Tweed ‘among toughest in Irish rugby’

Former rugby international David  Tweed
Former rugby international David Tweed

Ballymena man David Tweed, convicted in court today of child sex abuse, was once named among the toughest men in Irish rugby.

He was found guilty today of 13 counts of indecent assault, gross indecency with a child and inciting gross indecency with a child.

Standing at 6ft 5in tall and weighing more than 18 stone, David Tweed was a formidable force on the game’s playing field during the 1980s and ‘90s, no more so than at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin.

It was here that this hardline, uncompromising unionist used to stand wearing an Ulster shirt under his green international jersey, and gritted his teeth as 48,000 fans got to their feet to acknowledge the Republic’s national anthem.

He was born and raised on a farm outside Dunloy on November 13 1959 - years before the little village in Co Antrim became synonymous with Northern Ireland’s marching season tensions when Tweed re-appeared, this time wearing an Orange sash.

He met his wife Margaret, a Belfast woman in 1984. The couple did not marry until 1990 but lived together in a bungalow in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, which had belonged to a relative.

They had four children together.

During the course of his three week trial Tweed admitted to domestic violence. He accepted he had slapped his wife, who is 5ft 3ins and small in stature, with an open hand once or twice a year and more frequently had physically pushed her out of his way.

The couple are now estranged and before today’s conviction had lived in another property at Clonavon Terrace in Ballymena.

Tweed was employed on Northern Ireland railways as an infrastructure supervisor. At one point he worked 12 hour shifts, five nights a week plus an extra day shift on a Sunday.

During his younger days, Saturdays were always dedicated to rugby - initially for teams in Ballymoney and Ballymena; then for Ulster and eventually, at the age of 35, for Ireland.

Tweed became Ireland’s oldest debutant when he was selected to play against France in the Five Nations in 1995. That year, he won another three Irish caps including one against Japan at the Rugby World Cup in South Africa. He also played for Ireland against Wales and Italy.

However, his staunch unionist views made the outspoken player a divisive and controversial presence for Irish fans.

After his first cap, friends claimed he declared: “I played 30 times for my country [Ulster] and once for Ireland”.

It has also been claimed that Tweed boasted about wearing his Ulster top under the green international shirt so the Red Hand crest would be close to his heart. Some supporters also claimed he sang “God Save the Queen” to himself during the playing and singing of Amhran na bhFiann.

At times he cut a fearsome sight as a second row forward as the Ireland team charged for the line, and during a 15-year political career which followed, Tweed was never one to step back, or shy away from controversy.

He is a member of the Orange Order and entered politics with the Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party after his lodge LOL 496 was prevented from marching through Dunloy during the mid-1990s.

It was a ban which led to an ugly and bitterly sectarian nine-month picket by loyalists outside the Church of Our Lady Catholic Church in Harryville, Ballymena.

Tweed was a prominent and vocal figure among the protesters.

His entrenched opinions and refusal to yield over the contentious march made him a hate figure for many Catholic residents in Dunloy and his name is frequently included in graffiti sprayed on walls around the village.

One said: “He is the most detested man in Dunloy. His appearances here, when things were really rough during the mid-1990s, meant that he is totally hated. He was Worshipful Master in the Orange Order at that time and his attitude towards the re-routing of that parade has lived long in the memories of people in the village.”

Shortly after his election to Ballymena Council in 1997 he became embroiled in a row at a bar owned by the motorcycling legend Joey Dunlop in Ballymoney. Although he does not have a reputation for fighting Tweed was handed a fine after being convicted of assault. Former friends claimed his drinking could change his personality.

At one point he also worked as a bouncer at a Ballymoney bar.

One former customer said: “When he drinks, he drinks. I’d say he does have a temper.”

Eleven years later, in 2008, he was in the dock again charged with drink driving. At that time he lost his licence and was fined £250.

Opinion on Tweed, who is a well known big personality in north Antrim, appears to be split along orange and green lines.

One former DUP colleague said: “I have known Davy Tweed all my life and I have always found him to be a very nice man.”

Tweed took his attempts to overrule the Parades Commission decision on the Dunloy Parade to the High Court in Belfast in 2004 but judges rejected his claims that the Orangemen’s human rights were being contravened.

In 2007 he left the DUP over opposition to power-sharing with Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland executive and stood as an independent candidate. He joined Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice three years later but was suspended once his trial got under way.