Fatal ill-luck of friends across Ulster's divide

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The Independent Online
PHILIP ALLEN and Damien Trainor lived together and then died together, the blood from their bodies mingling as they breathed their last on the floor of a little pub in Poyntzpass on Tuesday night.

A Protestant and a Catholic, they had the good fortune to live in a little oasis of community harmony amid the rolling drumlins of Armagh and Down. But they had fatal ill-luck to live within striking distance of other places which have been poisoned by deep wells of sectarianism.

The two friends were having a quiet drink on Tuesday night when loyalist gunmen burst in, shouted "Get down you bastards" and fired repeatedly into their bodies and those of two other people.

The fact of their different religions, and thus their different politics, did not interfere with the close friendship between the two men. Philip, who was 34, had just asked 25 year old Damien to be his best man.

Damien's uncle, Coleman Trainor, said yesterday: "All Damien lived for was cars and a few drinks along with his mate who was murdered. They've grown up together as pals the way both their fathers did. The families have a long, long history - never any animosity among them, just the best of pals, the best of friends."

They were both drinking orange juice in the little bar when the gunmen arrived. Brian Canavan, son of the bar's owner, described the scene: "It was quite simple. There was two men came in through the front door of the bar and they shouted in very rude terms for everybody in the bar to lie down, and everybody just lay down. They did not ask for denominations or anything, they just opened fire on the fellas that were on the ground."

When Father Desmond Corrigan was summoned to the bar he found the two fatally injured men. "I saw Damien and Philip lying on the ground just behind the door," he said. "I administered the last rites to Damien and prayed with Philip.

"They were still conscious at that stage and I tried to console them. I tried to talk to them, to encourage them, give them some hope. They responded for a short time, but then we were losing them. There was no pandemonium. Everyone was just trying to do whatever they could for the boys."

Poyntzpass is named after Lieutenant Poyntzpass an English officer given 500 acres of land by Elizabeth I in reward for defeating soldiers of the Earl of Tyrone. Until 9 o'clock on Tuesday night it was just one of the many obscure backwaters, tucked away throughout Northern Ireland, which had made it through the troubles unscathed.

The village is majority Catholic, its surroundings majority Protestant. It is free of the flags, bunting and slogans which both decorate and deface so many towns and villages: lying between loyalist Portadown and nationalist Newry it has chosen not to display its colours.

The fact that it has never experienced shootings or bombings meant that yesterday its residents exuded, in addition to their grief, shock, bewilderment and disbelief. An old man who had just attended morning Mass said: "In all my years it's the worst night I ever remember in Poyntzpass."

The village's three pubs are all Catholic-owned, but all have mixed clientele, a fact which bolstered the general assumption that they would not be targeted by loyalists. Unlike many Belfast pubs which are festooned with metal doors, cameras and other precautions, the bar had no security: all the gunmen had to do was turn the handle and walk in.

The gunmen are today probably celebrating their achievement of adding two more names to the list of the dead. They will congratulate themselves on having killed Damien, because he was a Catholic.

They will be less happy about killing Philip because he was a Protestant, but will console themselves with the thought that he brought it on himself by drinking in a Catholic-owned bar with a Catholic friend. "He shouldn't have been there," a loyalist source once explained about a past shooting. "He shouldn't have been mixing like that."

In the village everyone hoped that community relations would survive the killings, and many hoped the peace process would bring an end to such murder.

Great efforts will clearly be made to achieve this, but the brutal fact is that the Allen and Trainor families will now never know peace, and that the village will be indelibly stained with the blood of two friends.