It is widely accepted that the traditions of music and storytelling in Ireland, are among the most original and earliest forms of communication in Europe. The one thing that truly unites all the differing factions in Ireland is our love of and deep respect for music. Music unites, gladdens and crosses all of the invisible barriers. It knows no boundaries, borders or walls. It is color blind and deaf to prejudice of all stripes. It is a connection that started, with a race of people who inhabited Ireland in the ages past named the ‘Tuatha De Danann’ who bequeathed us with the gift of poetry and song.
More so than many other cultures, who use their music for listening pleasure only, music is hardwired in the Irish synapses, it’s embedded deep in our DNA. It is as much a part of us as the color of our eyes or the sound of our voice and coupled with its sister art of storytelling, has accompanied us on the never-ending journey worldwide, on our singular mission of unity. Whether it be a harp slung over the shoulder, a fiddle tucked under an arm, or a set of pipes leading us into battle, wherever we go, our music and song goes too.
The great music that emanated from the southern states of America, was brought there by Irish migrants, today we know it as ‘Bluegrass.’ Irish music influenced the sounds that came out of the Mississippi delta, and the bayous of the deep south, which would in time become known as the ‘Blues.” The old adage describing Ireland as the “Land of Saints and Scholars’ should, in my opinion, be amended to read “Land of Saints, Scholars and Minstrels.”
So then, it is little wonder and wholly understandable, that Ireland and indeed the world recoiled in horror when news broke in July 1975, recounting a horrific act of wanton evil, perpetrated in the dead of night, on a lonely stretch of road between the towns of Banbridge and Newry Co. Down. The Miami Showband, Irelands top music act, was travelling home to Dublin late at night after a performance in Banbridge. Halfway to Newry, their minibus was stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint, where gunmen in British Army uniforms ordered them to line up by the roadside.
At least four of the gunmen were serving soldiers from the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) but, unbeknownst to the band, all were members of the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF.) While two of the gunmen (both soldiers) were hiding a time bomb on the minibus, it exploded prematurely and killed them. The other gunmen then opened fire on the dazed band members, killing three and wounding two. It is believed the bomb was meant to explode en route, killing the band and framing them as IRA bomb-smugglers, and possibly leading to stricter security measures at the border.
Two serving British soldiers and one former British soldier were eventually found guilty of the murders and received life sentences; they were released in 1998. Those responsible for the attack belonged to the ‘Glenanne gang’ a secret alliance of loyalist militants, rogue police officers and British soldiers. There are also allegations that British military intelligence agents were involved. According to former Intelligence Corps Agent Captain Fred Holroyd, the killings were organised by British intelligence officer Robert Nairac, together with the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade and its commander Robin (the jackal) Jackson.
The Historical Enquiries Team, which investigated the killings, released their report to the victims’ families in December 2011. It confirmed that Jackson was linked to the attack by fingerprints.
The massacre dealt a blow to Northern Ireland’s live music scene, which had brought young Catholics and Protestants together. In a report published in the Sunday Mirror in 1999, Colin Wills called the Miami Showband attack “one of the worst atrocities in the 30-year history of the Troubles”. Irish Times diarist Frank McNally summed up the massacre as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time”.
The Miami Showband Massacre occurred 43 years ago in July 1975 and was just one in a long list of atrocities perpetrated against an innocent civilian population by the so called “Glenanne Gang.”