Celtic Illumination, part 48, a funeral, a riot and a gun fight
Despite the fact that we were in the middle of a war and the mention of Warrenpoint can stir up memories of one of the worst atrocities of the whole conflict, I can honestly say that I had no experience of religious animosity in Warrenpoint. In fact one of my good friends ‘kicked with the other foot’ as they say to describe someone who is of a different religion. Mervyn was a Protestant and a member of the Warrenpoint Orange Lodge, but he was one of us, he was a normal young fellow growing up.
I can’t actually remember him chucking stones at army patrols with us but that is not to say that he wasn’t there. Mervyn was not the only Protestant in our group. It’s very sad that in this day and age knuckle draggers still spout the same old drivel about hating the other side. I fear for the future of my country. Mervyn once asked if we would take him to an IRA funeral in Newry. This was the sort of event that even we would stay away from because in those days trouble was going to happen, not even at a funeral but especially at a funeral.
Studs Morgan and myself, called so because he was very good at Gaelic football, agreed that we would accompany Mervyn up to Newry. The graveyard was on the Warrenpoint side of Newry so it would be quite easy for us to get there. It was quite a large funeral for a senior member of the IRA. Thousands of people attended as did hundreds of soldiers. We arrived at the graveyard after the funeral procession. The graveyard was heaving with people and they packed in tightly around the grave. The reason for this was that the IRA colour party could come out from the crowd, fire a volley of shots over the coffin and then disappear.
The soldiers and police on the other hand would try to take the tricolour off the coffin especially if it carried the black gloves and beret too. They would want to arrest the members of the colour party and of course they would want to confiscate the weapons used. It would be wrong to categorise it as a game of cat and mouse, for people died and that is not a game.
Every high building around the graveyard was covered with soldiers, helicopters hovered above, yet the foot patrols did keep a distance. The usual people gave speeches over the grave; it was strange to hear their actual voices for they were not allowed to speak on the television. As the colour party raised their weapons the helicopters pulled away and with the whole ceremony over, the crowd turned and began to move back into Newry.
We hung back and Mervyn was not just grateful to have been at such a historical event but to have been so close in. He asked if we could follow the crowd into Newry for we knew that there was going to be one hell of a riot. We kept our distance but were very much aware of the destruction and violence that was occurring two hundred yards ahead of us. Cars were being burned and any police or army units were being subjected to a heavy volley of bricks and bottles.
The police and army had established a line, across the road by the Newry market. The crowd formed up and as the troops and police began using rubber bullets and CS gas the crowd began using paint bombs and petrol bombs. It was quite amazing the way cars would pull up at the rear of the riot and crate loads of petrol and paints bombs would be delivered, talk about fast food deliveries. Mervyn wanted to get a little closer and I can assure you that he did not want to join in the rioting, but being so close to such an event gives you one hell of an adrenaline rush. It was tremendously exciting, in a scary way.
We began to cross the road but stopped mid-way for we had become aware of some loud cracks. It was difficult with the commotion of the riot to not only establish what the sounds were, but where they were coming from. Two land rovers full of soldiers screaming towards us drew our attention to the fact that this was the direction the noises had come from. The soldiers were aware of this too, for they were trying to get away from the noise. On top of a high building nearby were a number of IRA snipers and they were quite happily opening up at the two land rovers. Once the proverbial penny had dropped, it didn’t take long for us to retreat back across the road, away from the riot and hold ourselves close against the wall. The initial shock was over and the soldiers were beginning to organise themselves and engage the IRA men. We watched in amazement as a huge black soldier rammed into the wall beside us.
He looked at us and suggested that we shouldn’t really be there, which we took as a very good recommendation and walked as fast as we could away from the soldiers, the fire fight and the riot.