The conflict known as the Troubles was a long war on many fronts. There were some people fighting against those they saw as invaders and oppressors and others fighting to show how loyal they were to the country they felt part of. There was also a propaganda war being fought as various groups tried to reach sympathetic audiences (and large pocketbooks) around the world. The third battleground was the deadliest of all and it was comprised of all the tit-for-tat, mostly Sectarian killings between various paramilitary groups. This last front resulted in the vast majority of civilian deaths throughout the region and it was the hardest to prepare for or justify. It includes the Devil’s Night massacre at the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, which happened on this day in 1993.
Ireland has a complicated relationship with religion. Many of its troubles in the last few hundred years are ultimately based in religious conflict and the church has ruled much of the island for centuries. But it wasn’t always so and some of its most-visited and well-known landmarks predate the Christian takeover of the island. Everywhere you go you can see signs of the old ways peeking through the hedges if you are looking for them. Many good Catholics will cross themselves or roll their eyes when they talk about the faeries but they also leave bowls of milk outside to appease them. You’ll still find iron in many doorways, though perhaps the reason it was placed there has been forgotten. As Samhain (more commonly known as Halloween) approaches, seasonal offerings left in fields, forts, tombs, and shrines increase all over Ireland. This time of year may not be the sanest time to go to the gateway to hell, but it certainly is the most appropriate one if you want to meet The Morríghan and her dark minions on one of the only nights they can escape the underworld.
41 years ago on Halloween a mysterious American man named “Mr. Leonard” pulled off a serious trick. He hired a helicopter for an ‘Aerial Photo shoot’ in Ireland. It was thought to be a scouting mission for a movie or a book of photography – at least that is what Mr. Leonard told Captain Thompson Boyes, the pilot. Captain Boyes was instructed to fly to a field in Stradbelly in order to grab the photography equipment but when he landed, he was met with armed gunmen instead. “Mr. Leonard” vanished from the scene while Captain Boyes got to know his new masked passengers, much to his own distress. He was informed that he would not be hurt as long as he followed instructions and he wasn’t but he wasn’t given a choice about being involved in a daring prison break either. If he wanted to live, he was going to aid in the escape of Irish Republican prisoners Seamus Twomey, JB O’Hagan, and Kevin Mallon from Mountjoy Prison.