Northern Ireland

Families emotion as Irish football team mark 1994 Loughinisland atrocity

The Heights Bar, Loughinisland Image copyright PA
Image caption Six men were shot dead as they watched a football match in Loughinisland in 1994

Relatives of six men shot dead in a County Down bar as they watched a football match have spoken of their pride that the Republic of Ireland team has paid tribute to the victims.

Six Catholics were shot dead by loyalists in Loughinisland as they watched the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup on 18 June 1994.

On Monday night, exactly 18 years later, Republic of Ireland players wore black arm bands as a mark of respect during their Euro 2012 match against Italy.

The men were killed when members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) walked into the Heights Bar and began shooting indiscriminately.

It was one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Image caption Clare Rogan lost her husband, Adrian, in the gun attack

Bereaved relatives and friends gathered in the bar on Monday night and there was a minute's silence as the teams lined up.

For many, it was a very emotional night.

Kevin Gordon, who walked in to the bar immediately after the shooting, said the six men had been innocent victims who had not been offending anyone.

He said the arm band tribute was a "very nice gesture".

Pub landlord Hugh O'Toole said: "It is very emotional. You nearly break down thinking about it."

Another fellow said: "It is a great honour for Loughinisland to be remembered."

The six men who died were Adrian Rogan, 34, Patrick O'Hare, 35, Eamon Byrne, 39, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Daniel McCreanor 59, and Barney Greene, 87.

Adrian Rogan's daughter, Emma, said she was proud that so many people had come out to remember the dead.

Image caption Hugh O'Toole spoke of the emotional of Monday night

Her mother, Clare, said she was "absolutely overwhelmed" by the support on Monday and during the memorial weekend, dedicated to the victims.

"As for the players wearing black arms bands, it's such a tribute to the ones that died and those who were injured and indeed to the whole community, just to know that we haven't been forgotten."

Among the crowd were Protestant relatives of other UVF victims.

Paul McIlwaine whose son, David, was murdered by the UVF in in Tandragee 2000 said he supported the black arm bands being worn, despite objections from some loyalist leaders.

"I was reading comments from the UDA commander Jackie McDonald and I thought they were outrageous. It was an absolute disgrace. And it's not the views of all the Protestant people and I wouldn't associate with them at all.

"My wife and I felt we should come down in support. It's great to see so many people standing together"

UEFA agreed to the commemoration last month after the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) made the request on behalf of the victims' families.

In the years since the Loughinisland massacre, sixteen people have been arrested in connection with the attack but no-one has been convicted and there have been allegations of collusion between the UVF gang and the police.

Last June, a police ombudsman's report into the killings concluded that the police failed to properly investigate the loyalist attack but it found insufficient evidence of security force collusion.

The Loughinisland families have rejected the findings of the report and have mounted a legal challenge to have Al Hutchinson's findings quashed.

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