#onthisday in 1988 – At Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast, a gunman killed three mourners and injured at least 50 people attending a funeral for IRA members Maireád Farrell, Daniel McCann, and Sean Savage executed in Gibraltar.

Loyalist gunman Michael Stone kills three people at a funeral for IRA members (Maireád Farrell, 31, Daniel McCann, 30, and Sean Savage, 23,) who were executed in Gibraltar by SAS troops. Stone wanted to kill Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and others whom he believed to be members of the IRA. He claimed the attack was in retaliation for the IRA bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day which killed 11. The events of this day would have horrible repercussions some days later.

The funeral service and requiem mass went ahead as planned, and the cortege made its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present were thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hovered overhead. Stone claimed that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners. As the third coffin was about to be lowered into the ground, Stone threw two grenades—which had a seven-second delay—toward the republican plot and began shooting.

At the funeral three mourners were killed and more than 50 injured, after shots were fired and grenades were thrown at the 10,000 strong crowd. The Ulster Defence Association, the largest Protestant paramilitary group, denied any involvement in the attack. Sinn Féin and others ‘claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals’. Stone later claimed he had assurances that British soldiers and RUC officers would not be deployed in the graveyard and had detailed information about British Army and RUC movements. Stone wrote that, the night before the attack, he was ‘given his pick of weapons from an Ulster Resistance cache at a secret location outside Belfast’ and was ‘driven back into the city by a member of the RUC’.

Three days after the Milltown killings, one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, was being buried when two plain-clothes British Army Corporals (Derek Wood and David Howes) in an unmarked car drove into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Some of those present, believing the soldiers to be loyalist gunmen, surrounded and attacked their car. Corporal Wood drew his service pistol and fired a shot in the air. The two men were then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by republicans. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it was filmed by television news cameras.

Many hardline loyalists saw Stone as a hero and he became a loyalist icon. In March 1989, he was convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences. He received sentences totaling 682 years, but was released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Stone later published an autobiography, ‘None Shall Divide Us’, which included an account of the attack, and paid tribute to the bravery of two of the men killed while pursuing him at the cemetery (Murray and Mac Brádaigh). Stone said in the book ‘I didn’t choose killing as a career, killing chose me.’

Milltown Massacre: https://youtu.be/f9tyEa6QWHY

Photo: A memorial in Milltown Cemetery to the ‘Gibraltar Three’ and to the three men killed in the attack on their funeral.

Advertisements

Posted by

Stair na hÉireann is steeped in Ireland's turbulent history, culture, ancient secrets and thousands of places that link us to our past and the present. With insight to folklore, literature, art, and music, you’ll experience an irresistible tour through the remarkable Emerald Isle.