16 September 2005

Strand victim speaks out


by Victoria McMahon

The friend who was with Short Strand man John McKay when he was viciously attacked and left for dead by a loyalist mob has broken his silence over the horrifying ordeal.

The brutal assault on the two Catholic men Friday past was only the tip of the iceberg – a preview of what lay in store for the people of Belfast as widespread violence by loyalists and Orangemen caused havoc throughout the city and the North. 29-year-old John McKay and best friend Ciaran Kelly (34) were walking home to their Short Strand homes in the early hours of Friday morning when they were attacked by a 15-strong loyalist mob, leaving postman John fighting for his life.

“This was attempted murder,” said Ciaran who watched helplessly as his friend of 14 years lay in a pool of blood as loyalists rained blows and kicks to his head.

“I felt so helpless. I tried to get to John but there was just too many of them,” said Ciaran.

In a bizarre twist the pair were returning home from The Edge bar and restaurant where they had been attending a fundraising event for murdered friend, stab victim Robert McCartney, when a bottle was thrown on to the nationalist side of the Albertbridge Road where they were walking.

Ciaran Kelly has been reliving the moments before the brutal unprovoked sectarian attack on his friend John McKay whom he describes as a “gentleman who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“It was clear they were aiming at us. I think I said to John ‘There’s going to be trouble here’,” remembers Ciaran.

“We decided to quicken up and get to the walkway. All I can remember when we got to the walkway is that in a blink of an eye there was about 15 of them jumped us.

“I got knocked to the ground, there wasn’t as many attacking me as there were at John because he was still standing, whereas I was falling backwards. I struggled as much as I could and I got myself up and over to the traffic island.

“I was screaming the whole time for John to get up,” says Ciaran.
John however had been knocked unconscious and it would later emerge suffered a fractured skull and perforated eardrum.

“I saw him lying in a pool of blood. I thought he was dead. I really did fear the worst,” says Ciaran.

When Ciaran tried to ring for help his mobile was kicked out of his hand by their attackers. He says if it hadn’t been for the heroic efforts of passing black taxi drivers John would have been beaten to death.

“One black taxi driver stopped and kind of drove at them trying to get them away from John. The taxi driver did save John’s life at that time. It made them go, seeing other people arriving on the scene, they dispersed. Then the taxi drivers surrounded us, protecting us from the mob.

“When I got near where the black taxi was I saw one guy stamping on his head. I was just annoyed I couldn’t get over to help him. When I did get to him I just covered over the top of him. I was so afraid they would come back.”
Lucky to escape with minor cuts and bruises Ciaran says he lays blame for the terrifying assault at the door of unionist politicians and Orangemen who called people onto the streets.

“This was only a prelude to the mad events that have happened since then.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to make the connection between what happened to John and the inflammatory situation that had been building. These people who attacked John were inflamed by their politicians and the Orange Order, they called these animals out onto the streets,” says Ciaran.

“It takes brave men to pick on just two people but it has happened to more than just us. It’s all the hype of last week started all this and it accumulated, starting on Friday night.”

Now recovering at home surrounded by family and friends John is due to be groomsman at his sister’s wedding in a fortnight’s time.

“It could easily have been a funeral we were all attending, not a wedding,” said his sister.

Journalist:: Victoria McMahon

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