Belfast Telegraph

Thomas Begley commemoration rakes over coals as burning hurt reignites once more

By Adrian Rutherford

The sound of a PSNI helicopter circling above north Belfast shattered the calm as hundreds of republicans observed a minute's silence in memory of Shankill bomber Thomas Begley.

It was another reminder of a bygone era on an afternoon which was a throwback to some of the darkest days of Northern Ireland's troubled past.

Almost 20 years to the day that the Shankill mourned its dead, a community gathered to remember a man who they regard as another victim of the IRA atrocity.

Begley (22), from Brompton Park in Ardoyne, was among 10 people killed when the bomb he was carrying in to Frizzell's fish shop exploded prematurely.

Yesterday – just three days before the anniversary of the bombing – several hundred republicans gathered in quiet reflection to remember him.

The crowd began gathering an hour ahead of the 2pm start, with more and more people gradually emerging from the terraced houses which dominate this working class, republican heartland.

Northern Ireland may be a very different place compared to 20 years ago but around here, suspicions linger.

Graffiti sprayed on a gable wall warns: 'PSNI touts beware'.

A short distance away another scrawl demands: 'Justice for the Craigavon Two'.

Tricolours flutter from the lampposts, republican murals are plastered over gable walls.

Yesterday's crowd included children too young to comprehend what they witnessed.

Barriers sealed off the area, with dark suited marshals directing traffic and ordering journalists to "show respect" by staying in a designated area.

By 2pm and with the crowd numbering several hundred, a colour party carrying flags made its way on to Flax Street.

The 20-minute ceremony was led by Eddie Copeland, a leading republican once named in Parliament as an IRA godfather.

After a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Republic's national anthem, the crowd fell silent in tribute to Begley.

The main address was given by fellow bomber Sean Kelly.

He was pulled from the rubble of Frizzell's fish shop and later given nine life sentences, but was released in 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement.

Kelly spoke of regret over the loss of civilian lives, but his address was accompanied by warm praise for his "closest and dearest friend".

"I am proud and I am privileged to have been Bootsey's fellow friend and comrade."

At times he struggled to be heard above the roar of the helicopter overhead.

Begley's elderly father Billy was then helped on to the platform, briefly addressing the crowd before unveiling the plaque to loud applause.

The ceremony over, the crowd drifted away.

A short distance away, a protest by some Shankill families against the event was also ending.

Two communities separated by barely a mile, but yesterday a world apart.

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