Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Gunshots at a Family Funeral

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Gunshots at a Family Funeral

Article excerpt

The funeral started like any other. After endless cups of tea, cucumber sandwiches and chats with the parish priest, we shuffled over to the church graveyard.

But as we stood around my great-aunt's burial site, braced for the Ulster drizzle, masked men in balaclavas appeared brandishing guns. They performed a military salute and shot rifles over the coffin before sprinting off. It was over in minutes--a flash of knitwear and khaki uniforms.

Paramilitary funerals are traditional in Northern Ireland for figures linked to terrorist activity during the Troubles. They often involve military parades and, most controversial of all, guns being fired over the deceased. Such funerals were common during the conflict in Northern Ireland, held for people killed "on active service". As stable peace was achieved in the 1990s and 2000s, the unusual funerals trickled away and became the stuff of folklore.

Today, as we move ever further away from the Troubles, paramilitary funerals are growing in number. The reason is simple: senior figures from the conflict are dying of old age. The 20- and 30-year-olds who led the movement in the 1960s are now in their seventies and eighties.

In July, two paramilitary funerals took place. One was for Colin "Bap" Lindsay, a 47-year-old senior member of the Ulster Defence Association, who was murdered in Belfast. The UDA, an umbrella loyalist group, has been responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths. At the funeral, mourners wore the insignia of numerous terror groups, as well as spelling out the names UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) and UDA in floral wreaths. A guard of honour formed around the cortege as a mourner in a beret led military salutes.

Over the same weekend, a high-profile figure from "the other side" was also buried. Peggy O'Hara was the mother of one of the hunger strikers who starved to death during Margaret Thatcher's standoff with republican prisoners in the 1980s. …

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