Belfast Telegraph

Shankill bomb 20 years on: 'They were bringing out the limbs in plastic bags... I'll never forget horror of that day'

Rescuer recalls scenes of horror amid the rubble

By Ivan little

A man seen by millions of people around the world in photographs of the frantic rescue operation after the Shankill Road bombing has spoken for the first time in 20 years about the living hell he witnessed and how the sight of three coffins a few days after the massacre broke his heart.

The tears still well up in his eyes as 41-year-old Marty Marchant reflects on the painful memories of the nightmarish hours on the Shankill after the blast and the funerals of three members of the Baird family in the week following the appalling atrocity.

He says: "I would defy anyone – even members of Sinn Fein – not to cry if they could see pictures of those coffins coming over the brow of the hill at Glencairn that day."

For Marty Marchant it had been a Saturday that kicked off with the usual tingle of excitement as he readied himself to go to watch his favourite football team, Linfield.

As he waited for a lift on the Shankill not far from Frizzell's shop, he heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion. "The whole place was black with dust rising and falling. I ran down and one of the first things I saw was a pram sticking out of the rubble. We immediately started to dig among the wreckage but we didn't know what we were doing.

"We got a chain going to pass bricks and stuff out of the shop. Tiles, bricks and pieces of wood were falling down from what remained of the building but nobody cared. There were girls trapped in a hair salon above the shop next door but we didn't know whether to get them out first or help people on the ground until the emergency services arrived.

"I remember one body was stuck to tiles with hard blood and there were bricks with flesh on them which the ambulance men were telling us to keep.

"They were also bringing out limbs in plastic bags. I will never forget any of it."

At one point Marty, who worked in the construction industry, took the controls of a JCB digger which was brought in to help clear the debris.

Initially there was confusion on the Shankill about the bomb and there was speculation that the UDA, whose offices were above the fish shop, could have been making a device which went off prematurely.

But as paramilitary leaders, including Johnny Adair, gathered on the road, it soon became apparent that the bomb had been the work of the IRA. Adair had been the prime target.

The Provisionals said they were trying to kill UDA men having their weekly meeting in their headquarters but Marty Marchant says: "They knew the UDA weren't there."

As the rescue operation went on, a crack appeared in a gable wall in a neighbouring fruit shop and the fire service feared that the whole block could collapse, causing even more fatalities.

Today Marty will return to the Shankill. "I want to stand on my own at the very spot where I was 20 years ago, just to remember all the innocent people who were killed and injured."

The scene of the blast was only a short distance from where Marty's father William 'Frenchie' Marchant, a senior figure in the UVF, was shot dead by the IRA in April 1987. Marty was one of nine people honoured for their bravery in the aftermath of the Shankill bomb by the police.

"There were hundreds of heroes on the Shankill Road that afternoon.

"There were loads of people involved in the rescue, diverting traffic and giving blood to help keep survivors alive."

Marty also praised the work of the emergency services and one poignant memory is of conversations he had with the late Michael Brett, a paramedic who helped dig through the debris only to be hit in the face by a brick thrown by another rescuer.

"He was a lovely big man, a gentleman," says Marty who hand-delivered a sympathy card to Mr Brett after his son was murdered by loyalists in Glengormley in 2001.

He wrote on the card: 'You were there when I needed you in the Shankill bomb. And all I can do for you is pray.'

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