Stabbed Strabane publican speaks of terrifying ordeal

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Strabane publican Joe Breslin says people caught up in the knife attacks outside his bar on St Patrick’s Day have been traumatised by the experience.

Mr Breslin said that people had been left physically and emotionally scarred by the viciousness of the attack.

A number of bar staff and customers were slashed by members of the Travelling community outside the premises.

Four of them required surgery for extensive wounds. Three have been discharged from hospital and the bar owner hopes to get home today.

Mr Breslin, who is being treated at the specialist Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, said the attack was not the image the decent people of Strabane wanted connected with the day of national celebration they had enjoyed.

“There was a great carnival spirit, everybody was enjoying themselves and we were having a great day in the bar,” he said.

Mr Breslin said he had instructed Barry Doherty, who was helping him at the door, not to let anyone enter or leave the Abercorn Square premises with glasses or bottles.

Recalling the run-up to the attack shortly before 9.30pm, he said: “The bar was full up and as people were leaving we were letting other people in.

“At that stage a gang of travellers landed. A couple of people from the settled community also landed at the same time.

“We told them all there were too many people in the premises.

“One of the travellers said he wanted to speak to one of the travellers who was inside the bar so I called him out and they were talking outside.

“The traveller who had come out told me to let the other travellers in, ‘they’re sound’.

“I said it wasn’t a matter of whether they were ‘sound’, I couldn’t let them in because the bar was full.”

Mr Breslin said that at that point there were six or seven people leaving the bar and he told the travellers that two or three of them could go in.

An issue then arose when a young traveller boy aged about 14-15 was refused as he was underage and there was no room.

“The young boy said ‘I’m not underage’ and I asked him for ID as he was definitely underage.

“The elder fella said ‘I’m not begging to get into no bar and at that point he hit me a punch on the side of the head.

“The next thing there seemed to be a couple of them charging at the door trying to get at me.

“Barry tried to pull one of them back and they [the travellers] started throwing punches and it turned into a bit of a scrapping situation.

“Myself and Barry Doherty tried to keep them out and about seven or eight of them were fighting to get at us.”

Mr Breslin said at this stage a “large contingent” of travellers was involved.

“One of the travellers stumbled and fell and I was trying to hold him down; we were being hit from all angles. I then felt an awful pain in my leg and I knew something bad had happened.

“I had been stabbed below my knee and I knew then that we were in a very dangerous situation because knives were involved.

“I shouted to Barry to watch, there were knives being used.

“I then saw Barry had also been stabbed; the shirt was ripped off his back and I saw a wound.”

Barry Doherty’s brother, Paul, who had been helping lift glasses in the bar, and two customers, Michael McGrinder and ‘Spud’ [James] Brolly, also tried to help and were also stabbed.

Paying tribute to the bravery of those who came to their aid and were also injured, Mr Breslin said: “I have no doubt if it had not been for those other people jumping in either myself or Barry – or us both – would have been killed because we were badly outnumbered.

“Those travellers were intent on doing us serious harm.”

Mr Breslin said that other travellers had come from another bar carrying bottles, to join in the attack.

“There must have been over 20 coming towards us like a mob.

At this stage we had phoned the police and were waiting for them to respond.”

Mr Breslin claimed that when the police arrived at Abercorn Square, they stood a short distance away from the bar at a pizza place.

“I think the police were afraid of the travellers; maybe they are limited to what they can do.

“I certainly saw them responding more quickly to more minor incidents in Strabane,” the publican claimed.

“I had to actually walk up and tell the police to come down.

“At this stage I thought one of the fellas was going to die because he was that badly cut.

“It was a very scary situation; the wound Paul Doherty had was lying open right across his chest. He was conscious but I definitely thought he wasn’t going to make it.

“We were very lucky a nurse was in the bar and she administered first-aid while waiting for the ambulances to arrive.

Mr Breslin said that at the height of the incident, he and his staff were “fighting for our lives” and trying to prevent the gang from getting into the bar. “They tried to get at me to slice me up. “