Belfast Telegraph

Bessbrook: Village visited by so much anguish in the Troubles mourns again for one of its own

By Rebecca Black

On a balmy summer's day the mill pond in Bessbrook appears a deceptively tranquil and idyllic place.

Trees overhang the quiet waters at the point down a lane where this week a pensioner was so upset by two tricolours fluttering on a small island that he decided to swim across to them.

The waters are shallow, just a few feet deep at the shore, which is about 50 metres from the tiny island where the flags had been placed.

While the distance does not appear daunting, there are sudden hidden depths and submerged debris associated with mill manufacturing lurking just below the surface.

It was here around 5pm on Monday that Ossie Bradley, enraged at the appearance of the flags, decided to enter the water, swim across to the island, and remove them himself.

However, he quickly got into trouble.

A teenage boy managed to bring the 68-year-old ashore where desperate attempts were made to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at Daisy Hill Hospital later on Monday evening.

The tragedy took place within sight of the small local primary school Ossie had attended as a child.

In adulthood he became a huge character in the village, known by practically everyone.

While it is still not known exactly what caused his death, there is no doubt about the shock it has caused in Bessbrook.

The mood around this quaint Quaker-founded village was sombre yesterday as the tragic news resonated.

Bessbrook is a quiet little place today, inhabited mainly by older people who have lived all their lives in the area and for whom the Troubles – when the village hosted the busiest helipad in Europe and a major Army base in the former mill – are a nightmare largely consigned to the past. Even then, in those deeply suspicious times, locals insisted that community relations remained good.

Not a single residents group exists in the village, only sports clubs where both sides play together.

An Orange arch greets motorists on the road in from Newry, while one solitary Union flag hangs from a building on College Square.

Yesterday mourners spent the day paying their respects at Ossie's home and many also called at the spot where he died.

Among them were victims' campaigner Willie Frazer and local minister, Pastor Barrie Halliday, both of whom had known Ossie since childhood.

They took a moment to quietly reflect at the water's edge before throwing a wreath of poppies into the lake in memory of their friend.

Pastor Halliday remembered him as "so full of fun and full of chat".

"It's over 25 years since I first set eyes on Ossie, as a young fella I used to go with friends to the youth club, then round to the village chippy," he said.

"I met Ossie there, he just took everyone as he found them, he was so full of fun, full of chat on any topic whatever your interests were. He made a lasting impression and his wife was a wonderful partner in life to him. Even recently he said he found it hard to live without her and really missed her.

"What has happened is just unbelieveable. I wish we could turn time back. Those flags should have been taken down, Ossie felt offended enough to risk his life to remove them."

Ossie's childhood friend and sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre, Alan Black, also visited the shore, and was followed a short time later by UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, who is a lifelong resident of Bessbrook.

Mr Black was deeply upset about his friend's death, but said he believed the people of the village will rally together and not allow "half-a-dozen idiots" who placed tricolours on the island destroy the harmony built over decades.

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