Northern Ireland news

Former UVF man Garfield Beattie: 'My grandfather was in the IRA'

Former UVF man Garfield Beattie pictured at his grandfather's grave near Loughgall. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Connla Young

A former UVF man arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill the daughter of one of his victims has claimed that his grandfather was in the IRA.

Garfield Beattie revealed that he comes from a republican background and is fascinated by historical republican figures.

He spent 16 years behind bars for three murders, including that of SDLP activist Denis Mullen (36) who was shot dead at his home near Moy, Co Tyrone in September 1975.

He was also convicted for his part in the murders of Frederick McLoughlin (48) near Moy in May 1976 and Patrick McNeice (50) ,who was shot dead at his home in the Loughgall area of Co Armagh in July that year.

Beattie, a former member of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve, was arrested last weekend after a letter signed 'East Tyrone Ulster Volunteer Force' was sent to Denis Mullen's daughter Denise, who is an Aontú councillor in Mid Ulster.

Speaking to The Irish News, the 64-year-old - who suffered two heart attacks earlier this year and has had four stents put in - claimed that his grandfather, James McKeown, was a member of the IRA in the Loughgall area in the 1920s.

He said his mother, Mary, was also republican minded.

She and Beattie's father, Ronald, settled in Annaghmore, a loyalist area near Portadown.

He claims republican anthems such as Johnston's Motor Car were part of the soundtrack of his youth as he spent much of his time with his grandfather, who held a strong dislike of the B-Specials.

But despite the family links to the republican movement, Beattie joined the UVF in late 1974.

“We moved around here (Annaghmore) and I was brought up a Prod and the Troubles were at their height in '72 and then I went to school in Portadown, and probably through my own mental instability I joined the UVF,” he said.

Within a year of signing up he was involved in the killing of Denis Mullen.

“Today I am still coming to terms with what I joined,” he said.

Beattie said his loyalist activities had a devastating impact on his own family.

“It broke their hearts.

“My granda died in '73.

“Obviously it broke my mother's heart and my da, but they just had to come to terms with it.”

Although he operated within a loyalist unit that also had members linked to the RUC and UDR, he does not accept that the murder of Catholics at the time constituted collusion.

“There was no collusion at all,” he said.

“The reason why there was no collusion - you don't need collusion to kill innocent Catholics.

“All the people that were murdered by the UVF were innocent Catholics.”

He makes a distinction when it comes to republicans.

“If they were IRA men, yes, you have an argument for collusion,” he said.

“You don't need collusion for killing innocent Catholics.”

Beattie confirmed that the killing of Denis Mullen was part of his initiation into the UVF.

“From that you can deduce the mental state of mind I was in."

Read more:

He revealed he was also told to kill Mr Mullen's wife, Olive.

“I was to shoot both of them,” he said.

“And I didn't do it.”

The UVF had already killed two Catholic couples in the area before the Mullen family home was targeted.

Asked why he didn't follow the order to kill both the husband and wife, who were parents to two small children, he said: “I don't know, it was probably the hand of God was in it, I just didn't do it."

Beattie said he no longer considers himself a loyalist, referencing the murder of the Reavey brothers in south Armagh in 1976.

“I am ashamed of the term for what they done,” he said.

“Because of the innocent people they killed.

“It's nothing to be proud about - going in and shooting three innocent brothers watching television in the name of loyalism.

“I want nothing to do with it, I'm ashamed of it.

“I don't term myself as a loyalist.”

He said he has broken all connections with those he knew in the UVF in the 1970s and turned to religion while in jail in 1981.

“These things were wrong,” he said.

“You do these things in your youth and you get saved.

“It's like being born again, you were blind and now you see.”

He added that he remains troubled by his past.

“I have flashbacks every day,” he said.

“If I really thought about it I think I would top myself.

“I know Denise and they don't understand that.

“I knew men coming back from the first and second world wars and they were never right.

“I can't dwell on it but it is always there.”

During his trial Beattie was described as a being in the lowest 10 per cent of the population intellectually.

When asked why he joined the UVF, he said: “My head was away with it, I was almost illiterate.

“Technically, what the judge was saying was 'this man's a retard'.

He rejects this description of himself today.

“It's different now.

“I went into jail and in 1978 I started degree courses, I did history and art.

“I started to paint in 1977 and I have been reading and painting ever since, every day.”

After his release from prison in 1993 he attended Queen's University in Belfast.

From a small studio at the rear of his present home, Beattie continues to paint.

His work is sold by some of the north's most reputable art dealers.

Ironically, some of his key subjects are republican figures from the last century, including Michael Collins, Tom Barry and Erskine Childers.

He said in the past he has also painted and sold prints of executed Easter Rising leaders.

“I am fascinated by the republican side in the Irish civil war,” he said.

“I don't lick that off the ground. I would say it runs in the genes.”

Although he considers himself British, he adds that is no fan of the crown.

“I would be a republican but not in the sense of Irish republicanism,” he said.

“I don't believe in the monarchy.

“Remember, Oliver Cromwell was a republican.”

Read more:

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news