The funeral of Big Paudie Ward, locally known as ‘The Sound Nacker’, drew a massive crowd on Tuesday last. Members of the travelling community came from far and wide to pay their respects as Mr. Ward was laid to rest. Mr. Ward had a wide and varied career, dabbling mostly in burglary but dipping his toe in illegal cock fights, the heroin logistics business and international scrap dealing during the Cold War.
Originally from the west, Mr. Ward moved east after a falling out with a rival clan over a sister. He soon established his own lineage, even convincing some good Catholic girls to go on the road with him, disgracing their families and sending their mothers to the margins of society with the shame. He was well respected by fellow travellers (east of the Shannon and north of the Lee) and gentiles alike for his agreeable manner when he agreed with you. Big Paudie was a trail blazer in many respects. He was the first man to import heroin into Ireland, the first man to hold the title ‘King of the Gypsies’ for five consecutive years and also the first member of the travelling community to ditch horses and go motorized.
It was like Bob Dylan going electric…before Bob Dylan.
Mr. Ward returned to Ireland in 1942 with a fleet of Volkswagen combi vans donated by his contacts in the Wehrmacht. This was no mean feat given the fate of Europe’s gypsies during this period but Big Paudie explained how he was a traveller not a gypsy. Seconded to the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking during Operation Barbarossa, Mr. Ward saw action in Belarus and the outskirts of Moscow. His experiences here convinced him of the need for a more modern approach to travelling. Big Paudie’s return was a seminal moment in the history of the travelling community both here and in Britain. It marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
If you didn’t hev a ven sure you were nathin boss. No good at all… – Paudie to RTE Radio Traveller in 1998.
Nicknamed the Roaming Rommel by Ireland’s newspaper, Paudie was a key figure in spiriting many Nazis to North and South America in the years after the end of the war. He maintained a close correspondence with Klaus Barbie for years, their families often holidaying together in galvanized caravans on the Riviera. But Mr. Ward gradually pulled back from the movement when all the scrap metal from World War IIs battlefields had been foraged. He had only done it out of the goodness of his heart and now there was no real need to go to mainland Europe.
Mr. Ward came to international attention in the early 1970s after he was unmasked as the mastermind behind an international ring of travellers who had stolen the iron curtain from under the noses of the Soviets. The USSR was understandably furious and Mr. Ward was still on the KGB hit list when another wall, this time in Berlin, fell in 1989. His family, mainly from the Louth/Monaghan region hooked up with the Kelly Family in Germany. They began removing the iron curtain over a period of months in 1972. The family then sold the iron to scrap dealers in Rotterdam for a handsome profit. Mr. Ward returned to Ireland in 1974 and bought Longford for cash.
A patron of the bare knuckle boxing scene, Mr. Ward did not partake himself. When challenged, he’d recall that Hitler gave him a medal for pummelling to death a field of gypsies in a Polish marsh. His killing days were behind him.
Paudie had a passion for poultry and trained several prize fighting cocks. He swore that keeping the cocks hungry and sticking their feathers with superglue was an unbeatable training combination provided the bird had the right temperament.
Mr. Ward spent the last decades of his life heavily involved in the heroin logistics business. He is widely accredited with introducing heroin to Berlin. There was a period in the 1990s when he disappeared for eight years. Presumed dead, he surprised everyone and no one by returning and checking into the Betty Bell Centre on the Ballymakenny Road where he spend the remainder of his years.
Mr. Ward is survived by hundreds of relatives. It is expected that his empire will crumble and descend into internecine warfare in the near future. Certainly, a life lived.