Funeral mourners were forced to drop a coffin to the ground after a brawl broke out in a graveyard.
The fight at the Tuam Cemetery on the Athenry Road in Galway, Ireland, was described as one “not even the Pope could have stopped” by witnesses.
Teresa Ward, 84, was being buried when two women and five men were seriously injured in the bloodbath that saw one teenage boy arrested for carrying a knife.
The Irish Mirror reports the elderly woman’s funeral coincided with another in the area at the time, leading to the Gardai being on high alert from the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Mrs Ward’s mass was originally meant to take place on a different day but was moved so that it would take place on the same day as her daughter’s birthday who died of cancer just months previous.
Galway Beo spoke to the people of Tuam the morning after about the mass brawl that took place during and after the two funerals at Tuam Cemetery on the Athenry Road.
Martin Antony Ward, 35, of Ballygaddy Road, had just been laid to rest and Teresa Ward (née Mannion), 84, of Gilmartin Road, was being buried on Wednesday when a group of men, believed to be unrelated to either family, began to attack mourners of Mrs Ward’s burial.
It is understood that the incident is connected to a local traveller feud in the area between two rival families which has escalated in recent months and was not connected to the families of the deceased.
Residents in the area of Tuam Cemetery said they had noticed a Garda presence in the area from early in the morning with some becoming aware of the large operation as they dropped their children off to their minders or creche.
Galway Beo understands that during the melee, the coffin of deceased Teresa Ward was placed on the ground as the violence began to kick off.
A source said: “The attacks happened right away, the coffin didn’t even make it into the grave and they had to drop it on the ground as the chaos unravelled.”
Galway Councillor Donagh Killilea added that the family were carrying the coffin to the grave before having to “leave the coffin down while they were getting away from the argument that they weren’t involved indirectly.”
He described how the family of Teresa Ward was forced to retreat and even defend themselves from what was happening.
Cllr. Killilea said it was “very distressing for a family that is so well-liked and well thought of in this community”.
Another described Teresa Ward as a “salt of the earth” kind of person while stressing she deserved a peaceful sendoff for all she had done for her community.
Burial eyewitness accounts confirmed that the funeral attack lasted twenty minutes or less.
They said Fr. Pat Farragher tried in vain to calm matters but the scene was too chaotic.
One witness added: “You could only see him waving his arms appealing for calm but The Pope himself wasn’t going to calm this down.”
Another eyewitness said there was “sporadic outbreaks of trouble” and within seconds the scene became “bedlam with women screaming, kids crying” with one saying “I saw a lad running away with his jacket torn to shreds from a knife”.
“It was very upsetting seeing children fleeing while still carrying their roses for their granny, they never even got to lay them down.”
Teresa’s birthday would have been Wednesday September 22 and the funeral had been moved back one day to allow her to be buried on her daughter’s birthday.
Another resident said that the focus should be on reconciliation and mediation – stating that it was so peaceful and quiet until the trouble kicked off and that she was hopeful that peace could be restored.
Tuam Cemetery was busier than usual on Thursday morning with two locals saying they had called in to check on their own family graves to make sure they weren’t desecrated in the middle of the destruction.
The cemetery on Athenry Road was spotless on Thursday morning just hours after the violent scenes, as families and friends of the deceased helped tidy it up out of respect for the dead following the incident.