Miami Showband: A simple memorial and a chance encounter lights up the darkness
Through all the years of terrible tragedy and sickening violence, it stood out as one of the most shocking losses of innocents.
It'll be 44 years this Wednesday since members of the Miami Showband were massacred while driving from a gig in Banbridge.
UVF thugs murdered three of the band: Fran O'Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty that night, on the side of a darkened road between Newry and Banbridge on July 31, 1975. Fr Brian D'Arcy would later call it the “day the music died”.
As Fr D’Arcy also lamented in the book ‘From the Candy Store to the Galtymore’: “If you were going to attack a band for sectarian reasons, the Miami band was the worst choice you could make”, what with both catholics and protestants making up the band.
Eddie Marmion, from Cooley, was playing up the road in Banbridge that same night. The Cooley man was a drummer and singer with many different showbands back in those days, and many times they were the warm-up act for the Miami band. He was good friends with the singer Fran O'Toole and when he thinks back to that night, a deep sadness flashes across his now older face.
He recalls, with a smile though, some of the moments he did have with Fran.
“Fran used to sing in a high register, like me, and it was difficult on the vocal chords, so I told him one night to use Listerine. A while later he came up to me and thanked me for the tip, it had worked a charm.”
Two weeks ago Eddie traveled up to the scene of that awful tragedy on the side of a road near Buskhill were the members of Miami were murdered.
There used be an old bus shelter there, at the spot were the innocent men were brutally killed, it's gone now though. There’s just a patch of scrub ground on the side of the quiet road.
Eddie noted a few tattered old ribbons which marked the site.
With him he had brought his own, small memorial. A wooden frame which said: ‘In memory of all the people who lost their lives on the 31st of July 1975. May They Rest In Peace’. Beside it he placed some flowers. Simple, yet poignant.
“He was a good looking man,” Eddie recalls during our conversation, referring to the widespread appeal of Fran O'Toole and the band.
In the intervening 44 years, all of those ultimately responsible for the planning and carrying out of the atrocity have yet to face justice. For Eddie and so many others, it is a long, ongoing wait. But, like so much darkness that befell the people of this island during the Troubles, and afterwards, there are flashes of light pushing through; even to this day.
“When I was placing the memorial last week,” Eddie explains, “I realised there was very little soil about to place the stake for the frame and put down the flowers.”
He looked across the road and saw, of all things, a local gun club.
“I just went up and asked for some water and then I saw a bucket which I could use to gather some soil, I asked for a lend of them.
“The man said ‘absolutely’, and ‘take them’. I learned that he was from South Armagh. I explained to him what I was doing. He said to me not to worry about watering the flowers, he said he’d do it, and that he’d keep doing it.”
Eddie was taken aback by such kindness. He felt he wanted to offer them something in return. As he works for Teeling Distillery here in Dundalk, he offered to give the members of the gun club a whiskey tasting opportunity.
“I asked him how many were in the gun club committee and the South Armagh man said about 40. Then I asked how many members are there in total and he said about 500”. Eddie laughed at that point - with bigger numbers comes a bigger bill!
But Eddie is currently working on bringing the members of the gun club down to the Cooley Kickhams facility to have a dinner night for them. He is also keen to have a more permanent memorial erected on the side of the road.
44 years after the terrible loss of the Miami Showband, and despite the lack of closure for the families, some goodness prevails.