Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Ex-RUC piper finds herself leading INLA funeral - calls in police after online threats

Piper didn't know booking was for INLA funeral

Piper Lee Lawson Irwin performing at the funeral of INLA child killer Martin McElkerney on May 23 2019.
Piper Lee Lawson Irwin performing at the funeral of INLA child killer Martin McElkerney on May 23 2019.
Lee Lawson who was one of the music teachers who took part in the Arts Across Borders Event in the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall at the weekend. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 2.4.11
Piper at the funeral
Former INLA prisoner Martin McElkerney pictured at the press conference.

By Ciaran Barnes for Sunday Life

The frightened piper who found herself leading INLA chief Marty McElkerney's funeral has had to call in police after online threats and abuse.

Lee Lawson - a former member of the RUC Pipes and Drums Band - believes she has been put at risk after being booked to play at the paramilitary procession.

The award-winning professional musician says she had no idea that the funeral was to be a show of strength featuring masked INLA members or that she would end up on the front of national newspapers and television bulletins.

She told Sunday Life she turned up not even knowing the surname of the deceased man.

Lee revealed that when she arrived in west Belfast for the service, she was too afraid to turn back because of the presence of masked men.

2019-05-26_sun_50634980_I2.JPG
Lee Lawson who was one of the music teachers who took part in the Arts Across Borders Event in the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall at the weekend. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 2.4.11

She said: "The police were out at my house on Friday night because of the abuse I was getting. It's because I was in the RUC band.

"They have told me that if I had refused to play I would have put myself in more danger. I had no choice, I would have put myself at greater risk."

Sign In

A PSNI spokeswoman said it does not comment on cases where people have been threatened. Lee, who regularly plays at church services and band competitions across Northern Ireland, explained that she was booked by an undertaker to play at a funeral in west Belfast last Thursday.

She says she was provided with few details of the service and did not know it would involve paramilitaries.

It was only after arriving in the Divis area at McElkerney's wake house that she realised it was an INLA send-off.

"The only information I had beforehand was that it was a Catholic service for a man called Martin who had taken his own life," said Lee.

"I didn't know who he was as I don't normally watch the news. I didn't know anything about what happened on the Monday night (when a masked INLA man fired shots outside McElkerney's wake house).

"They brought the coffin out of the house and I asked them do you want me at the front or behind it, and I was told to go to the front.

"I turned around and saw these guys with masks and hats and sunglasses. I got the shock of my life.

"My mum had taken me there in the car and she had to drive behind. She was terrified, it was very intimidating."

To her horror, Lee was splashed over the pages of newspapers throughout the UK and Ireland leading McElkerney's paramilitary funeral as it left his home in the Divis area and made its way up the Falls Road to the INLA plot at Milltown Cemetery.

2019-05-26_sun_50634914_I4.JPG
Former INLA prisoner Martin McElkerney pictured at the press conference.

Walking behind her in the cortege was a who's who of senior republicans including former IRA men Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, ex-INLA prisoner Willie Gallagher, and dissident chiefs. The image of Lee at the front of the procession striding ahead of masked INLA men led directly to the online threats against the innocent musician.

She added: "People have been giving me a hard time on Facebook." PSNI Superintendent Lorraine Dobson said officers are now scouring footage of the McElkerney funeral to bring charges.

A police spotter plane was seen in the sky monitoring the mourners and masked paramilitaries walking behind the INLA leader's coffin. "Police had a proportionate operation in place which included the use of evidence-gathering equipment," said Superintendent Dobson.

"All evidence will now be reviewed by specialist officers and any offences detected will be investigated."

On her website, Lee says she was the first female member of the RUC Pipes and Drums Band, playing with it for seven years.

The biography reveals: "She joined The Pipes and Drums of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, being the first female ever to be invited to play in their ranks. Playing with this prestige drum corps she gained numerous drumming accolades."

Lee is also a two-time world juvenile drumming champion, and has several other American, European, Irish and Ulster titles to her name.

From Co Down, Lee is a former member of the drum corps of current world champions the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band based in Lisburn.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph