OVER 300 people attended a poignant memorial service in Ballykelly on Sunday for the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Droppin Well pub.
BY NIALL DEENEY
On December 6, 1982, 17 people were killed as the roof of the Ballykelly bar came crashing down on the young people enjoying the entertainment at a disco. Of all those to lose their lives, none had yet reached the age of 30.
Amongst the dead were 11 soldiers and six civilians. The Cheshire Regiment bore the brunt of the majority of army deaths. The memorial service in Tamlaghtfinlagan Church was organised by the Limavady Branch of The Cheshire Regiment Association.
In attendance were the families of those who lost their lives or were injured in the INLA bombing, alongside representatives from the British Army and local political leaders.
Wreaths were laid in the garden of remembrance at the Church’s rear by families of the dead. Relatives of the soldiers who lost their lives had also travelled from England and other parts of the British Isles to pay their respects.
Addressing the congregation, Bishop of Derry Ken Good, said that the 17 people who lost their lives came to a “violent, shocking and untimely end thirty years ago.”
His sermon focussed on the darkness of that night, but he also said that rising from the darkness of the massacre were stories of courage, bravery and self-sacrifice which helped light shine even on such a dark night.
After the service, the military flags, emblems and standards were lowered and a lone piper played as the bereaved laid wreaths in the garden of remembrance.
An oak tree was planted in the memorial garden to mark the thirtieth anniversary, with the bereaved invited to turn the soil. The oak leaf and acorn is one of the emblems of the Cheshire Regiment.
Bishop Ken Good’s sermon focussed on the darkness of the atrocity and the light of those who displayed bravery to rescue survivors from the slaughter: “The sixth of December 1982 was indeed a very dark night in this community. We are here to remember the thirty others who were seriously injured that night, the many people whose lives were scarred and damaged, aggrieved or hurt by that atrocity on a very dark night.
“We are here to support and encourage one another, to pray for strength and hope and faith, especially for the families who were directly involved and to remind them that they are not forgotten.
“We want to again remember and pay tribute to those who made heroic efforts that night to come to the aid of those who were in distress – emergency services, police, military personnel, medical services, clergy and many others.
“We have heard, all of us I think, some remarkable stories and accounts of gallant conduct by many people who displayed bravery and self-sacrificial devotion to duty. We acknowledge that before God today.
“We salute each of them and to you we say thank you, if you were among them that night, that you allowed light to shine through that dark, dark night.”
Amongst those who displayed bravery and self-sacrificial devotion to duty were fire-fighter Paul O’Kane and army medic Steve ‘Taffy’ Horvath.
After the service, Mr O’Kane came face to face for the first time with the son of a woman whose life he saved. Steven Lockett’s mother Nicola (neé George) was rescued from the rubble of the devastated pub by Paul O’Kane and other fire-fighters and later treated for her injuries by army medic Steve Horvath.
Steven, speaking to Paul after the service, said: “I have to say it is an absolute pleasure to meet you. The way I look at it, if you hadn’t have done what you done and Taffy hadn’t have done what he done, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”