A PORTLAOISE teenager with Olympic ambitions almost lost an arm, while another local man was was shot, in the near riot at last Sunday’s horse fair in Smithfield, Dublin.
Gardai in Portlaoise are part of an investigation into the violent scenes at the Smithfield Horse fair which is understood to be the latest round of conflict in a long running feud involving settled traveller families from Laois, Offaly and other parts of the country. The dispute has involved drive by and the firebombing of settled Laois travellers.
Hundreds of horse dealers and owners descended on the site of the fair at Smithfield which is held monthly. But chaos broke out when two shots were fired in the crowd.
While the weekend’s shootings attracted most of the coverage, it was a Portlaoise youth, aged 17, who suffered the most horrific injuries which, it is feared, could leave him without the use of a limb.
Gardai are working on the claim that the teenager, who is understood to live in the Borris Road area of Portlaoise, was set upon with a either a machete or slash hook. The blow was so fierce that his arm was almost completely severed.
While the two older men were treated for pellet wounds, the teenager had to undergo a seven hour operation to save his arm. His family are devastated by the incident, especially since he was a sucessful underage boxer and had hoped to fight for Ireland some day.
Gardai believe the incident can be traced to an ongoing conflict in which a Portlaoise family was forced out of one of its homes last year, following a drive by shooting at Christmas.
The incident, in which a number of shots were fired into a house on Highfield Meadows, happened as a family was celebrating New Year’s Eve. While the family left their house within days and gardai mounted armed checkpoints, a group of men returned within a week and tried to firebomb the house. This group was chased from the estate by friends of the family.
A youth from Tallaght was arrested within a week of the drive by incident and there were promises of a truce at the time.
There have also been other incidents including intimidation. An elderly man suffered serious injuries in an assault in Portlaoise last September. While there have been claims of reprisals, a source close to the Portlaoise families said that they had been the victims of intimidation following a family burglary.