Gene Kerrigan: Grief, deep as it was, was sidelined for a while
Love, curiosity and solidarity brought huge crowds to brutally murdered Alan Ryan's funeral, writes Gene Kerrigan
THERE were two cute little girls cavorting in front of the church. The younger one had a Tricolour wrapped tightly around her. The taller one wore her Tricolour like a cape, letting it fly behind her as she skipped.
The funeral was late. Scheduled for 10 o'clock Mass at the Holy Trinity church in Donaghmede, it was a couple of minutes to 11 when a bagpipe could be heard in the distance.
Alan Ryan was a prominent supporter of the Real IRA. He was shot dead a short walk north of his home, in the area where his mother also lived. The church to which his remains were coming is a slightly longer walk south-west of his home. It is the church where he was baptised, made his Communion, and his Confirmation.
His death was brutal. Someone shot him, then stood over him and shot him again in the head. Ryan was "known to the police", was questioned about violent offences and was on bail at the time of his death. The papers are full of speculation about a Real IRA feud with drug gangs.
Some will read that as paramilitaries using their muscle to drive out drug gangs; others will read it as paramilitaries using their muscle to extort money from drug gangs.
There were Tricolours and black flags on a few of the lamp posts near the church. There were uniformed police at the church and at the junctions of roads leading to the church. It was a blue-sky day. Coming up to 10 o'clock, there were perhaps 300 people on the pavement across the road from the church, in front of the Donaghmede Shopping Centre. Some there for the funeral, some shoppers standing out of curiosity. A lot of people there because Ryan was a local man, well-known in the area, and when a neighbour dies you show solidarity.
A crowd attracts a crowd, and by 11 o'clock there were perhaps 600 outside the shopping centre, 300 across the road outside the church.
The bagpipe played 'The Minstrel Boy' as the coffin reached the church.
"The Minstrel boy to the wars has gone, in the ranks of death you will find him." There were hundreds behind the hearse.
As with all funerals, the front ranks behind the coffin were a knot of grief. Alan Ryan was known to the police as a suspect, but to others he was a son, a friend, a lover, a father.
The hearse had wreaths on the roof. The one in front said 'Alan'.
On the righthand side, a wreath said, '32CSM' -- the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. On the other side, a wreath spelt 'Daddy'.
Unlike other funerals, the grief -- deep as it obviously was -- was sidelined for a while.
Half a dozen figures in dark paramilitary uniforms, berets, dark glasses, masks tight across their faces, slowly paced at the head of the mourners -- all eyes on them, a flashback from another age.
Before the Mass began, the paramilitaries climbed into a van just outside the door of the church.
A crowd formed around the back of the van, almost all men, holding jackets and umbrellas aloft, to block the paramilitaries from view of police cameras, when they emerged without disguise from the van.
"Just covering for the boys", a man explained. At least one of the paramilitaries was a woman.
The priest spoke of a "barbaric act". He said that no one has the right to take to themselves the ending of another human life.
The symbolic gifts placed by the coffin were a picture of Alan Ryan's children and a framed copy of the 1916 Proclamation. Outside the church, two men took wreaths and bunches of flowers from the boots of two limos and laid them on the back of a flatbed truck, for the journey to the cemetery. There was a large Tricolour flying from the cab of the truck.
The funeral missal had a poem by Robert Burns. "An honest man here lies at rest," it said. "Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd, Few heads with knowledge so informed."
As the service ended, a man played a keyboard version of Labi Siffre's anti-apartheid anthem Something Inside So Strong. Outside the church the jackets and umbrellas were held aloft again as the paramilitaries changed back into their gear.
In time to come, it might or might not be one of those people behind the masks who commits another barbaric act -- shooting bullets into the head of someone who might or might not have been involved in the murder of Alan Ryan. And behind the next corpse there will walk the women and the men who love that victim, followed by the children who don't understand.