Collins is borne past the graffiti of hate to his grave

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A CHORD WAS struck with more than one person at the funeral of Eamon Collins yesterday when a young woman read from the Bible about a time to keep silent, a time to speak, a time to be born, a time to die.

The lines from Ecclesiastes helped to explain why the funeral was taking place: ex-IRA man Collins had, for his own complex reasons, decided simply to ignore the republican rule that a man in his position should keep silent.

Some 50 people, silent, downcast, some with red-rimmed eyes, followed his coffin from his home in Barcroft Park to St Catherine's church.

Barcroft Park is a tough republican area of the town of Newry in Co Down, a tight-knit hilly estate: few gathered to watch the funeral procession, and those who did looked on impassively.

The splashes of colour on yesterday's grey day came mostly from the plentiful republican paraphernalia. As the mourners shuffled down the hill they passed the graffiti that had threatened Eamon Collins, and predicted his death.

He used to go out with a paintbrush and paint over the slogans or alter them: he changed one which labelled him "RUC Tout" to "RUC out".

But he could not wipe out the hatred of those who regarded him as a traitor to the republican cause, or those who carried a personal grudge against him.

Thus it was that the body inside the coffin was not just dead but mutilated, stabbed and battered in an attack which, as one police officer graphically put it, could have been carried out by primitive cavemen.

The sad little procession, which seemed to be mostly family, walked past a tricolour, past a poster glorifying an IRA man with a machine-gun, and past an elaborate granite monument erected in memory of locals "who were part of Ireland's struggle for freedom".

Further down, they walked slowly past small knots of people who, wiser and more discreet than Eamon Collins, plainly knew the value of silence.

They said little or nothing, even to each other, giving the impression that they were simply observing rather than being in the business of paying their respects to the dead.

But there was a surprisingly large representation inside the church, perhaps 200 people listening to Father Peter McParland chide politicians who did not wish to know Eamon Collins when he was alive but who now "use his death to suit themselves".

Father McParland produced no extravagant anathema against the killers, contenting himself with remarking in general terms that they had all seen too much of war, hatred and injustice, and expressing the hope that this pointless killing would be the last.

Then, in a local graveyard, they buried Collins, the man who helped the IRA to kill so many people, who recanted,who refused to obey the republican rules, and who paid the price with his life. His tortured death is only the latest in the toll of more than 3,600 victims of the Troubles. There, at the graveside, was a wreath from his children - "In loving memory of Daddy from Lorcan, Aoife, Sorcha and Tiarnach" - a stark and sad reminder that he was also somebody's father, somebody's husband, and some mother's son.

Mowlam's past, page 3