Son of Darkley church elder ‘harbours no bitterness’ but ‘feels injustice’

Darkley memorial. Pic Pacemaker
Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church as it stands today Credit: Google maps

The son of a church elder killed by republican terrorists said he “harbours no bitterness”, but feels a sense of injustice.

Three people were killed and seven injured when gunmen attacked the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church, near Darkley in Co Armagh, on November 20, 1983.

The atrocity was claimed by the “Catholic Reaction Force” but later reports linked the INLA to the shootings.

Church elders Harold Browne, 59, Victor Cunningham, 39, and David Wilson, 44, were killed in the attack, which has been described as among the most chilling in Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The church will hold a service on Sunday ahead of the fortieth anniversary.

Mr Browne’s son, David, said the men “didn’t stand a chance”.

“Dad was a Christian and upright man and took his role as an elder within the church seriously, he was well respected throughout the Mountain Lodge community of people but much beyond this,” he said.

“Dad didn’t stand a chance that fateful might, his instinct was to try and protect others from harm and injury but in doing so, he himself paid with his life.”

He said 40 years later it is still raw for him.

“Forty years is seen by some as a long time, you’ll hear that phrase, lots of water under the bridge. For me there remains stagnant water under the bridge which cannot flow,” he said.

“I do not harbour bitterness, hate or resentment for what happened but I do have strong feelings of injustice, a wonderful man, my earthly father was taken away from us, and that was no-one’s right.

“Today it is still raw.

“I remember a special man who lived life well, who lived to serve others, but most importantly for him, he lived his life by the values set down by his heavenly father.”

Church elders Harold Browne, 59, Victor Cunningham, 39, and David Wilson, 44, were killed in the attack.

Kenny Donaldson from the victims’ group SEFF described the attack as “amongst the most chilling of the years of the years of the terrorist campaign”.

“Attacking Christian people whilst they praised God was and remains a particularly dark act designed to terrorise.

“Those impacted by the Mountain Lodge attack have refrained from using ugly language over the years, the leadership they have quietly given should not be easily discounted.

“Our thoughts, prayers and support remains with the families.”

DUP MLA William Irwin described the Darkley massacre “as one of the most horrific atrocities of the Troubles”.

“The attack in Darkley was indiscriminate sectarian murder of innocent people as they worshipped on a Sunday evening.

“Harold Brown, Victor Cunningham, David Wilson and every other member of the congregation that evening were targeted because of their faith and were easy targets in the small isolated wooden building,” he said.

“Even amongst the horrors of the Troubles, Darkley stands as one of the most horrific atrocities, as gunmen stood outside the church, reloading their weapons to then spray the building with gunfire again.

“Mountain Lodge has seen the murder of its members and arson attacks on its premises on two separate occasions.

“Even after 40 years it is difficult to comprehend the mindset of those who perpetrated this atrocity.

“It is also hard to find a more glaring contrast than between those who were inside the building that evening and the gunmen who attacked them indiscriminately.

“It is also difficult to comprehend how, even after four decades, there are still those in our society who eulogise and celebrate the types of individuals who were involved in preparing and perpetrating this massacre.”

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