From Irish rugby legend to monster behind the mask
As former Irish rugby star Davy Tweed mounted his motorbike for what turned out to be the final journey of his life, he was a happy man.
Because the loyalist community in his native north Antrim had largely forgotten that just five years before he was still serving a lengthy jail sentence for a string of child sex crimes.
And to all intents and purposes, the former unionist politician and staunch defender of Orange rights at Dunloy, Drumcree and Harryville had been reinstated into Protestant civic society.
Following his release from prison in 2016, Tweed rejoined the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
He even bought himself a new bowler hat to attend the annual 12th of July parade.
And at the behest of friends in Ballymoney, he enrolled as a member in the Hebron Free Presbyterian Church.
Tweed’s conviction was quashed when the Court of Appeal agreed with his defence team that the jury at his trial hadn’t been fully briefed over the so-called ‘bad character clause’.
Four years before in 2012, David Alexander Tweed – Irish rugby international and hardline unionist politician – had been jailed for eight years when he was found guilty at the Crown Court, sitting in Downpatrick, Co Down, of serious child sex attacks against two female victims.
Three years before that – when he stood trial accused of 10 sex offences against two young girls – he was acquitted.
Around teatime on October 28, 2021, as Tweed sped along the roads of the beautiful Antrim coast, his sordid past was farthest from his mind.
But, at nearly 62, his ability to handle a powerful motorbike wasn’t what it once was.
As he neared the junction of the Whitepark Road and Tully Road, outside the Irish whiskey village of Bushmills, he lost control and toppled from his bike.
Tweed was catapulted across the road where he collided with a fence post. The impact broke his neck and he died instantly.
As a young man growing up on the family farm near Dunloy, where high-speed road racing is a popular pastime, Tweed had owned a motorbike.
At one stage he even harboured dreams of following in the footsteps of local motorcycle legends the ‘Armoy Armanda’, led by the world-famous speed merchant Joey Dunlop.
Davy Tweed liked to boast to strangers about his great friendship with the amiable Dunlop.
Joey was known and loved around the globe for his daredevil ability on high-speed bikes as well as his laid-back and shy disposition.
Despite the worldwide adulation he received on the racetrack, Dunlop was happiest among his many friends in the villages and towns of his native Co Antrim.
Everyone except Davy Tweed, that was.
Because Dunlop had personally barred Tweed for life from his popular Joey’s Bar pub, situated on the platform at Ballymoney Railway Station.
Tweed had viciously punched another customer in the face so hard that he knocked the man’s teeth out.
“Joey told Tweed he was no longer welcome in his bar. And even after Joey was killed in a motorcycle accident abroad, he never went back,” said a local man.
A nasty accident, resulting in a broken ankle, finally put paid to Tweed’s fantasies of motorcycle glory.
It was only after a friend suggested he take up rugby that the 6ft 5in man mountain stumbled into a sport which would bring him the public acclaim he so much desired.
“As a young man, Davy Tweed had absolutely no interest in rugby. But after taking it up, he discovered he was good at it,” said a former friend.
“He had the bulk to hold off other players. He just pushed them away and they fell like skittles. But it was mainly his male aggression that made him a success,” he added.
Using his father’s connections, Tweed secured employment as a maintenance inspector on Northern Ireland Railways. And soon afterwards he began playing at his local club, Ballymoney RFC.
At a friend’s wedding, Tweed met Margaret Brown, a 29-year-old divorced mum of two from Belfast.
She remembers him as “charming and a perfect gentleman”.
Tweed was two years older and after marrying Margaret in 1990, the couple set up home in Ballymoney.
It was when he made the step up to senior rugby with Ballymena RFC that his sporting career really took off.
He represented Ulster no fewer than 30 times and in 1995 he won the first of four international caps against France.
The pinnacle of Tweed’s playing career was when he was chosen to play for Ireland in the World Cup finals.
At 36, he remains the eldest debutant ever to pull on an Irish international jersey.
Following his international call-up, Tweed was scheduled to share a room with the legendary Munster rugby star Peter Clohessy.
In the macho world of Ulster rugby, tough-talking Tweed was known to enjoy showing off a large UVF tattoo which was prominently displayed on his leg.
Among supporters, speculation was rife about the ability of the players to blend.
But before heading south to link up with the rest of the Ireland squad, Tweed made an urgent appointment with a tattoo artist where he requested the loyalist paramilitary emblem be morphed into a less contentious image.
“In the end, Tweed bottled it. He liked to give the impression of being a ‘No Surrender’ Ulsterman. But he was secretly delighted to represent Ireland at rugby,” a former friend explained.
Last October, as the emergency services raced to his aid, Tweed lay dead in a Co Antrim field. And it wasn’t long before news of his passing began filtering back to newsrooms in Belfast.
Before going to jail, Tweed had represented both the DUP and the even more hardline TUV on Ballymena council.
And when it emerged he had been killed in a road accident, it was to Tweed’s former political associates that reporters turned for comment.
TUV leader Jim Allister – a barrister by profession – described Tweed as “larger than life”. And the following morning, Mr Allister used his Twitter feed to pay tribute to his former party colleague.
He tweeted: “Deeply saddened to learn of the death of the former Ireland rugby star and Ballymena Councillor Davy Tweed in a road traffic accident in North Antrim yesterday. Sincere sympathy to his grieving family and wide circle of friends.”
Before joining the Traditional Unionist Voice, Tweed had represented Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party as a local government councillor. He had even been photographed with the party leader.
Ian Paisley MP, son of the party founder and a keen motorcyclist, also added his voice to tributes flooding in after Tweed’s death. The Honourable Member for North Antrim said he too was “shocked and saddened” to hear of Tweed’s death.
“The one-time leading Ulster and Ireland rugby star, political activist, elected official and leading Orangeman, David was a well known Ulster man.
“To his family, I send my condolences and heartfelt prayers at what must be an unimaginably heartbreaking time for them. I pray God will comfort them and give them peace at their point of need,” said Mr Paisley.
Mervyn Storey MLA – a life-long personal friend of Tweed – also described him as a “larger than life character”.
And he spoke warmly of having seen Tweed sitting behind him in the Hebron Free Presbyterian Church on the Sunday before he died.
The DUP politician also praised Tweed as a former elected councillor and a member of the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
But not everyone felt sadness at Tweed’s untimely death.
In Belfast, Tweed’s daughter Lorraine (36) -who later set aside the right to anonymity to help expose the scourge of paedophilia – expressed no sorrow for the man who had made her childhood such a misery.
“My immediate thoughts weren’t for Tweed,” she said. “I wanted to know if anyone else had been involved in the accident.
“I was elated when I was told he was on his own. I didn’t want anyone else to feel guilt over the death of Davy Tweed,” said Lorraine.
“To say I was delighted is an understatement. Davy Tweed was my father, but he was an evil man, a violent thug and bully who made my mother’s life a misery.”
Other young women also went public to express their dislike of the deceased rugby star and unionist politician.
Naomi Finlay, whose Orangeman father John was a life-long friend of Tweed, took to Facebook to express her fury.
She found it hard, she said, to comprehend why so many were expressing sorrow for a man she described as “a monster”.
Naomi wrote: “We all knew what he was like. We knew that he assaulted his wife and children and yet we are now sorry that he is gone.
“Sorry to offend anyone, but I didn’t like him when he was alive and I’m not going to pretend to like him now that he’s gone.”
She added: ” This man ruined the lives of so many women and made them fear for their lives.”
Arch-loyalist Davy Tweed liked to boast of his Protestant paramilitary connections.
He enjoyed giving people the impression he was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in his native north Antrim.
And he took great satisfaction from putting those who crossed him into a state of fear and alarm.
But when asked this week to confirm if Tweed had ever actually joined the UVF or any other paramilitary group, a former loyalist prisoner told us: “It depended on how many pints he had in his belly!”
He added: “He liked to give that impression and of course he knew people, but it was all in his mind.”
At times Tweed pretended he really was a loyalist paramilitary. But the truth is, he definitely wasn’t.
Being a typical bully, Tweed liked to threaten people with the shadowy loyalist group. “Tweed enjoyed using the UVF name. Only a few people in Ballymoney knew the truth. He wasn’t a member of the UVF, but he liked people to think he was,” said a local source.
One person Tweed threatened on a regular basis was his diminutive wife Margaret, the mother of his four daughters, and stepson and stepdaughter.
Sources say Margaret was subjected to constant physical abuse throughout her marriage to the 6ft 5ins giant. And she too was threatened with UVF violence.
On one occasion when Tweed returned home after playing rugby, he was unable to gain access to the house because he’d lost his key. He had been in the bar at the club and was clearly the worse for wear by the time he got home.
Margaret had taken a bath and she hadn’t heard her husband battering on the front door at Cherry Gardens, Ballymoney.
But when Tweed eventually got into the house, he attacked his wife for leaving him standing on the doorstep.
“Tweed left Margaret black and blue that day, simply because she hadn’t heard him knocking on the door. The slightest thing could set him off and violence was his first response to everything,” said our source.
On another occasion Tweed appeared at the house brandishing a chainsaw. After starting it up, he told the terrified Margaret he was going to cut her head off.
Other observers say Tweed actually enjoyed seeing his wife in a state of fear and panic. And he also threatened to physically attack her parents in front of her.
When Margaret was pregnant with one of her daughters, Tweed grabbed her by the throat and held it tightly until she passed out.
One night in a rage, Tweed completely lost his temper and Margaret was so afraid she ran to the bathroom where she locked the door before escaping through the window.
The terrified mum then hid in a ditch at the rear of the property as Tweed scoured a laneway searching for her. She managed to camouflage herself with grass and twigs.
However, she discovered her safe hiding place was also home to a plague of rats. Being absolutely petrified of rodents, she was about to scream when she remembered she was much more afraid of her violent husband.
Margaret remained hidden in the ditch until she deemed it safe to return to her children in the family home.
Once, on a family holiday to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Margaret noticed something about her husband which set alarm bells ringing.
The Tweeds had become friendly with a Scottish couple who had teenage daughters around the same age as their own.
Without their parents’ knowledge, Davy Tweed asked the girls if they’d like to go with him to a bar for a drink.
“Margaret told her husband it wasn’t appropriate to ask teenage girls to go with him to the bar. She also asked him how he would like it if another man had asked his daughters to go for a drink,” said our source.
He added: “At the time, Margaret was well aware of Tweed’s violence towards her and the children. But she hadn’t a clue that her husband was also a dangerous paedophile.”
On the same holiday, Tweed lost his temper twice. In front of others, he seriously assaulted his daughter Catherine in the street and he also banged her sister Lorraine’s head off a wall.
A separate source told us about another incident when the Tweeds lived on the Carnany estate in Ballymoney.
Word spread locally that Tweed was in the process of attacking his wife Margaret in the family home.
A group of men from the nearby Glebe area banded together to confront him.
When they reached Tweed’s house, they demanded he came out to speak to them. Not put off in the slightest, Tweed opened his door to face the angry crowd. He pleaded his case, admitting that he and his wife were having a domestic argument, but he insisted she wasn’t in any physical danger. It was a blatant lie.
Unknown to the men, Tweed had stuffed three large kitchen knives down the rear of his waistband in case things got rough, and it was only the arrival of the police which saved Margaret from a worse beating.
Former neighbours in Ballymoney say tension levels in the Tweed family home shot up when Davy arrived home from work.
“Margaret and the girls walked on eggshells because it was impossible to anticipate his mood swings. Sometimes he was alright, but he could fly off the handle for the slightest thing,” one woman said.
She added: “It usually ended with Margaret getting the rough end of his temper.”
Another Ballymoney resident said she once witnessed Tweed battering his wife’s head off the family car. “He bounced Margaret’s head so hard off the side of the car, it dented the panel,” she said.
We also learned Davy Tweed suffered from a serious personality disorder.
Sometimes, after beating Margaret’s face to a pulp, he would burst into a flood of tears. He then told his wife how much he loved her and he promised not to do it again.
“Davy Tweed played Mr Nice Guy when he was out, but he wasn’t just a devil in the home, he was evil,” said a woman who saw the violence first hand.
A review of the 2012 trial, when Tweed was sent down for eight years for the sexual abuse of two young girls, also revealed the depths to which he was prepared to go to cover up his paedophilia.
Tweed admitted to seriously assaulting his wife Margaret.
But as a legal source pointed out this week, it was simply a ruse to throw the jury off the scent that he was also a serial sex pervert.
“Tweed wanted the jury to believe that he may have been violent, but at least he was honest,” said our source.
“His plan was to convince them that if he was prepared to admit to the serious assault of his wife, then why wouldn’t he also admit the sex abuse charges as well?
“But it backfired badly, because the jury didn’t believe a word he said.”