Candlelit vigil to mark 40th Anniversary of triple murders

December 14, 2015

This Saturday will mark the passing of forty years since the loyalist gun and bomb attack on Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge, which left three dead and shattered a community just days before Christmas.

Michael Donnelly (14), Patsy Donnelly (23) and father-of-three Trevor Brecknell (32) were killed in the attack on 19th December 1975.

In the years since the horrific triple murders, it has emerged that the attack was carried out by the notorious Glenanne Gang whose members included serving RUC officers and UDR soldiers.  Ultimately responsible for the murders of dozens of innocent civilians, the Glenanne Gang was able to operate with impunity, in total collusion with the security forces.

On the night of 18th December 1975, the gang members forced their way into the small, family-run public house in Silverbridge, spraying those inside with bullets while shouting “Here’s your Christmas present, you fenian b******s”.

In the aftermath, three were dead and dozens injured.  The youngest of the victims, Michael Donnelly, was aged just 14 and the son of the bar’s owner, Gerry, while another victim, Trevor Brecknell, was returning home after visiting his wife and two-day-old daughter in hospital.

The attack in Silverbridge was preceded just three hours earlier by another lethal bombing in Dundalk, where Hugh Watters (aged 60) and Jack Rooney (aged 61) were killed by members of the same gang at Kay’s Tavern in the town.

Their mission complete, the killer gang then retired to a bar in Banbridge where they ‘celebrated’ their night’s ‘work’ in the company of other loyalists and supporters.  The untold physical and mental pain and misery they left in their wake was just beginning.


This Friday at 9pm, relatives, neighbours and friends of the three people killed at Donnelly’s Bar will join some of those injured in the incident, along the bereaved of other attacks by the same gang, at a candlelight vigil with recitation of a decade of the Rosary at the premises.

Paul O’Connor, of The Pat Finucane Centre, whose research has revealed much of the truth behind the attack, will address the gathering and refreshments will be served afterwards in Donnelly’s Bar, to which everyone is invited.


Information on those behind the attack on Donnelly’s Bar began to emerge 15 years ago when a former RUC Sergeant, John Weir, convicted of the murder of William Strathern in Ahoghill, County Antrim on 19 April 1977, was released from jail.  Weir began speaking about other attacks of which he had intimate knowledge, including Donnelly’s, and of how members of the RUC and UDR had been involved in wholesale murder throughout Counties Armagh, Tyrone and Down during the 1970s.  Their activities stretched across the border into Monaghan, Louth and Dublin (including the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of May 1974 in which 34 people perished).

Trevor Brecknell’s son, Alan, along with other relatives bereaved in the Donnelly’s Bar attack, began asking questions and drafted in campaigners from The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) in Derry.

They then contacted former Detective Inspector Gerry McCann, the RUC officer in charge of the original investigation into the murders at Donnelly’s Bar, who confirmed suspicions of collusion between the ‘security forces’ and the Mid-Ulster UVF – not only in that attack but in many others along the border.

After more than ten years of further intensive research, including archive searches in London, liaising with Justice for the Forgotten (JFF) in Dublin and the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), much of the truth behind the attack on Donnelly’s Bar could finally be told.

A book entitled ‘Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland’ was finally written (by former journalist Anne Cadwallader), collating all the information gathered by the PFC, JFF and the HET.

The book has sold over 20,000 copies and its contents have been raised at the House of Commons, Dáil Éireann and at Congressional hearings in Washington DC.  It is currently the subject of a full-length feature-documentary film under production by Sean Murray of Relapse Pictures in Belfast.