Two decades ago, the LVF announced an end to its reign of violence.
The group had been around for only about two years, and had left a trail of blood, fear, and destruction in its wake in a bid to set itself up as an anti-ceasefire loyalist force.
By August 1998 it was in disarray following the death of its leader several months previously.
But its announcement that month of an “absolute, utter finish” to its violence (a declaration which, in any case, was not strictly kept to) came too late for people like Bridie McGoldrick.
Her son Michael was arguably the group’s first victim, and here she recalls the effect the murder had on her family at the time – and continues to have upon her today.
Michael was the Scottish-born only child of Bridie, a Glaswegian, and Michael Senior, a Portadown man.
Michael had a seven-year-old daughter called Emma, and at the time his wife Sadie was six-months pregnant with their son, Andrew.
On the Friday before his murder on July 8, 1996, he had graduated from Queen’s University Belfast.
He was a mature student, and had worked for about three years to earn an English and politics degree with a view to becoming a teacher.
“It was just such a lovely, lovely day,” said Bridie, now a 75-year-old widow.
“I was so proud of him – so, so proud.”
They went for a meal after the ceremony, and as they parted ways later he told them: “I love you both so much.”
“His daddy and me, at the same time, said: We love you right back, son,” she said.
“And we headed off.”
Bridie and Michael Senior went to Warrenpoint where they had a caravan, while Michael went back to Lurgan, where he worked as a taxi driver.
“We got up on Monday morning, and his dad put on the television,” said Bridie, who had been in the caravan with her husband at the time.
“It said: ‘Taxi driver killed’.
“We sort of looked at each other, and thought it’s nothing to do with us – if it was, we’d have known.
“Then it said: ‘He was married with one child’.
“We still looked and thought it’s nothing to do with us.
“The final piece was: ‘His wife was pregnant, and he just graduated from Queen’s University’. And that’s how we knew that it was our child.
“His dad went outside the caravan and got down on his knees, and was thumping the ground.
“I thought: why would anybody harm my son? He’s Scottish – he wasn’t even born here. He spoke like me. We were never involved in anything.
“We were in our own wee bubble – what was going on here had nothing whatsoever to do with us.
“I don’t even remember being brought home. I don’t remember much. There was all these people. And you’re sort of looking at them going: what is it? What’s happening?”
Michael had been working for a so-called ‘Catholic’ taxi company, and the killers had summoned a taxi at random, not knowing who would be in the driver’s seat.
The book ‘Lost Lives’ recalled that he had picked up a passenger in a loyalist area at about 11.30pm on Sunday. He was then found the next day in his cab in Aghalee, a rural area to the north-east of Lurgan.
He had been shot in the head. He was 31.
Bridie said that although there had been much trouble in the Lurgan area at the time, she struggled to keep up with the plethora of groups vying for control.
“It was all initials. I didn’t really know what each thing was, I really didn’t,” she said.
“I knew about – what do you call it? – the IRA.
“But I didn’t know about LVF. I didn’t know what the initials meant.
“And I wasn’t really interested, because, like I said, it was nothing to do with us.”
Bridie and Michael Senior were both churchgoers, and Michael too had attended Mass. He had “believed there was a God, and he’d have prayed and thanked and been grateful for everything he had”, said Bridie.
Bridie recounted something her husband had said after the murder.
“He was at the police station on the Monday night, and the police said to him: this is the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody, and it’s happened to you.
“Michael said: No, it’s not – the worst thing that could’ve happened to me is if my son had come in and said ‘I shot a taxi man’, if he’d come in and said he’d killed someone.
“On the Tuesday we decided we were going to commit suicide, Michael and me.
“What was the point? There’s nothing left to live for. The sun had left our lives.”
They set out a collection of tablets on a table, along with a glass of water each.
They had not eaten since they heard the news, and Michael decided to make a sandwich so the tablets would stay more easily in his stomach. He struggled to eat it.
Then they looked at one another, and he took Bridie by her hand.
“We both knelt down just below the cross [which they kept on the wall], and he said: Lord, we can’t handle this – help us, help us.
“And at that moment suicide completely left us.”
On the morning of Michael’s burial, his father laid his hands on him before they put the lid on the coffin and said: “Goodbye son. I’ll see you in heaven.”
Clifford McKeown, 47, was sentenced to 24 years in jail in 2003 for his murder.
Michael Senior died in 2006 while carrying out charity work in Moldova.
When it comes to the LVF’s declaration 20 years ago today that they were disbanding, Bridie said: “I thank God for every person that says: I’m not going to harm anybody again.”
But for Bridie – who still lives in Lurgan, and is a member of St Anthony’s, Craigavon – the battle did not end.
“It’s a daily struggle to forgive,” she said.
“We used to waken up in the morning and Michael would say: Right sweetheart, we’ll get up and pick up that cross. But always remember that Jesus has the heavy end, we’ve got the light end.
“God gave us the grace to forgive. He used us as his channel of forgiveness.
“And that’s a daily, daily struggle that you pick up that cross and you go on. Every day I ask God for grace to keep that forgiveness in my heart.
“It doesn’t take away your pain. You get up, paint a face on and go out and meet and greet people, just smile.
“You go through that every day.”