Sean Mallory narrates what he has gleaned through exchanges with loyalists on the existence of a Shankill Road group of loyalist killers known as The Sweeney.
A few weeks back I found myself in the company of two Unionist Loyalists that I know. They recalled to me, but not simultaneously, an interesting story about the Shankill Butchers and a gang called ‘The Sweeney’. What is true in all of the below and what isn’t, I cannot confirm, nor vouch for the veracity of those who related this information to me.
What I can vouch for is my own genuine interest in these accounts of the Shankill Road and its infamous residents. Macabre people in their own right, the Butchers and the Shankill Road, synonymous with sectarianism, it continues to grip.
If anyone can add to this or clarify what I have written I would be really grateful.
Each of the Unionist/Loyalists knows the other but only through neighbours. One, an East Belfast man from the Newtownards Road and the other a West Belfast man, from the Shankill Road. From previous conversations and from what I could derive from their derisory references to the UDA, both are/were UVF supporters. Whether they were or still are active volunteers of the UVF I have no idea.
We were discussing the subject of the Shankill Butchers. A grisly topic to say the least. A topic where both voiced their revulsion at the remorseless and barbarous actions of Murphy and his gang and often referred to their ‘murders’. Which is something Nationalist/Republicans often fail to do in their critique of their comrades actions and deeds.....murders tend to be referred to as ‘killings’ which has a tendency to stamp a degree of morality on it.
A topic which arose inadvertently due to our initial discussion on the recent DUP meeting in the West Belfast headquarters of and with the UDA on the Shankill Road.
During our two separate conversations on the Butchers, the Shankill Unionist/Loyalist happened to mention another notorious gang from the top end of the Shankill called Sweeney's Gang/ Team/ Squad. They operated out of Highfield, off the Ballygomartin Road. He, being only in short trousers, when this gang roamed wasn’t exactly sure of the name. But he did go on to describe them as a gang that would have vied with the Butchers for supremacy on the Road but a gang that would never equal the Butcher's ferocity or regularity of killings. They lost the battle for brutality but continued to battle for infamy.
As I had never heard of them, nor had I ever read anything about them, I was intrigued to the point of being hooked.
I got talking to the Newtownards Road Unionist/Loyalist and he without hesitation confirmed and verified the gang called the Sweeney, but did emphasise that they weren’t the Butchers.....originally. From memory he vaguely recalled that they possibly operated out of the Berlin Arms (now the Berlin Bar on the corner of Berlin Street and the Shankill Road) and that they were, less of a rival and more of a competitive gang to the Butchers dominance. They were every bit as savage in their attacks on the Catholic community but didn’t generate the notoriety that the Butchers had.
He couldn’t remember exactly why they got that name but it may have been that they were either named after the popular Sweeney cop show on TV at that time because they drove Ford Cortinas / Grenadas and would regularly be seen hopping in and out of them, or the leader was called Sweeney or the owners of the Berlin Arms were Sweeneys.
He went on to recall some very interesting stories about the competitive rivalry between the Sweeney and the Butchers. A competitive rivalry that was not text book in the least, in that they, both the Butchers and the Sweeney, would assist each other in their attacks at various times. Assistance that could entail weapons or manpower. All very interesting anecdotes about them. On parting he did say that he would look in to it for me to find out exactly what the story with them was.
At our next meeting, and after discussing the state of the English Premier League football and the terrible run of Ulster rugby he informed me that the Sweeney gang had a song named after them, Sweeney's Number two Platoon of the U.V.F and pointed me in the direction of this link, from which plus and further discussions with both men I was able to untangle a few knots and derive the following.
This song is about various members of the UVF from all over Ulster but specifically through the title, directly references, they and the Butchers and their connections.
McGregor and Chapman are from the Shankill. Joe Long is from East Belfast. Here is an added interesting part of the demise of these three.
McGregor and Long were apparently killed two years apart, in premature explosions in 1975 and 1977, while transporting their own bombs in Belfast, along Exchange Street and both were with Tommy Chapman. Chapman was named as being the second fatality killed in the premature bomb with McGregor but simply referred to as the ‘second fatality’ in the premature explosion with Long.....The report didn't mention Chapman by name in Long's untimely death but it was believed to be him. What we can be sure of is that the three of them are definitely dead as testified to by murals on the Shankill for McGregor and Chapman, and a mural over in East Belfast for Long. As for the reports in to the three UVF Volunteers deaths, I cannot answer how the same person was killed in a similar premature bomb explosion, on the same street, with two different people and two years apart! It may be that Eillis O'Hanlon wrote the reports!!!!!!!!
Harris Boyle held the rank of major in the Mid Ulster UVF and was part of the Glenane Gang. He was killed at the premature explosion during the Miami Show Band attack.
McGregor, Chapman, Long and Boyle all had connections to the Shankill Road UVF, especially the Butchers A Company. It wasn’t uncommon for UVF men from East Belfast to be members or associated with the Shankill UVF as the UDA back then were very powerful in East Belfast and the UVF had lost a lot of ground to them. The roles have been completely reversed now with the UDA very much on the back foot and diminishing in clout in East Belfast. Big Jackie and the remnants of the UDA have very little territory left and are continually being squeezed out. Outside of Belfast it’s a different story for them.
Boyle's connection was down to the command structure of the UVF at that particular time and he was compelled to report directly to Belfast for to have potential operations cleared or denied, by them. A command that he didn’t always adhere too. As East Belfast was so weak for the UVF, they concentrated their command headquarters on the Shankill. Through this structure, he came in to contact with Murphy and apparently they became good friends. Don’t know how true that is....that they became friends.....Murphy had a tendency not to have any friends but any relationships he had were with people to do his bidding, so Boyle's personality and Murphy's may have clashed....Alpha male thing!
The Highfield gang operated out of the Four Steps Inn between Battenberg St and Esmond St and would have linked up with Murphy's A company every now and then to provide ‘assistance’ when required and vice versa. Outside of this arrangement they would have competed with each other through killings for control. Murphy's gang tended to control the middle Shankill area while the Four Steps would have controlled the upper Shankill, Woodvale and out towards Ballygomartin and tended to mainly operate out of Highfield.
Murphy and his A company mainly operated out of the Lawnbrook Social Club, Centurion Street (this is where they mainly performed their grotesque barbarism on their victims...long since knocked down) but planned their attacks from a back lounge called Sweeney's lounge that was attached to the Brown Bear Bar on the corner of Mountjoy Street.
It was here that all these people would have linked up. The lounge was locally referred to as ‘Sweeney's’ because of all these people jumping in and out of taxis going to and from it like the Sweeney drama on TV at the time. Also, the reference 'Sweeney' at some point became more synonymous with the Butchers and with direct reference to Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, as the notorious reputation of the Butchers began to spread.
The other interesting aspect of all this is that quite a few of these people ended up being killed by their own! Some are still alive and there are other UVF men still around who knew the Butchers and the Four Steps gang quite well back then and are still active members of the UVF to this day.