Over the past three weeks following his death in a road accident, it was made clearer that former Ireland secondrow Davy Tweed was much more than the bigoted museum piece most of us believed him to be.
The former international rugby player, who opened his short, late career in a Five Nations match against France in 1995 and also played with Ireland in that year’s World Cup, was once the demonstration model for rugby as a sport that could cross divides.
We give you Tweedy, a divisive and graceless promoter of a certain kind of Loyalism. In the neutral space of sport he was the oversized cartoon character, who sold his bigotry as a kind of cultural asset. So, they put him in the deplorable box and marked it “Larger than life”.
Most of the Irish rugby players from the North did not bring their politics across the Border and most of the southern players did not bring their politics into the changing room. Tweed did. Stamped on his arse apparently.
But much like the Orange Parade that peacefully takes place in Donegal’s Rossnowlagh each year, the giant secondrow posed no threat. Dublin was a million July marches from Ballymena and Tweed was given a pass to peacefully roam.
But sport does love a fresh face and the oldest-ever Irish debutant at 35 years old had quite a ring. Such a personal tragedy it must have been then that the late call-up to his only Rugby World Cup had the misfortune to be timed for South Africa in 1995, a year after Apartheid ended.
A country that knew how to properly segregate, he would have enjoyed such a rich cultural gain had the tournament come a decade earlier as a lad in his 20s.
What people didn’t know was that while the then proud DUP man was scrumming down in the green of Ireland and the white of Ulster, his violating girls between the age of eight and 11 years old had already taken off.
He would also demonstrate a revulsion for the mass-goers at Harryville’s Our Lady’s church, where he became a key figure in a particularly nasty piece of sectarian conflict.
In 2013, his “larger than lifeness” would catch up with him but not his shamelessness. Sentenced to eight years for a catalogue of child abuse, he smiled and waved in Downpatrick Crown Court. The big man he was.
Bound for Maghaberry prison, the conviction details were 13 counts of abuse including indecent assault and gross indecency with a child. Victim impacts, which were detailed in court, disclosed that one of the girls involved had attempted suicide.
As his political career in the DUP and then the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) were taking a hit along with his personal freedoms, from a safe distance Tweed’s wife Margaret found voice to recount the profoundly violent presence he had been during their 23-year relationship.
In the two decades they spent together before the church-going Christian left their home in 2007 after the allegations of sexual assault first arose, she suffered sustained beatings and was threatened with loyalist paramilitary violence.
“The beatings started from the year dot,” she said. “He would beat me black and blue.”
When he died three weeks ago, the politicians took their cue and spoke of a community man.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said: “To his family I send my condolences and heartfelt prayers at what must be an unimaginably heartbreaking time for them.”
Maybe ask Margaret.
Leader of the TUV, the party that characterised Irish as a “leprechaun language” on its website, Jim Allister said: “Davy, a larger than life character, was widely known across North Antrim and further afield. I wish to express my deepest sympathy to his grieving family at this very difficult time.”
Maybe ask Victoria.
DUP MLA Mervyn Storey described Mr Tweed as “a larger-than-life character” adding: “I have known Davy and his family most of my life and cannot begin to imagine the sorrow his family have been plunged into.”
Maybe ask Catherine Alexandra.
Not for the first time, the suits couldn’t read the room. The unimaginable sorrow, not entirely, his grieving family, not really. Two of his daughters, Victoria and Catherine Alexandra waived their right to anonymity and revealed that their father had also been sexually and physically assaulting them from as far back as when they were six years old.
Victoria, the second youngest of his four children, went to the police and made a statement but did not feel strong enough to follow through to court. When Tweed went to prison she applied for a visit so she could ask him questions. He turned her down.
The sorrow and grief were there alright, but only when the case was quashed on a technicality after Tweed walked after four years in prison. She made that perfectly clear.
“It was over the tiniest legal loophole not because he was innocent,” she said.
Rugby is a legacy game and one that stands for values. We know that because we were told so in 2018 when the governing body put out a statement.
“The Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game – respect, inclusivity and integrity.” And the committed Christian should not be denied that.
Davy Tweed: Secondrow. Four caps. Paedophile. Wife beater. Bigot.