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2 Die in Peaceful N. Ireland Town

March 4, 1998

POYNTZPASS, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Against the odds, Protestants and Catholics in this oasis from Northern Ireland’s troubles had learned to bury their differences long ago.

Now, in a loss almost inconceivable to the people of Poyntzpass, they must bury two of their sons.

Damien Trainor, a 25-year-old Catholic, and Philip Allen, a 34-year-old Protestant, died together as best friends Tuesday night when sectarian gunmen burst into a village pub, ordered patrons to lie on the floor and started firing.

``All Damien lived for was his cars and a few drinks with his best mate Philip,″ said his aunt, Ita Collins. ``Damien wouldn’t go anywhere without Philip. That was the way they were.″

The bloodletting _ all too common in more polarized parts of the country _ stained a rare acre of innocence in Northern Ireland.

``These two men, through their friendship, showed that background, history and religion need not stop the two communities from living in harmony,″ British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday. ``(These) two friends across the community divide in a sense symbolized the future in Northern Ireland. And those gunmen, in the evil atrocity they committed, they symbolized the past.″

Nestled at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, Poyntzpass and its 300 residents indeed represent a vision of the future being sought in Northern Ireland’s peace talks.

Protestants and Catholics here say they mix freely and respect each others’ differences, largely untouched by three decades of violence over whose rights should prevail _ those of the north’s pro-British Protestant majority or those of its Catholic minority.

The residents of Poyntzpass also mingled in the village’s three Catholic-owned pubs, a point evidently lost on the killers, who police say were gunning for Catholics.

No group claimed responsibility for the shootings in the Railway Bar, which left another three people wounded. But politicians blamed a renegade pro-British gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, as the most likely culprit. Police arrested three men from the group’s Protestant power base of Portadown on suspicion of involvement.

David Ervine, who represents another pro-British gang, the Ulster Volunteer Force, decried the Loyalist Volunteers as ``fundamentalists so filled with hate that they can’t imagine a world where a Protestant and a Catholic would sit down for a drink together.″

Trainor had gone to the Catholic school next door to his home in Poyntzpass, 25 miles south of Belfast. Allen had attended the Protestant state school a few hundred yards away. But somehow, they had managed to become buddies.

Allen’s mother, Ethel, said her son had secretly proposed to his longtime girlfriend _ and had already asked Trainor to be his best man.

The two mechanics, who had traveled to the Mediterranean and Europe together, shared an obsession with cars and trucks, and friends said they often spent hours after work in the Railway discussing how to resurrect old wrecks.

Both men’s parents were by their sides as they struggled for life Tuesday night, behind the pub’s front door. They died en route to the hospital.

On Wednesday, residents struggled to understand the evil that had visited their tiny town.

``Poyntzpass had escaped all the troubles and we thought it was one of the safest places to be,″ said Mrs. Collins, Damien’s aunt.

``We’ve always lived together, drank in the pubs together,″ said Brian Canavan, whose family owns the Railway. ``There’s never been any problems whatsoever. That’s why this is such a great shock for everyone.″

Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, visited the grieving families and vowed that the killings wouldn’t ``take the guts out of the talks process.″

Two senior Protestant and Catholic politicians, often each other’s most bitter critics, visited the families, too _ together.

One, Seamus Mallon, called Poyntzpass ``a place where the ugly face of sectarianism has never been allowed to show.″

``Everyone in the political sphere should be inspired by the example of this little village and, above all, by the symbolism of these two men, living together ... and tragically dying together,″ said Mallon, deputy leader of the north’s major Catholic party. ``That should make us all think.″

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