Thursday, 20 December 2007

Omagh from the outside

I remember 15th August 1998.
It was the end of my first week in my new job. I had been living abroad, but had come "home" to contribute to the building of peace.
We were taking two carloads of young adults, including some foreign visitors, to the Marble Arch caves near Enniskillen.
On our way home, we stopped briefly to stop in Erneside shopping centre. It's not a huge place, so there was little opportunity to lose each other. But we hadn't counted on the bomb scare. Forced out through different doors, and away from our agreed meeting place, I was feeling distressed that instead of peace, our visitors were seeing the old Troubles. Instead of experiencing Irish hospitality, they were in danger.

Eventually we found each other and started back Eastwards, passing signposts for Omagh on our left. I put the radio on, and we heard the early reports of the bomb there.
Numbness, the need to reassure our visitors whilst wondering where to put that old terror rising within... the need to check on relations in the town... then a kind of guilty relief that no one I knew seemed to be hurt. But tears, waves of tears, even as I write, for the unborn children, for the mothers, fathers, grandparents, husbands, wives, children, uncles, aunts, friends... Protestant, Catholic, Mormon. Unionist, Gaelic, Spanish.

This is a small place. Sometimes we might pretend it is otherwise, but when one suffers, we all suffer - one way or another.

I wonder... would the Peace Process have had the same support, had it not been for that day in Omagh. Would we be where we are? How far from the bombers' intentions... unless... (but I can't allow myself to imagine such a cynical conspiracy as that. Can I? Who can guess the motivations of people who would do such a thing?)

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