A Galway-based priest who officiated at a funeral that turned into a graveside brawl has said that it was his "worst ever experience" as a priest.
Seven people were hospitalized due to the injuries they sustained during the brawl at a local cemetery on the Athenry Road in Tuam, County Galway, on September 22.
Armed gardaí, an Army helicopter, and five helicopters were called to the scene as brawlers attacked with knives, slash hooks, and saws. It is believed that one victim was rushed to hospital with severe stab wounds.
Numerous publications report that the brawl related to an ongoing feud between two local Traveller families that had been escalating over recent months. The feud is not believed to be related to the families of the deceased.
Fr. Ray Flaherty told the Irish Sun that members of the bereaved family, who were not involved in the brawl, had apologized for the incident.
“I did the second funeral. I wasn’t aware of the background . . . I’ve always had a great time for the Travelling community," Fr. Flaherty said.
“Regardless of who they are, you treat everybody the same. I’ve always had a policy that if you meet people half way, they’ll always meet you the other half.
“I know some members of the family came up to me afterwards and were apologetic.”
Fr. Flaherty said he feared that someone would get killed during the brawl.
"I was really shocked by the whole thing. I tried to calm things with the few guards who were initially present, but you might as well be shouting in the wind," he told the Irish Sun.
"It was my worst ever experience. I’ve heard about it happening in places, but it was shocking to see."
An eye-witness who was attending a loved one's grave in the cemetery when the fight broke out described the brawl as "complete carnage" and told the Irish Independent that he had never seen anything like it.
The unnamed witness said that there were two funerals in the cemetery on Wednesday and that a number of people remained after the first funeral had ended.
"When the second funeral drove into the graveyard all hell broke loose," the witness told the Irish Independent.
"I’ve never seen anything like it in my life- women screaming, kids running for cover, and their mothers shouting ‘Go behind the wall’.
"And next thing rocks started raining down on the people coming in the second funeral."
The witness said that some brawlers ripped wooden crosses out of graves to use as weapons and added that he saw Fr. Flaherty begging people to stop.
He said that he also saw paramedics assisting a man who had suffered a serious head injury and was "losing a lot of blood".
Gardaí have confirmed that they are investigating the incident and arrested a male youth who attempted to flee the scene in possession of a knife.