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Blinded in the Omagh bomb, brave Claire Bowes refused to let the outrage define her. Now she's a busy mum who runs her own music school

Incredible story of atrocity survivor who overcame being robbed of her sight and built a remarkable life

Published 05/03/2016

Claire Bowes outside her music academy
Claire Bowes outside her music academy
The devastation after the bomb exploded in Omagh
Claire is kissed on the cheek by fiancé Ryan at Queen’s University in 2004 after she received her BA honours degree in music
Claire at the piano in her music academy in Omagh
Claire and Ryan Bowes on their wedding day
Claire aged 15

Mother's Day tomorrow will be extra special for Claire Bowes as it falls on her youngest daughter's first birthday. For Claire it is a chance to bring family and close friends together for a celebration at her Omagh home. And while the focus will be on little Cara, she is hoping that there might be one or two surprises for mum, too.

Claire was only 15 when she lost her sight in the Omagh bomb, but never once has she felt anything other than gratitude for the fact that she survived while 29 other innocent people lost their lives.

Her positive attitude saw her return to school within just a couple of months to finish her GCSEs, then go on to study for her A-levels and a degree in music at Queen's University inBelfast.

Today, aged 32, she is a busy mother of three young children who runs her own successful music academy in Omagh.

Life is good for Claire, and her positive attitude regarding the horrific injury she sustained in the bombing has throughout the years been an inspiration to all who know her.

As she looks forward to Mother's Day, she reflects on her good fortune. And even though her world was so terribly plunged into darkness just as she was on the brink of adulthood, there isn't a hint of regret or self-pity.

"I don't like to dwell on what happened," Claire said. "Yes, life would be easier if I could see, and I do get frustrated at times, but I am very fortunate to have what I have, and I try to focus on the positive as much as I can. I always remind myself how lucky I am."

Life is hectic but full and enjoyable for Claire, who is married to Ryan (33), who she knew as a child and started to date the year after the outrage. They have been together since.

Ryan is an IT specialist who helps train blind people in the use of technology. The couple's children are Oran (7), Conor (4) and little Cara.

Claire says that if she has a regret, it is not being able to see what her children look like. But, like many other things she loses out on now, she refuses to dwell on it and instead looks on the bright side.

When she is on her own with her youngsters she says she would love the freedom of being able to take them for a walk in the park, but instead creates fun in the safer environs of the family garden.

Claire was enjoying a trip to town shopping with her friends when the bomb exploded on August 15, 1998.

Her pals escaped unscathed, but Claire was blinded instantly after being hit by shrapnel.

She recalled: "I remember everything. We were all being pushed down towards the bottom of the town when it went off. I remember knowing I had lost my sight but I didn't realise the extent of my injury. I was taken to the County Hospital and then flown by helicopter to the Royal Victoria, where I stayed for two weeks.

"The piece of metal went in between two arteries on the bridge of my nose and was embedded in my right eye - which I had to get removed - and lodged below my left eye.

"I just knew that I was lucky to still be here as a lot of others weren't as fortunate as I was."

What she describes as "probably the stubbornness of being a teenager" allowed her to very quickly adjust to her new life without sight.

It meant having to learn a whole new way of doing things and, in school, a new way to study.

Simplicities like making a cup of tea, even recognising clothes and the difference between shampoo and conditioner in the shower, are all everyday things we take for granted, but Claire had to learn again.

It wasn't easy, but she was determined. "For me there was no question of not being able to do something," Claire said. "I always found a way. I had a lot of support from friends and family, and I couldn't have done it without them.

"I just wanted to get back to normal and I didn't want it to destroy my life. It hasn't always been easy because I had to learn to do everything again."

A talented piano player, Claire's dream was to go to university to study music. And the incredibly motivated young woman achieved that despite huge obstacles.

She was back at school studying for her GCSEs by Halloween 1998, learning Braille and touch-typing so she could keep up her studies.

Claire did six GCSEs to get onto her A-level course, then secured her place in Queen's to study music. After graduating she went on to complete a post graduate diploma in the subject.

She had hoped to work in music therapy, but at 21 was too young. So instead Claire got a job as a liaison officer with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, offering support and advice to those who have lost their sight.

"I really enjoyed that job," she said. "It was quite a privilege to support people, and I did it for seven years until my first child came along, and I just thought the time was right to pursue my dream of opening my own music school."

While at home with her first two babies Claire used what little free time she had to learn about the business side of running her own academy.

In 2013, just two years after Conor was born, she opened Omagh Music Academy, where she teaches piano full-time.

"I had plenty of music knowledge but no idea about running a business, however I knew I could learn it, and I am still learning it," Claire added.

"It has been fantastic. We have 150 pupils coming every week and eight tutors.

"We teach singing and drama, drums, violin, flute, ukulele, guitar, and I teach piano.

"We do a special programme for babies and have pupils right up to over 60 years old.

"I love it. Life is hectic running a business with three children, but it is 'good' hectic.

"My husband is very hands-on with the children and very supportive, and I wouldn't be able to do it without him."

Her independence means Claire lets nothing stand in her way.

She does not talk about obstacles, but instead opportunities.

For every restriction put on her by her blindness she finds a positive that cancels it out. "I've never seen my children and that is hard, but at the same time I'm lucky to have them," Claire said.

"There is so much I can do and enjoy with them, and I like to focus on the things I can do. My children don't see my sightlessness, but the two boys would be aware that mummy might need a bit of help, although I'm able to get on with most of it.

"When my youngest one started to crawl, I just had to ask the boys to help me make sure there weren't any small toys lying about.

"I don't like to dwell on the Omagh bomb. It is something which should never have happened, but you can't change the past and I have to look forward.

"It will always be part of my life, and at some point I will have to explain to my children how mummy lost her sight.

"I've made the most of it and I love my work - it doesn't feel like work as I enjoy it so much. I suppose I juggle home life with three kids and running a business just like any other mum.

"I've just recently got my LTCL instrumental teaching certificate, and although I'm not required to have it as a piano teacher, it is important to me that I keep looking at new and effective ways to do things."

While she is expecting some surprises tomorrow for Mother's Day, she is most of all looking forward to celebrating little Cara's first birthday.

Claire added: "I'd be very surprised if there wasn't some little gift for me on Mother's Day, but it is Cara's first birthday party and it will be lovely to have all our family and friends there to celebrate."

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