Sunday Life

Loyalists at war: Shot boy in the head

26 September 2004

THE UDA's top assassin led a Christmas bid at mass-murder in a west Belfast bar, described as "one of the worst incidents of the Troubles".

Stephen McKeag is believed to have carried out more than a dozen murders, and was one of the most dangerous men in Ulster, throughout the 1990s.

Among his operations came one - just three days before Christmas 1991 - when a massacre on a scale with the Greysteel killings two years later was only avoided, because gunmen were armed with faulty ammunition from a huge weapons cache smuggled in from Lebanon.

The loyalist killers' target was the Devenish Arms, off Finaghy Road North, where customers were enjoying lunchtime drinks.

At least two 'C' company gunmen burst into the bar, and opened fire on the people inside.

At first, the punters thought someone had let off Christmas crackers and no one dived for cover.

Aidan Wallace, a 22-year-old Catholic civil servant, was shot twice in the back, from a range of just nine inches. A lone gunman - some sources say McKeag himself - calmly walked around the bar pointing his 9mm pistol around various tables, to work out who he would shoot.

His quarry included an eight-year-old boy - presumably because he was wearing a Glasgow Celtic shirt.

The child was shot in the head, and lost an eye.

Groups of terrified men, women and children huddled together at the far end of the bar, some praying for their lives, as the UDA men stalked the premises.

The other loyalist fired several shots, before crying: "Out, out, out" to his companion.

At the subsequent inquest into Aiden Wallace's murder, the coroner said the attack on the Devenish Arms "must rank among the worst incidents of the Troubles.

"That more people did not die, can only be described as a miracle."

The reason more people did not die was prosaic rather than miraculous: the hitmen were using the faulty Chinese ammunition from the Lebanese arms haul - their guns kept jamming.

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