This is the little girl the terrorists who bombed Omagh could not kill. Now almost 10, Chloe Mulholland is too young to remember the massive car bomb which ripped through the Co Tyrone market town.
Born just five days after the bombing which devastated the lives of hundreds of people, Chloe’s smiling face is gleefully oblivious to the horrors which accompanied her arrival into the world.
Her mum Nicola was blown off her feet by the force of the blast but miraculously survived, giving birth to the young girl who became a symbol of hope amid the devastation of Omagh.
And on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the bloodiest atrocity in the 35-year history of the Troubles, little Chloe represents the future of a new Northern Ireland and a glimmer of hope from the darkest days of our tragic past.
Nicola told the Telegraph how her miracle baby touched people’s hearts across the world and expressed her hope that Chloe, who celebrates her 10th birthday next Wednesday, can grow up in a new era of peace and reconciliation.
“We wanted Chloe to be a symbol of hope and I think that is how she is remembered,” Nicola said. “She is a normal girl, she loves going out and playing with her friends, but we’ll always remember just how lucky she was.
“Chloe survived and that was a very happy time for us, but for many other families it was a very sad time. I know people who died at Omagh and I just hope and pray that those days never come back again.”
Nicola had been out shopping with her mother, cousin and partner, Michael, when the bomb exploded. Despite standing a few hundred feet from the explosion, she escaped with just cuts and bruises.
Miraculously her baby also escaped unhurt and, five days later, Nicola gave birth to a healthy girl at the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon. She was told by doctors that her little girl should not have survived the blast.
“When the bomb went off the first thing I thought about was my baby,” she said.
“I was just a few hundred yards from the bomb and there were people around me who died.
“I had been due to go into hospital on the Monday. The doctors later said she was so lucky. Chloe shouldn’t have survived the blast. I was just so relieved to have her safely in my arms.”
Fittingly, the little girl was later christened Chloe Hope Valerie — in keeping with her parents’ wish that she would become a symbol of hope.
“In the weeks after giving birth I got hundreds of cards and presents from people all over the world,” Nicola said.
People wrote and suggested names. A few times ‘Hope’ came up and I thought that was so fitting
“Some people wrote and suggested names. A few times ‘Hope’ came up and I thought that was so fitting. It summed up how we felt at the time. Chloe would bring hope to the future. It did give people a sense of happiness. So many people wrote to me afterwards and said how good had come out of something so terrible.”
Sadly, others were not so lucky and Nicola’s joy at giving birth was followed by sorrow after she heard that Avril Monaghan, another young mum who was pregnant with twins, had died in the bombing. She too had been due to give birth at the South Tyrone Hospital.
“It must have been so hard for that family,” Nicola said.
“That poor woman was carrying twins and they all died. As a new mum I realised just how sad that was.”
Slowly, the people of Omagh have started to rebuild their lives in the 10 years since the atrocity, and Chloe has grown up in a world free from violence.
In September she will move into primary six at the nearby Omagh Integrated school.
Nicola, a Protestant girl from the town, and Michael, a Catholic from nearby Clogher, have since married and they now have a second child, Ben (2).
“At the time I think we showed that it can work,” said Nicola.
“There was a lot of division back then but things have changed.
“Chloe doesn’t really understand any of that now. It’s very different to my experience of growing up.
“Chloe has seen the scrapbook which we kept and she knows that we were in Omagh that day. I think she knows we were all very lucky but it’s something that will maybe only sink in properly when she gets a bit bigger.
“We have been to a few of the anniversary services and we’ll go to the one on Friday. It’s going to be a very sad occasion.”