seven bandsmen died and scores of other people were hurt by shrapnel.

The funeral for McCann, Savage and Farrell was on March 16, 1988, in the republican area of Milltown Cemetery.

The cortege that wound through the streets of West Belfast was huge, with more than 3000 mourners - and a huge contingent of media - following it.

It was an amazing procession and I joined it fully expecting some form of public disorder, although never for a moment did I expect the attack that followed.

I took a lot of photos of the procession, which you can see on these pages, and stood by the graveside as the three coffins were prepared.

Leading republican figures Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were within metres of me.

Apparently they were the target for Michael Stone, a Protestant paramilitary terrorist, who went to the funeral with murder on his mind.

As the coffins were being lowered pandemonium broke out as Stone hurled grenades into the crowd.

We had absolutely no idea what was going on. We could hear the explosions and the screams and IRA officials yelling at poeople to duck down.

I took up a position behind a headstone but as further explosions sounded, I was not sure if it was grenades or a mortar attack being launched at the cemetery.

Then things got really scary when some started yelling the attacker was a photographer. One press photographer was beaten and had to be rescued by officials.

Jerry Adams called for calm, something that was in very short supply. Stone eventually began to try to make his escape, but was chased down by the crowd.

He shot three men fatally before being grabbed and beaten by the irate mourners. He was bundled into a black cab and was to be take away to be shot when the RUC arrived and arrested him.

A Danish photographer and I were picked up by a lovely Catholic couple who thought we were in danger and they took us back to the city centre and safety.

I would catch up with them again under very different circumstances.

Milltown Cemetery on that day was probably the most scared I have been and set in train a number of incidents that had Belfast set to explode in an orgy of sectarian hatred.

- Richard Moore

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