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Saturday, 16 March 2013

16 March 1988:

The Milltown Cemetary Attack in Belfast on this day. Mourners at the funeral of the three IRA Volunteers shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar came under gun and grenade attack by a Loyalist assassin called Michael Stone. There were many thousands of people in attendance at what was the biggest cortege seen in the City since the burials of the H Block Hunger Strikers in 1981.

Stone clearly has advanced knowledge that for the first time in many years there would not be a strong presence of the Crown Forces at a Republican Funeral. He was able to enter the grounds of the cemetery unchallenged and mingle with the crowd. As the last of the coffins was being lowered into the ground he struck, throwing a number of light grenades into the mourners. He then opened fire with a semi automatic pistol that hit more people. Shock and panic ensued as people dived for cover.

Very soon though it became apparent from which direction the deadly hail of bombs and bullets was coming from and that only one man was involved. Chase was soon given as Stone bolted from the scene pursued by scores of men and youths. As he ran he turned quite a few times to open fire on his pursuers. A number of men fell, two of whom were mortally wounded. 

Stone just made it to the motorway at the bottom of Milltown Cemetery were he evidently expected to be picked up by an accomplice. By this stage he was out of ammunition and at the mercy of the crowd. He frantically tried to stop passing vehicles in order to escape  but to no avail. He was then caught and badly beaten and facing certain death when he was rescued by the RUC who by now had been alerted to what was happening.

Thomas McErlean, John Murray and IRA Volunteer Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh died in Stone’s murderous attack and another 60 people were wounded and injured. 

In the 19 March issue of the Irish Times, columnist Kevin Myers, a steadfast critic of republicanism, wrote:

"Unarmed young men charged against the man hurling grenades and firing an automatic pistol ...The young men stalking their quarry repeatedly came under fire; they were repeatedly bombed; they repeatedly advanced. Indeed this was not simply bravery; this was a heroism which in other circumstances, I have no doubt, would have won the highest military decorations".

For his actions that day Stone was handed down a sentence of over 600 years in March 1989, but under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 he was set free after serving just 12 years for his crimes that day. He is currently back in prison after a botched attack on Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont in 2006.