A DOCUMENTARY about the loyalist Glenanne Gang – who were thought to be responsible for more than 120 killings in an area of Mid Ulster once dubbed ‘murder triangle’ – took four years to complete.
West Belfast filmmaker Sean Murray said he could have made the film in two years but said it “wouldn’t have been the documentary he wanted to make”.
The film, which was funded from charitable donations, crowd funding and from the filmmaker’s own pocket, tells the story of a gang of loyalists, that included members of the security forces, involved in a sectarian campaign of terror from 1972 until 1978.
Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea, it finishes with a reading of the ‘Strand at Lough Beg’, the famous poem by Seamus Heaney he wrote in memory of his cousin Colum McCartney, who was shot dead by members of the Glennanne Gang dressed as UDR soldiers in Newtownhamilton in 1975.
“I contacted Stephen Rea probably about a year after we had started the film,” said Murray, the son of leading republican Sean ‘Spike’ Murray.
“The one condition he had was that he wanted approval from the Heaney family, which of course we needed to do anyway. Once we got that over the line Stephen was amazing and his voice really brings another dynamic to it.”
Catholic priests Fr Denis Faul and Fr Raymond Murray, who started to highlight the activities of the murder gang back in the 1970s, said at the time that the RUC had “a 100 per cent failure rate” when it came to convicting loyalists for murders in the area.
More than a decade ago the Pat Finucane Centre and journalist Anne Cadwallader started to research the activities of the Glenanne Gang.
The book, Unquiet Graves by Ms Cadwallader, provided the basis of the research for the documentary, which also takes the same name.
Howver in the course of the making of the film Mr Murray said he managed to uncover new details of how the gang operated after speaking to ex-RUC man and self confessed Glenanne gang member John Weir.
That meeting happened after Mr Murray was put in contact with the former RUC man by Margaret Urwin of the Justice for the Forgotten group, who had previously managed to link the gang to the Dublin Monaghan bombings which claimed the lives of 33 people and a full term unborn baby in May 1974.
Weir, who was convicted for the murder of Catholic shopkeeper William Strathearn in April 1977, currently lives in South Africa, where Mr Murray travelled to interview him last year.
“I asked him at the end of the interview did he regret it, and he told me he didn’t regret anything and he’d be a liar if he said did, but he’s very, very frank.
“With any of the people I spoke to it was about leaving some kind of legacy. I think they’ve looked back at what they’ve been involved in and they want to do something positive before they go.”
With the consultation on legacy arrangements currently underway the west Belfast man says storytelling, like the Glenanne documentary, should be a part of that healing process.
“The process isn’t just about the film being released, it was about people putting their trust in others to tell their story, to leave an historic legacy and documented narrative behind for future generations.
“To include some victims in the documentary and not all 120 was a very difficult creative decision to make, but one story is all their stories,” he added.
* Unquiet Graves will premier at Galway Film Festival on July 11, before going on tour.
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the origional story.