Police scrambled to Traveller funeral following knife fight in middle of church graveyard
A knife fight broke out in a church graveyard yesterday after mourners at a Traveller funeral turned on each other.
Police and ambulance crews rushed to a violent disturbance involving a large number of people at St Colman's Graveyard in Lurgan, where the funeral of Missie Doherty - a well-known figure in the local Travelling community - was taking place.
Three people were taken to hospital suffering from knife wounds, and a 23-year-old man was arrested.
The injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.
The air ambulance was also dispatched to the scene, as well as three ambulance crews, a rapid response vehicle, a paramedic officer and a doctor.
Even before mourners gathered, there had been fears there could be violence at the funeral.
A video posted on YouTube last week by Missie Doherty's son Aney contained a heartfelt plea for the weekend wake and funeral of his mother to pass off peacefully.
The grieving son asked anyone coming to the funeral to just "pass each other by".
"I know a lot of people will be turning up to the wake and the funeral ... but if anybody has got any problems with each other, for respect to our family and our Mummy and all of ours, if you have any oul problems or any oul' difficulties, if you could please let things go for that day of peace, for my mother to be laid to rest," he said.
But his plea fell on deaf ears.
One local resident said: "I'm not too sure how it all kicked off.
"I was just home from work when I heard lots of beeping outside.
"When I looked out I saw crowds of people all fighting with each other.
"I shouted to my son to lock the doors in case they tried to get in.
"The police got here quickly but they couldn't do very much.
"I saw an ambulance trying to get up the street but it couldn't pass, the vans were ramming each other on the road.
"This isn't a quiet area by any stretch, but I have never seen anything like that in my 14 years living here.
"There was a helicopter and everything."
SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly said she deplored the violence. "It's very disrespectful," she told the Belfast Telegraph last night.
"I've heard of fights breaking out among Travellers after funerals - but never in the actual graveyard itself.
"It's the first time I've heard of such a thing.
"It all seems to have got totally out of hand.
"It's very bad for the reputation of the Traveller community, who have had reasonably good relations with the community in the Lurgan area.
"I'm not sure who could mediate in such a situation, but I hope that wiser heads prevail."
A former Craigavon Mayor, Carla Lockhart of the DUP, said she had been liaising with the PSNI about the graveyard disturbance.
"I am satisfied that the incident has now been resolved by the police, and investigations are under way," the Assemblywoman said last night.
"My thoughts are with the injured, and I want to call on anyone with any information about this incident to contact the police immediately."
Last night, Sinn Fein MLA for Upper Bann and former Stormont minister John O'Dowd called for mediation.
"I would appeal for calm and for anyone with influence to help to de-escalate tensions," he said.