Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Garrison:a sign of hope?

After the terrorist attack in the Co Fermanagh border village, residents tell Jamie McDowell how their sense of security has been shaken

25/11/09 Pictures by David Fitzgerald A rainbow appears after the recent heavy rain over the small village of Garrison in County Fermanagh which was the scene of a recent foiled attempt on the life of a PSNI officer.

The mountains and lakes surrounding the village of Garrison in Co Fermanagh attract thousands of visitors every year.

Windsurfers, fishermen, ramblers and all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts travel from every corner of the world to take advantage of this spectacular landscape. Situated on the banks of Lough Melvin, the village has a population of only a couple of hundred. At this time of year, most holidayers have gone home. It's nearly the end of the fishing season and the recent rainfall has led to severe flooding in Fermanagh which has made headlines over the last week.

In the paths and roads around the village it's easy to see the strain and inconvenience that this has caused, not just to commuters, but to the local farming industry as well. Some country lanes have simply vanished into deep pools of water that have crept from nearby waterways into the fields. Mud which makes its way from the fields onto the roads from farmers coming in and out of submerged land gets quickly swept away by the ensuing rain.

There is an eerie absence of people on main street. There are a few shops here but most of them are closed for lunch. They're your typical village shops; a hair salon, a post office, a newsagent and a pharmacist. As the icy wind and rain batters the houses and businesses, it feels as though the population has simply battened down the hatches. Though the people of Garrison are no strangers to rough weather, it feels as though they're protecting themselves from not just the weather but a more sinister element which has raised it's head again.

Over a small bridge which spans the Roogagh River is the Brollagh Road. There is a grocery store, a quaint looking pub and a cemetery around the corner. And in between, several police cars, a mobile police station and the familiar sight of blue police ribbon fluttering in the wind.

There certainly is a large police presence here. After dissident republicans allegedly attempted to attack the home of a young Catholic PSNI officer on Saturday night, tensions are running high.

The apartment where the young man lived is now empty. There’s no damage to the property as undercover police managed to ram the attackers, but one door is boarded up.

It’s on the edge of the village and there are two roads that lead directly into the countryside from its location.

On the ground floor of the building there are some empty shop units. Local sources say that the man who was the intended target has since left Garrison not knowing whether he will ever be able to return. SDLP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tommy Gallagher gazes at the crime scene with concern.

He says: “I think folks around here are happy to get on with their lives. We're just relieved that nobody was hurt but it's clear that there are still people out there who intend to kill PSNI officers, and like everybody else in the village, I condemn it. There are so many young nationalists who want to serve in a police force that the they voted for — that the people of Ireland voted for.”

After a brief period of sunshine, the rain begins to lash down yet again. The rain may have been heavy over the last few weeks, but the mood in Garrison has been dampened even further by the weekends events.

He adds: “Aside from that there's a feeling of shock and horror here. This could damage the tourist industry in an area where jobs aren't exactly plentiful.

“It presents the area in a bad light in a period when there isn't much economic activity.

“It also brings back bad memories of what happened in Garrison in the past. On the very same spot where I'm standing now a man called Jack McClenaghan was shot dead by the IRA while he was delivering bread in 1979.

“People here just hope that they don't see anything like this again. They voted for peace.

“It's disgraceful that people who have no support should be able to influence the lives of those who live here.”

In the shops along Main Street, workers are generally unwilling to talk to the Press. Though very friendly and affable, with the recent dissident activity, they're understandably apprehensive about speaking openly.

One walker who doesn't wish to be identified voices concern over the location of Garrison in regards to the nearest police station.

He explains: “I think some of us feel a bit isolated here. There's a mobile police bus at the scene of the crime at the moment but it will probably go away after while.

“It's been in Garrison before. After its gone, the nearest police station is in Enniskillen which is 25 miles away. We don't feel safe at all.”

After making the long journey to Garrison from Belfast it's not hard to immediately see why people feel this isolation.

It's the the furthermost place on the map that you can travel to from the country's capital without actually crossing the border.

The hills of Leitrim and Connaught are clearly visible on the other side of Lough Melvin. The name Garrison befits the village well. It literally was a garrison for King William III who stopped here with his men after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.

During the Troubles, the village was cut off from the rest of Ireland when local roads were cratered in an attempt to stop the transportation of explosives into the province.

When the roads opened again in 1994, Garrison began to rebuild its economy and widened its appeal to tourists.

One family of one-time-tourists, from Belfast liked the area so much that they moved here altogether two years ago. Again, they do not wish to be named or pictured. They speak of their love for the area: “We've been here for two years now and we're really enjoying it. We moved here predominantly because it's more peaceful than Belfast. It's also great for the kids. This has always been a very peaceful place so it was a big shock when we heard about the shooting.”

While speaking to the family, it's clear that they're enjoying a day out and they're in a cheerful mood. It goes to show the resolve and steadfastness of the town. Times may be tough, but local people just want to get on with their lives.

“We are just fed up and disgusted. This is a mixed community and people don't want these dissidents here. We all thought that this was over. There used to be police station nearby but it's closed now. The nearest one is in Enniskillen but I didn't think it was really needed before this happened to be honest.

“It's sad to see because we have such a great tourist industry here. People come from all over the world to holiday in Fermanagh. I think the dissidents picked Garrison because they saw it as an easy target.”

Further up the Brollagh Road, Canon Patrick Lonergan welcomes us into his home after he has finished talking with a guest.

He is a polite and straight-talking man. His house looks over the village and the crime scene is clearly visible below.

From his garden, the beauty of the area really comes to the fore — even on a rainy November day.

Canon Lonergan says: “This has been a shock to the community and we haven't heard much information about what the police are doing at the moment. I don't think the people of Garrison will be frightened by the actions of the attackers.

“We're near the border, but the border was closed for 25 years. You can never really close off any place though. There's a great sense of unity amongst us.

“People will go on as if nothing has happened. I don't think people feel isolated. It's hard to be isolated these days.”

Further down the road, Lough Melvin is vigorously lapping alongside the footpath.

It's gone a muddy brown colour and looks threateningly close to nearby fields.

The water is very choppy and the odd wave splashes over the wall onto the road creating deep puddles in some areas and causing traffic to slow down.

The lough looks more like the North Sea than an inland body of water.

Another local who wishes to remain anonymous also comments

on the feeling of the community: “We're so close to the border and we don't feel that the police are close enough to us to help when something happens.

“One of the shops in Garrison has even been robbed six times. The people who did this aren't from here. I feel sorry for the young lad and his family. They have a handicapped child to look after as well and now this has happened.”

Walking through the town, it's clear that the various police vehicles are keeping a vigilant watch over every car or person who enters or leaves the village.

Those who pass the police just walk on by as if they're not there, but while taking to people it's clear that they're more than concious of the police presence. One person tells us: “There is a lot of fear in the community and I believe that people are genuinely afraid to talk.

“We were all terrified on Saturday evening and throughout the night as the message was: ‘Stay at home and lock all doors as there is a gunman or gunmen on the loose.”

They add: “A helicopter hovered overhead for hours with its search lights on and I think this memory will stay in the community for a long time.

“God knows whose door was going to be knocked or kicked in by a desperate person.

“Nobody expected this attack and the shock remains very evident.”

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