Loyalists attacked mourners on their way to the funeral of murdered Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen today.
A group of loyalists stoned two cars en route to Crebilly graveyard, shouting “kill the fenians”.
Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney, who was in the cortege, said some of the attackers carried placards claiming they were “under siege”.
The 15-year-old’s coffin had earlier been taken from All Saints Church after Requiem Mass attended by more than 1,000 people.
A priest told mourners a darkness had descended upon Ballymena with the “wanton murder” of Michael.
Father Paul Symonds told the mourners that Michael’s brutal murder will not have been in vain if it leads to “a new vision” for Ballymena.
He was chased, cornered and battered with a baseball bat last Sunday week. Even though he managed to stagger home, the badly beaten schoolboy was taken to the Antrim Area Hospital, where he died a day later.
A poignant poem written by Michael was a moving centrepiece at his funeral today, which was attended by thousands of people. The poenj said: “Thank you, God, for this beautiful world.
“Help me always to respect your world and remember that all creation comes from you.
“Help me always to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me ... always to know it is not mine to damage or destroy.”
Dozens of mourners wore jerseys of the Glasgow Celtic soccer team, which Michael was wearing when he was killed. Celtic star Roy Keane sent his number 16 Hoops jersey, signed by all the players, to the family as a show of solidarity.
Michael’s family said the Roy Keane gesture mean at lot to them as Michael was a big Celtic fan.
Many of Michael’s Protestant friends, some wearing jerseys of the rival Rangers team, attended the funeral in a show of cross-community solidarity. All bore the same message on the back in tribute to the young victim. “Micky Bo RIP” the tops simply said.
Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and party colleague Philip McGuigan were at the funeral.
After local PSNI police chief Terry Shevlin expressed concern about retaliation, claiming dissident republicans were active in the town, Sinn Féin accused the police chief of cynically attempting to provide justification for the murder.
Philip McGuigan said: “Shevlin has sought to portray the situation in Ballymena as tit-for-tat violence.
“It is nothing of the sort. Shevlin is supposed to be the head of the PSNI in the town.
“His job is supposed to be to protect the public, instead he has sought to provide excuses for those who brutally murdered Michael McIlveen last week. He is a disgrace.”
The DUP was also criticised for suggesting the existence of a handful of tricolour flags and hunger strike posters within a nationalist housing estate was “republican provocation” for the murder.
“I hear Ian Paisley condemning the murder of Michael McIlveen and then go on to provide justification, whether its about flags, posters or commemorations,” said Mr McGuigan. “There are no excuses for beating a 15-year-old school boy to death.”
Despite being invited by the family, DUP leader Ian Paisley failed to attend the funeral.