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'Sheer violence' Priest says mass graveyard brawl was 'like something from Beirut’

It was very shocking. I’ve heard of this happening before, but I never experienced it myself"

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Paramedics at scene in Tuam

Paramedics at scene in Tuam

Paramedics at scene in Tuam

A priest who witnessed the horrific violence during a mass brawl between two families at a funeral said the scene was like “something from Beirut”.

Fr Ray Flaherty, the parish priest of Headford, Co Galway, said the experience has left him “very shaken.”

“It was very shocking. I’ve heard of this happening before, but I never experienced it myself.

“To witness the sheer violence of it, I was very shaken by the whole thing,” he said.

The priest said it was a sacred space.

“If we don’t have respect for God, then we don’t have a sense for anything, really.

“Any place of worship, be it a church, a mosque, or a temple, has to be respected, and I felt that was degraded yesterday.”

On Wednesday afternoon, seven people were rushed to hospital, some with suspected stab wounds, after a violent clash at a graveyard in Tuam.

Gardaí were called to the scene of the mass brawl on the Athenry Road after fighting broke out when two separate funerals crossed paths in the cemetery.

It’s understood one person suffered severe injuries.

A large number of gardaí attended the scene, including members of the armed response unit.

It is understood the row related to an ongoing feud between families in the local area that has escalated in recent months.

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Fr Flaherty said he tried his best to try and stem the violence, but it proved impossible.

“I witnessed horrific violence. I was shocked, and I was roaring, trying to get them to stop, but it didn’t really matter what I did. They had just one focus.

“I’m the kind of person who wants peace; we should all live and let live.

“The woman who died had 107 great-grandchildren and 47 grandchildren. Those children saw this happening. It’s not right.”

Fr Flaherty celebrated the funeral of Tessa Ward, held at 2 pm in Tuam Cathedral.

An earlier funeral was held at 11.30 am, and some mourners were still in the graveyard when Mrs Ward’s remains arrived for burial shortly before 4pm.

“The family were just gone in the gate when I arrived.

“Trouble started very quickly then, roaring and shouting first. You could see the fisticuffs. It exploded really fast.

“The poor woman hadn’t even got to the grave at this point. I was trying to get them to calm down at the top of my voice, but it was no avail," he said.

He added that Stanley knives were being used.

"They had them in their possession. I witnessed it.

“They are very lethal. When you think about it, to stick someone with that an implement like that is terrible.

“I always treat everybody, no matter which community they come from, whether they are rich or poor, with respect. And I hope they would have the same for me.

“Generally, the Travelling community do, but I felt that was all lost yesterday.

“You were just crying in the wind, really trying to put order on things.

“I am 25 years ordained, I have been around the block, and I have seen and experienced different things but nothing like this.

“Even in times of war, there was downtime or an amnesty. When you think even during the first world war, the Germans and the allies stopped for one day, Christmas Day and played football together.”

He said if the violence continues, there could be very serious consequences.

“I’d hope the leaders within the Travelling community could sit down and talk things over.

“If they can bring peace about by talking and negotiating rather than thrashing it out on sacred ground.”

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