herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Showband star Fran is honoured by home town 40 years after his murder

memorial

Peter Carroll, right, with Brendan Thornhill, Chairperson of Bray Municipal Council, at the Fran O'Toole Bridge. Bray,
Peter Carroll, right, with Brendan Thornhill, Chairperson of Bray Municipal Council, at the Fran O'Toole Bridge. Bray,
Fran O'Toole
Fran O'Toole funeral

THE hometown of Miami Showband massacre victim Fran O'Toole will honour his memory in a series of events today.

The main bridge in Bray will be named the Fran O'Toole Bridge at 2.30pm to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of one of Ireland's most popular music performers.

The charismatic, handsome and talented young singer and songwriter was 28 when savagely murdered by loyalists along with fellow musicians Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty in the infamous attack in County Down in 1975.

He had lived in Bray with his wife Valerie and their two young daughters.

A plaque will be unveiled at 4pm on the house in Adelaide Road where he grew up.

The day will begin with a special Mass at Saint Peter's Church at 10am.

Gunmen

Tonight, the reformed Miami Showband will perform in a sold-out concert in the town's Mermaid Theatre.

Fr Brian D'Arcy, chaplain to Ireland's musicians for decades, will celebrate the Mass.

"Naming a bridge after Fran is a wonderful idea as a bridge is an excellent symbol of what Fran and the band were doing back in the Seventies.

"The music of the showbands was a bridge between the two communities in Northern Ireland and was a bridge between North and South," said Fr D'Arcy.

The Dublin-based band was returning home from a gig in County Down when their minibus was stopped by loyalist UVF gunmen dressed in British army uniforms at a bogus checkpoint on a quiet country road late at night.

The five band members were told to stand facing a ditch with their hands on their heads. Two of the gunmen hid a time-bomb in the boot of the minibus. If the band were killed later by the bomb, they could then be blamed as IRA bomb smugglers.

But the bomb exploded prematurely, killing two of the gunmen. The band members were blown off their feet. Other UVF members opened fire on the musicians, killing three of them and seriously wounding bass player Steven Travers.

Saxophone player Des McAlea was saved because he was blown into heavy undergrowth.

Two serving Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers and one former soldier were found guilty of the murders and received life sentences. The Miami had both catholic and protestant musicians. Trumpeter Brian McCoy (32) was the son of an Orange Order grandmaster.

The events in Bray today are the result of the efforts of local man Peter Carroll (52) who launched a campaign to persuade the council to honour Fran.

"I remember the terrible gloom in Bray when he was murdered. I felt really strongly he should be commemorated in his hometown after all these years," he said.

Energy

Local councillor Brendan Thornhill responded by successfully proposing the bridge over the Dargle be named in the singer's honour.

David O'Toole (51) said the extended O'Toole family was delighted Fran was being honoured. "He was full of energy with a huge enthusiasm for music," he said.

Herald columnist Eamon Carr, a close friend of Fran, said: "Fran could have been a major figure on the world stage but he was cut down in his prime."

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