“Look, there’s one of them”, shouted David Tweed as my uncle Patsy, who was in frail health at the time, was walking back from the shop towards his house in Dunloy.
Uncle Patsy, who was well known in local lawn bowling circles, kept his head down and didn’t bother asking what “one of them” meant.
Presumably his not-so-neighbourly former neighbour meant “Catholic” (which Patsy was) or “republican” (which he most certainly wasn’t).
Anyway, the upshot was that an acquaintance of the would-be DUP councillor later pushed Patsy, who was then well into his sixties, against a wall, grazing his head and drawing blood.
“The funny thing is,” Patsy told me afterwards, “he used to give me a nod of the head when we met in the street.
“I’ve known him since he was a wee boy, and I was really proud of Davy putting our wee village on the map when he played for Ireland.
“I suspect, however, that he was playing to the crowd on this occasion…”
The “occasion” was a group of local loyalists, led by ‘Davy’, getting ready to travel 12 miles to Ballymena’s Harryville area to once again heckle parishioners going to and leaving Saturday night Mass at Our Lady’s Catholic Church in 1997.
Tweed, then a DUP candidate for a ‘Mena’ council seat, was furious about his local lodge — he hailed from the nearby townland of Galdanagh — being banned from going through the village. The previous year, something similar had happened with an Apprentice Boys march, resulting in violent scenes.
Feeling persistently slighted and seeking retribution, Tweed was later seen hurling bricks at RUC officers who had been protecting the terrified mass-goers. Earlier that evening, it was reported, he had pulled down his underpants, to loud cheers, to show off a loyalist tattoo on his backside.
At the time, he was also an enthusiastic participant in the Drumcree protests.
The former Translink infrastructure supervisor and part-time bouncer never made any secret of his affiliations. He was a proud member of the Dunloy Orange Lodge and local branch of the Apprentice Boys, but fellow brethren weren’t so proud of his overt displays of bigotry.
Not that anyone would confront such a huge, volatile Co Antrim farm-raised lock forward about such things.
Like many others, I was really surprised when the father-of-four (and stepfather to another two) answered Ireland’s call in 1995. As someone who’d occasionally reported on his exploits for Ballymena Rugby Club and Ulster in the 1980s, choosing someone who was then 35 — he only started playing ‘serious’ rugby at 21 — and in the twilight of his career seemed a strange move.
And ‘Tweedy’ wouldn’t have been mine, or indeed many people’s, first choice as a second-rower either — although having survived a broken leg playing for Ulster, and then a serious car crash, there was little doubt about his tenacity as a sportsperson.
What didn’t surprise anyone was that, having replaced Paddy Johns in the line-up against France to become the oldest debutant in the history of Irish rugby, his international career would span just four caps (won two, lost two).
His ability on the field notwithstanding, colleagues wondered how committed to ‘the cause’ someone who regularly flew the Union flag outside his home in Ballymoney (although he also had an address at Clonavon Terrace in Ballymena) would be.
Even in the dressing room, he joked about “having played 30 times for ‘my country’, I have now been selected for Ireland.”
He also claimed — although none of the other players say they heard this — that he sang God Save The Queen while everyone else bellowed Amhran na bhFiann, and that he wore a white Ulster jersey under his green one.
It’s likely those latter claims were merely apocryphal, but they played well to his future political associates in Ballymena Borough Council, if not so kindly to Irish Rugby Football Union officials and Ireland supporters.
Even then, there were rumours that he had been an abusive and occasionally violent husband to his Belfast-born ex-wife Margaret who had two children from a previous relationship and whom he’d been with for over a decade at that stage. Tweed married Margaret — who was nearly a foot shorter than him — just over 20 years ago.
Domestic violence was something he later admitted to in court when facing charges of child sex abuse.
A few days before he put himself before the Ballymena electorate, he was charged with assaulting another man in a Ballymoney pub. It didn’t stop him being elected.
Having become a detested figure among the mainly nationalist inhabitants of Dunloy, he soon repeated the trick in Ballymena after making vile, disrespectful and untimely comments following the sectarian murder of Catholic teenager Michael ‘Mickey Bo’ McIlveen in 2006.
“There are no back doors with me” was a regular Tweed refrain.
A local politician told me at the time: “Tweedy hates Catholics. I think it has something to do with where he was brought up; there were just too many floating about for his liking.”
The DUP wanted nothing to do with him after the McIlveen remarks, but the feeling was mutual and, a year later Tweed, angered by party leader Ian Paisley “getting into bed with Sinn Fein”, ultimately decamped to the TUV, who suspended him when the child abuse allegations first surfaced.
Following his death, both Mervyn Storey of the DUP and Jim Allister of the TUV described Tweed as a “larger-than-life character.”
Others will, however, remember him as a hugely divisive figure who was regularly at the forefront when it came to stoking up sectarian tension both before and after the Good Friday Agreement.
That, and not his rugby exploits, will be his legacy.