Policeman's Ulster funeral unites leaders

2011-04-06 16:45

Beragh - Government and church leaders from across Ireland joined thousands on Wednesday at the funeral of a Catholic policeman slain by IRA dissidents - a rare killing that has highlighted the dramatic social changes of Northern Ireland's peace process.

Constable Ronan Kerr, 25, was killed by a booby-trap bomb hidden under his car outside his home in the town of Omagh on Saturday.

A new recruit barely weeks into the job, Kerr was the first member of Northern Ireland's security forces to be slain since March 2009, when IRA dissidents shot to death a policeman and two off-duty British soldiers.

Kerr came from nearby Beragh, a predominantly Catholic village nestled in rolling County Tyrone hills, where, until recent years, the Irish Republican Army enjoyed strong support and police were viewed with hostility as a Protestant occupation force.

But on Wednesday, a sea of ashen-faced humanity, Protestant and Catholic alike, packed the sidewalks to honour Kerr as a peacemaker.

Police, family and friends took turns carrying his casket - topped with his officer's cap and leather gloves - down the main street as the village church bell tolled slowly.

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