A commemoration marking the 30th anniversary of a Troubles shooting that claimed eight lives has been warned of the risks posed by those wanting to drag Northern Ireland backwards.
Monsignor Andrew Dolan also expressed frustration that sometimes the common good in the present day was being trumped by self-interest, as he made reference to the political stalemate at Stormont and the instability it was creating.
Eight civilians, both Catholics and Protestants, died when the Rising Sun bar in the Co Londonderry village of Greysteel was attacked on October 30 1993.
Seven were killed on the night, while the eighth victim died several months later from their injuries.
One of the UDA/UFF gunmen involved shouted “trick or treat” before pulling the trigger.
The victims were Karen Thompson, 19, Steven Mullan, 20, Moira Duddy, 59, Joseph McDermott, 60, James Moore, 81, John Moyne, 50, John Burns, 54 and Victor Montgomery, 76.
A memorial mass was held at the Star Of The Sea Church in the area on Monday evening – a service also attended by members of Protestant congregations.
Afterwards, a cross-community wreath-laying ceremony and service took place at the memorial to the shooting at the bar.
The atrocity came just days after a Provisional IRA bomb killed nine people at a fish shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast, and was regarded as a retaliatory attack by loyalists. One of the IRA bombers was also killed in the Shankill Road blast.
As well as the bloodshed at Greysteel, six men died in other attacks in the days following the Shankill attack.
Monsignor Dolan told Monday night’s commemorative event at the church that society was staring into the “abyss” after Greysteel.
He expressed relief that people chose a different future in the years after, but warned there were those in society who wanted a return to the violence of the past.
He also warned of the instability created by the powersharing vacuum at Stormont.
“Thankfully those headlines that we nearly took for granted day and daily did disappear,” he said.
“But you know we have to say there are still some who hanker after violence.
“Some who still pursue a kind of a scorched earth philosophy. And, sadly, there will always be vulnerable people drawn to it, soft targets.”
Family members of those who died held candles in memory of their loved ones at the service.
Children from nearby Faughanvale Primary School sang during the mass.
Monsignor Dolan said some of the “godfathers” who orchestrated such attacks during the Troubles still remain safe in their “bunkers and hideouts” 30 years on.
“But truth eventually outs and in today’s climate of political impasse the common good again sometimes seems to be relegated to second place because personal interest and so on come before the common good,” he said.
“And then you have people without any sort of public mandate speaking in sort of threatening tones if things don’t go their way.
“Is this a coincidence or not? Is it, or does it say something about our society that when we were gathered here five years ago (for the 25th anniversary), the Assembly wasn’t functioning then either.
“And those sort of moments do leave the ground under us just that bit less solid, we could say.
“Our message again is: beware of those who would like to turn the clock back to the ‘good old days’ – the good old days that never existed.
“And you know, when you look today at the news nightly, or whatever time you turn it on, we don’t need any lessons on the futility of violence.”
Monsignor Dolan paid tribute to the dignity and bravery of whose who had been injured or lost loved ones.
He said the “heinous evil” inflicted upon the community broke hearts, but failed to break its spirit.
“We are a people united in our Christian faith, united too of course in grief and memory of loved ones, friends and neighbours who died in such horrible, awful circumstances and indeed for you who are still carrying some of the physical wounds and effects of trauma over the years, you are very much in our thoughts and prayers this evening,” he said.
“A special remembrance too for those who were part of the whole experience who have gone from us in the intervening time over 30 years.”
The cleric hailed all those who helped in the aftermath of the shooting at the Rising Sun Bar.
“The dark cloud of murder and mayhem that was inflicted on this community still hangs over it,” he said.
“Especially for you who lost loved ones and who sustained such horrific and life-threatening injuries. And the same for everybody in this community and beyond, many have been affected by the loss of neighbours and friends and colleagues and, I suppose reflecting in that way, we just have to dig in and say we live with the fact that life can never be the same again.
“Who in their worst nightmare as an individual or family or community could ever think that they would be caught up and such heinous evil, hate-filled bloodshed?”
Monsignor Dolan said the people of Greysteel would always remember the “freeze moment” when the atrocity that claimed eight lives happened.
“The timeless moment, the indelible mark, no delete button can take it out of the memory or the psyche of the people here,” he said.
He spoke of the dignity, bravery and togetherness of the community in the years since the murders.
“It demonstrates for us that such evil, whatever the motivation, whatever the reason for setting up the Rising Sun and this community as a target, it could not break your spirits, whatever about breaking hearts.
“Above all it demonstrates the futility of violence of any kind, certainly the futility of such extreme violence.
“Retaliation has never eased anybody’s pain.
“Thankfully, in this case, it began, among other things, to turn minds towards something better, rather than continuing down the vortex of further violence.”
Monsignor Dolan urged today’s generation to build on the sacrifices of those who died at Greysteel.
“A sacrifice of life and loss and indeed in other communities as well,” he said.
“Ours hopefully will be a future where hearts and minds have changed. Not just that we’re not doing harm to each other, but we are concerned out of a love and respect for each other and that our future will be a future not looking back on the ‘good old days’, but one that will be full of many good days from here on.
“The younger generation, I say to you, the best memorial you will have to those who have lost their lives, to those who still carry the scars and pain of injury along with the loss of loved ones, I say, how you look and how you live and move that will be the best memorial.
“I am thinking of the memorial indeed in front of the Rising Sun with its words – ‘may their sacrifice be our path to peace’.”