'No flag is worth a man's life' - Kingmills massacre victim in plea after friend Ossie Bradley drowns in lake
Survivor of IRA atrocity grieves for a lifelong pal
Published 30/07/2014 | 11:30
The only survivor of one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles has insisted that no flag is worth the loss of a life.
Alan Black was shot 18 times during the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, in which 10 of his workmates and friends were killed.
The pensioner made the comment following the death of his close friend Ossie Bradley (68), who lost his life on Monday evening as he swam to an island in a lake in Bessbrook where two tricolour flags were flying.
Mr Bradley is believed to have been trying to remove the flags because of the upset they had caused to relatives of those killed at Kingsmills.
His cousin John McConville was one of those who died in the IRA shooting, and Mr Bradley was also a close friend of 91-year-old Jean Lemmon, who lost her husband Joseph at Kingsmills.
Mr Bradley had been deeply involved in the campaign for justice for those killed at Kingsmills and had been part of delegations which met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and First Minister Peter Robinson.
Yesterday Mrs Lemmon was devastated about his death and said she had "lost a lifelong friend". She voiced anger towards those who had placed the flags on the island.
Paying his respects at the lakeside yesterday, Mr Black asked: "Is a flag worth this? In my book it's not."
He said he had known Mr Bradley since the pair were at Bessbrook Primary School together and described him as "open, kind and generous to a fault".
"If someone had died or something happened, he would have been first to the door with sandwiches or cake," he said.
"I couldn't sleep last night for thinking about this. I am in bits and not coping at all. I can't settle, I can't sit, I can't stand for thinking about it. His family are just devastated.
"Ossie didn't have a sectarian bone in his body. I have known him since primary school, there was just two years between us, his brother was in my year.
"He was a lifelong friend."
Mr Bradley, a father of two daughters, lost his wife around five years ago. Yesterday the family gathered at Ossie's house but were too traumatised to speak to the media.
He was a painter and decorator by trade, and along with his late wife ran a chip shop in Bessbrook for 25 years. He was also a keen sportsman, playing football in his youth and more recently being involved with a local pipe band.
In the last five years Mr Bradley became actively involved with the victims' group FAIR.
Mr Black said he expected Mr Bradley's funeral – likely to take place at the local Church of Ireland later this week – will be attended by all sections of the community.
"Bessbrook will come together like it always has; it has never been divided," he said. "Even Kingsmills didn't divide the people, and this is not going to divide them either."
Victims' campaigner Willie Frazer said community relations have historically been good in Bessbrook.
He blamed people who had moved into the village recently for "trying to stir up tensions with the flags".
"My thoughts first and foremost are of sympathy for the family," he said.
"What happened here should never have happened given the suffering and hurt this village has been through. Community relations have always been pretty reasonable in this village, that's why there was never any flags like this put up.
"Ossie Bradley was a great believer in justice, there was not a sectarian nor political bone in his body. Unfortunately, people will try and say he shouldn't have done this, but Ossie knew the hurt and pain those flags had caused victims in this area and that's why he went out to remove them.
"He shouldn't have had to, they should have been taken down," Mr Frazer said. "Ossie Bradley would still have been alive today if those flags had not been put up."
Alan Black was the sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre on January 5, 1976. He was hit with 18 bullets when a minibus full of Protestant workmen heading home to Bessbrook were attacked by the IRA. Ten men died in the attack, nine of them from Bessbrook. No one has ever been brought to justice for the atrocity. Relatives of those killed are campaigning for an inquiry.