The south Armagh village of Bessbrook was in shock yesterday after the tragic death of 68-year-old Oswald Bradley.
Several friends of Mr Bradley, including Willie Frazer of victims’ group FAIR, Kingsmills massacre survivor Alan Black and Pastor Barrie Halliday yesterday laid a wreath where they say the pensioner entered the water at Bessbrook Pond on Monday.
It has been claimed that the pensioner was swimming to an island in Bessbrook Pond to remove two Irish tricolours from trees when he got into difficulties.
Days earlier calls had been made from nationalist politicians for the controversial flags to be removed.
It has further been claimed that Mr Bradley intended to replace them with a Union Flag.
Yesterday the Irish tricolours had been removed.
A PSNI spokesman said they are not treating the death as suspicious.
Pastor Halliday, chaplain of the FAIR group, said he was told by people who were at the scene that “a Union Flag was found with him”.
“The people who were there said there was a Union Flag and he intended to put it up,” he said.
“He just felt it needed to be done. Some people think it is very uncharacteristic of him, and it maybe is in the sense that he made a rash decision that cost his life, but it is perfectly in keeping with Ossy being sickened with the tricolours and wanting to take them down.
“He had been a Bessbrook man all his life, his cousin John McConville was killed in the Kingsmills massacre, and he said he felt the grief of the village.”
Pastor Halliday said Mr Bradley “would not have been political in the sense of who you were or what you were, but he was a very loyal man to his Queen and to his flag”.
“I knew him well enough to know that. He wasn’t sectarian, he was loyal,” he added.
Mr Black, who went to primary school with Mr Bradley, said he knew nothing about the circumstances of his friend’s death.
“I know in life he was one of the most generous and kind-hearted people,” he said. “Anyone of any denomination would tell you that.
“If there was trouble in any house in Bessbrook he would be the first rapping the door to see if he could help in any way.
“I am not making him out to be something that he wasn’t, that is what he was. I knew him all my life as we were at primary school together, he was two years below me.”
Mr Frazer said he knew Mr Bradley as a member of the FAIR organisation.
“It is unfortunate that these flags [Irish tricolours] were put up,” he said. “They should have been removed. But what happened here happened.
“And people say why was he doing it? The people in this community did not put tricolours up because they knew the pain and suffering that has gone on and that is why it never happened before.”
Mr Frazer said Mr Bradley was “a great member of FAIR who we will miss greatly”.
“He was practical man who enjoyed a bit of craic, enjoyed his sport,” he said.
“Jean Lemmon [whose husband was murdered in the Kingsmills massacre in 1976] who is now 91-years-old, says she has lost her lifelong friend and basically that is what people feel here, especially people in our organisation. The only thing Ossy believed in was the right for people to have justice.”
Mrs Lemmon was yesterday too upset to speak to the News Letter about the tragedy.
A neighbour of Mr Bradley’s, 60-year-old Denis Turley, said: “I have known him since he was a youngster.
“He used to play in a pipe band and his older brother used to take me to football matches when I was five-years-old.
“They [the Bradleys] were Protestant and I am a Catholic and we all used to play together. There was no problem.”
Meanwhile, Wesley Livingstone, who is in his 80s, said: “I have known him since he was a boy. I was in my daughter’s when I heard that the news had been posted on Facebook. Then I found out who it was.
“Oswald and his family were well known in the village and got on with everybody right across the community. No-one keeps themselves to one community in the village, there is no silly nonsense like that.”