Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

After Enniskillen, I was bitter towards Catholics... now I’m married to one

Julie O'Donnell today
Julie O’Donnell (circled above right) in our photograph of fleeing children in Enniskillen in 1987. Circled left is Julie’s sister Shirley Robinson

A survivor of the Enniskillen bomb who is now in a mixed marriage has recalled how she became bitter towards Catholics after the 1987 explosion.

Eleven people died in the bomb near the town’s cenotaph on Remembrance Day 1987 — 25 years ago.

They were all Protestants and included three married couples, a reserve police officer and several pensioners.

A photograph taken moments after the bomb went off captured people fleeing an all-enveloping wall of dust, beyond which lay the explosion’s carnage.

Among them were teenage sisters Julie and Shirley Bridge.

Fourteen-year-old Julie is crying out — her arm raised in shock and terror.

She had no idea where her mother and sister, who she had been standing beside metres away from where the bomb was planted, had gone.

Julie and Shirley, who are now both mothers themselves, broke down 25 years on when they recalled footage of their late mother being comforted by a policewoman.

Beside her is a towering pile of rubble under which she feared her daughters were buried.

Julie (39), who lives in Enniskillen where she works as a childminder, said: “I was talking to my mum and sister, there was a flash and all hell broke loose.

“I remember a cloud of smoke and my mother shouting ‘run’.

“People were standing in the street in total shock and there were car alarms going off.

“I ran. I found my sister, and Mrs Coulter from the Horse Shoe pub took us to the Erne Hospital.

“I got stitches in my neck; I still have the scar. I was picking lumps of glass out of my neck for weeks afterwards.”

Ex-headmaster Ronnie Hill died 13 years after being injured in the attack

“At the hospital somebody said: ‘Oh God, there’s Mr Hill’.” “He was our principal,” she added.

“A lot of people were going round. There was a bishop there doing the rounds and he came over to me and I would not take him on because I thought he was a Catholic priest.

“It was awful the way your mind went. I was painting everybody with the same brush.

“I was very angry afterwards. I would have had quite a lot of Catholic friends before that, but for a while I was quite bitter towards any Catholics because it was the way I felt.”

Years later Julie married Rory O’Donnell, a Catholic from Fermanagh. They have two sons, Blaine (11) and Jody (8).

Before she had her children, Julie sought counselling where she dealt with trauma from the bombing she didn’t know she had.

She said: “It changed my personality. I panic in crowds where I don’t have a way out. I don’t like not having control — which is because of the bomb.

“I will never forgive the people who planted the bomb. I was just a child.”

Her sister Shirley (37) moved to New Zealand, where she lived for eight years with her husband.

Shirley (below) now lives in Enniskillen with their two children, Benjamin (8) and Conor (3). But citing recent violence, she is considering leaving again.

“I remember that day. I remember being buried in rubble up to my knees and thinking: ‘My God, I’m 13 and I’m going to die’.

“I didn’t talk about it for years. I felt like we didn’t get any help. We were given forms to fill out but we were never given any individual help.

“I get angry now at loud noises and bangs, still.”

Both sisters would like to see someone brought to account for the bombing.

Shirley added: “It would be good to get some sort of justice, even if it was through a civil case.”

Picture that captured the horror of that day

This week the Belfast Telegraph revisited the horror of the 1987 bombing and spoke to some of those caught up in this harrowing snapshot taken soon after the blast.

Marking exactly 25 years since the bomb left a total of 12 people dead, Thursday’s front page painted a stark picture of the chaos and confusion which erupted — with many running through rubble and broken glass as dust filled the air behind them.

David Stuart (63) was pictured grasping his two children James and Diana in the chaos of the scene.

Diana now works as a barrister while James, who was only three at the time of the attack, is now a Belfast-based chartered surveyor.

James has a small bald patch on his head where he was hit by rubble, but has no memory of the tragic day.

But amid the screams echoing around them — both James and Diana are not crying while being carried in their father’s arms.

On the far right of the picture is Julie Bridge (39), now O’Donnell, along with her younger sister Shirley (37) — pictured grabbing on to the arm of a young boy in the centre of the photograph, — who now works at a manufacturing plant in Omagh.

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