Pensioner drowns swimming to tricolours: Man thought Bessbrook pond flags were 'insult to Kingmills massacre victims'
Deep divisions over flag-flying in a village pond are being blamed for the drowning of a well-known victims' campaigner.
The man, named locally as Oswald Bradley, died yesterday while trying to swim out to an island in Bessbrook, Co Armagh, which had been at the centre of controversy after two tricolours were erected there recently.
It is understood Mr Bradley – – who lost a cousin in the 1976 Kingsmills massacre – felt strongly about the presence of the flags on the island on Mill Pond. He is believed to have had a Union flag with him when he got into trouble while swimming across to the island.
Mr Bradley, believed to be in his 60s, entered the water at Bessbrook Mill Pond at around 5pm yesterday. He got into difficulties and was pulled from the water. Despite the efforts of residents to revive him, he could not be saved.
After the tragic event, political representatives from both sides of the community arranged for a canoeist to go out onto the lake and retrieve a Union flag which was floating on the water.
The two tricolours were also removed from trees on the pond island.
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Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy, a friend, said last night: "This is a very tragic outcome to controversies surrounding flags in this village. This is too high a price for any family and community to pay."
Bessbrook pastor Barrie Halliday, a member of the Pentecostal Church and also chaplain of the Protestant victims' group Fair (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives) said Mr Bradley was a fellow member of the organisation. He said he had felt strongly about the presence of the flags in the mixed village.
Mr Bradley's cousin John McConville was one of 10 Protestant workmen murdered in the Kingsmills massacre in 1976, close to Bessbrook. Pastor Halliday said Mr Bradley had considered the recent erection of the tricolours in the village a "direct insult to the memory" of the Kingsmills victims.
It is unclear if Mr Bradley intended to erect a Union flag alongside the tricolours or if he intended to remove the tricolours. Pastor Halliday said other people from the area had attempted to swim out to the island in recent days to remove the tricolours but found it too tough and turned back.
"This was a tragedy for everybody. People are shocked," he said.
He added that Mr Bradley, who lived at Main Street, was well-known in the area, especially after running the village chip shop for a number of years. He was also a member of a local bowling club.
He said: "Ossie was a very down-to-earth man and he saw these flags as an act of cruelty to the Kingsmills victims. Ossie was a loyal man but a very fair man."
He said Mr Bradley's wife died several years ago, but he was survived by children.
SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh Dominic Bradley said: "I know the family of the man who drowned and my thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult and sad time.
"It would appear that the man attempted to swim across Bessbrook Pond with the intention of removing two tricolour flags that had been placed on an island there and replace them with a Union flag."
Bessbrook SDLP councillor John Feehan, who was a friend of the deceased, added: "It appears he got into difficulties in the pond. Some young people got him out and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and an ambulance was called, but he had passed away when it arrived."