June Butler checks out the Netflix doc The Miami Showband Massacre directed by Stuart Sender recounting a horrific attack on 31st July 1975 by the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Early one July morning in 1975, a group of musicians calling themselves The Miami Showband were returning to Dublin from a gig in Northern Ireland. In the distance, they could see the torches of soldiers flagging them down in what appeared to be an official forces checkpoint prior to crossing the border into Southern Ireland. Preoccupied by their earlier success and unaware of any danger, the driver pulled into a lay-by and the band members exited the van. They later recalled how the soldiers joked and bantered as their identification was verified. One member of the band murmured that they would be ‘away quickly’ because it was the British Army (Ulster Defence Regiment) who were conducting the check. Stephen Travers, the bass player with the Miami Showband, heard the van door slide open. Seconds later, a bomb exploded killing two of the soldiers. Travers was thrown into the adjoining field by the force of the blast. He and another surviving member, Des Lee, later recalled how the bantering soldiers turned on them and started firing indiscriminately into the thicket where both parties lay wounded. In the distance, Travers could hear Fran O’Toole, the lead singer with the band, begging for his life. Seconds later a shot rang out and O’Toole lay dead. When Des Lee, who was the only person still standing after the blast, returned to the roadside, all he could see was a river of blood and body parts strewn on the tarmac. Lee managed to raise the alarm and Travers was brought to hospital where he recovered physically but mental scars remained.
In 2015, on the fortieth anniversary of the murders, and in the lead-up prior to this, Stephen Travers started investigating the events of that fateful night. Travers maintained that he owed it to the memory of his friends to properly examine the true nature of the affair. It transpired that the men who flagged them down were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force wearing uniforms representing the Ulster Defence Regiment. Two of the dead ‘soldiers’ from the bogus checkpoint were later confirmed as members of the illegal organisation. Both Travers and Lee have persistently argued that there was collusion between the armed forces and groups such as the UVF. Travers has always maintained that he heard a British accent from the commander of the checkpoint. Further investigation shows British Army personnel who agreed with Travers line of thinking and who also raised concerns with their commanding officers regarding complicity between the UVF and the British Army. It is clear that Stephen Travers is not a man to be thwarted and as he says himself, it takes a while for him to turn but when he does, he will not be deflected.
Stephen Travers is the central figure in this journey – Des Lee also plays a pivotal role but it is essentially Travers who relentlessly pursues the veracity of what really occurred. And while Travers is a haunted man, his passage to actuality has banished the darkness and allowed a life not authentically lived to bloom and flourish. The documentary is a must-see. It is horrific to hear the accounts of what happened but Travers accepts he is on a critical path – one that must not be diverted from regardless of what answers might come.