‘We fought to save our lives’

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A Strabane bar owner has told how he feared a ‘bloodbath’ at his pub after an angry mob attacked staff and customers with knives.

In an exclusive interview with the ‘Derry Journal’ from his hospital bed, Joe Breslin said he believes the traveller gang did their best to “slice him up”.

Mr Breslin was viciously slashed along with two bar staff and a customer who came to their aid.

The bloody scene unfolded outside Joe’s Bar in Strabane town centre on St Patrick’s Day after a group of travellers turned violent while awaiting access to the premises.

Joe Breslin underwent a four hour operation on Sunday when surgeons saved a finger which was severed in the attack.

He also has stitches to a slash wound in his leg.

However, the experienced publican is more concerned about the injuries sustained by the three other men, including two brothers in their 20s who were helping him in the bar on the night. He said they’ve been left scarred for life.

200 stitches

Doorman Barry Doherty (26) received over 200 stitches after being slashed in the stomach, chest and side.

His brother Paul (28) has over 100 stitches to a chest wound believed to be nine inches long.

Their father has said it’s a miracle his sons are still alive.

Customer, James ‘Spud’ Brolly, needed nine staples after being stabbed in the side.

Joe Breslin is also aggrieved that the assailants carried out the brutal attack on a day of celebration for Strabane.

Thousands of people lined the streets of the town for the annual St Patrick’s Day carnival which was another resounding success for the organisers.

Mr Breslin said he now believes the attack was pre-planned and the perpetrators came looking for trouble.

He said the confrontation arose when they were told the bar was packed and they would have to wait with other people until space was freed up inside.

Mr Breslin said door staff at his bar had earlier taken pint glasses off three of the men.

When they were told there was room for two or three adults to get in, an objection was raised when a teenage boy was refused admission because he was underage.

It’s understood the gang who initiated the violence may have been visiting the area from England, and escaped afterwards across the border into Donegal.

The incident is considered so grave, a special meeting of Strabane Vintners Association police and community representatives has been convened in the town on Thursday to discuss it.

Tried to slice me up

Mr Breslin said he has already been contacted by other local publicans fearful of how they could deal with such an incident.

He said: “They tried to get at me to slice me up. I am convinced it was pre-planned, they came prepared with knives. I am 49 and I have never seen anything as vicious in my life.” See full story p24.

“I’m not saying that all travellers are out to cause trouble but some of them are bullies and they bully their way through life.”