A Galway -based priest who oversaw a funeral that turned into a grave dispute said it was his “worst experience” as a priest.
Seven people were hospitalized for injuries they sustained during the riot at a local cemetery on Athenry Road in Tuam, County Galway, on September 22nd.
An armed gardaí, an Army helicopter, and five helicopters were called to the scene as brawlers attacked with knives, slash hooks, and gabas. A victim is believed to have been rushed to hospital with severe stab wounds.
Many newspapers report that the clash has been linked to an ongoing dispute between two local Traveler families that has worsened in recent months. The dispute is not believed to be related to the family of the deceased.
Fr. Ray Flaherty told the Irish Sun that members of the orphaned family, who were not involved in the mess, apologized for the incident.
“I did the second funeral. I wasn’t aware of the background… I’ve always had a very good time for the Travel community,” Fr. Flaherty.
“No matter who they are, you treat everyone the same. I’ve always had a rule that if you get to know people half way, the other half will always get to know you.
“I know some family members came up to me afterwards and apologized.”
Fr. Flaherty said he feared someone would be killed during the riot.
“I was really shocked by the whole thing. I tried to calm things down with some outposts that were initially there, but you can also scream in the air,” he told the Irish Sun.
“It’s my worst experience. I’ve heard about it in places, but it’s surprising to see.”
An eyewitness who attended the grave of a loved one in the cemetery when the fight broke out described the dispute as a “complete massacre” and told the Irish Independent he had never seen anything like it.
An unnamed witness said there were two funerals in the cemetery on Wednesday and that many people remained after the first funeral was over.
“When the second funeral went to the grave all hell was broken up,” the witness told the Irish Independent.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life- women screaming, kids running for cover, and their mothers screaming‘ Go behind the wall ’.
“And next it started raining stones on those who were coming to the second funeral.”
The witness said some brawlers ripped wooden crosses from graves to use as weapons and added that he saw Fr. Flaherty begging people to stop.
He said he also saw paramedics helping a man who had suffered a serious head injury and was “losing a lot of blood”.
Gardaí confirmed that they were investigating the incident and arrested a young man who attempted to flee the area named with a knife.