Belfast Telegraph

Shankill Road community stands united in solemn tribute

By CHRIS KILPATRICK

An impeccably observed silence fell across the Shankill Road.

Hundreds stood to remember the innocent men, women and children murdered in one of the worst atrocities of Northern Ireland's dark days.

In a split-second two decades ago some of those at yesterday's service became widows, widowers or orphans.

The names of the nine victims were read to the congregation inside West Kirk Presbyterian Church and relayed to hundreds more gathered outside.

Pupils from Harmony Primary School and the Girls' Model then emerged from the crowds carrying wreaths which they laid at the bomb site and a nearby memorial. They were the schools attended by young victims Leanne Murray (13) and Michelle Baird (7).

Tears filled the eyes of Charlie Butler as he looked on.

Twenty years previously he had rushed to the scene of the explosion and joined others in frantically digging through the rubble in a desperate attempt to find survivors.

Unknown to Mr Butler at that time, members of his own family were among the victims – his niece Evelyn Baird, her partner Michael Morrison and their daughter Michelle, who was the youngest victim, aged just seven.

"It is 20 years ago but it could be 20 minutes, it's the blink of an eye for us," he said.

"But they're still with us. They've taken their bodies away but they're still here. I think they'll always be here."

Family members of those murdered hugged and clutched hands with one another as they made their way into the church. A violin played during a solemn ceremony and a choir consisting of children from 10 local schools performed. The emotion was too much for some who required comforting from loved ones.

Gary Murray, whose 13-year-old sister Leanne died after going into the shop to buy whelks, was joined by his mother Gina at yesterday's service.

"This means a lot, it shows people don't forget," Gary said.

Hundreds of sympathy cards and floral tributes were sent from across Northern Ireland in the days following the attack.

One was read out during yesterday's service. It was signed 'disgusted pensioner from the Falls Road'.

A floral tribute placed in the Shankill Memorial Garden yesterday read: "Our thoughts, prayers and apologies to the innocent victims and families of the Shankill bomb. From the good people of Ardoyne."

A letter of support was sent by the families of the 21 victims of the Birmingham bombings of 1974. It read: "Your pain is our pain. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you."

At the memorial service, Rev David Clawson appealed for those across Belfast and Northern Ireland to remember the people of the Shankill.

"Don't forget us," he said.

"Support us and embrace us again. Seek to understand. We ask for a genuine interest in our welfare and for other areas like ours. As a church community we seek the peace and the welfare of the city, please stand with us. As a community we desire to see hope on the horizon."

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