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Courageous Joan Wilson shows we have the faith to heal bitter divisions

By Alf McCreary

Published 12/11/2016

Amazing spirit: Joan Wilson with a picture of her daughter Marie, who died in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb
Amazing spirit: Joan Wilson with a picture of her daughter Marie, who died in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb
Joan's daughter Marie, who died in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb

One of the people I most admire is Joan Wilson, whose daughter Marie died after a Provisional IRA no-warning bomb exploded beside the Enniskillen Cenotaph 29 years ago this week. Ten other people died and many were severely injured.

Joan's husband Senator Gordon Wilson, who was badly injured in the blast, rose to local and international prominence when he gave a remarkable interview that evening to a BBC Radio Ulster reporter.

He said that he bore "no ill-will" and, although it took him quite some time to forgive the perpetrators of the explosion, he said that he prayed for them every night.

Some years later I wrote a book about Marie and in it I recorded the words of Joan after watching her daughter die in the Erne Hospital.

She told me: "I could only utter the words 'The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord'. I knew that I had to lean hard on the Lord now. He was my only strength." How noble that was.

Sadly, tragedy followed after tragedy. A few years later Joan lost her son Peter in a motor accident and later her husband Gordon died.

With great courage Joan rebuilt her life through the love of family and friends and this week she experienced the joy of the birth of two great-grand-daughters on the eve of the anniversary of Marie's death.

For some 28 years I have kept in touch with Joan and when I met her in Enniskillen in August her strong spirit still shone through.

I mention Joan in detail because she was one of the people whose suffering and family tragedy I knew at first hand.

Sadly, she was not the only one. There are many other survivors and families of those dead and injured during the Troubles.

It is hard to take in the anguish of thousands of people, but the memory of one individual or family hits home.

What must it be like, therefore, for the families of those who died or were badly injured in two world wars and in many other conflicts?

All we can do in this Week of Remembrance is to stand at a cenotaph and attend a church service to honour the dead and perhaps ask ourselves: how could this have happened?

Tragically, however, we might also ask ourselves is the world a better place since all this sacrifice took place.

Western Europe, thankfully, has experienced peace for nearly two generations but the strains are now apparent.

The European nations are grappling with a virtually insoluble migrant problem, and the unfortunate reality of Brexit has taken us on a perilous path where no-one in the UK or the EU knows where it will lead in the long run.

In the USA we have witnessed the seismic shock of president-elect Donald Trump, which has created a huge political earthquake.

The people have spoken, but one is entitled to ask - as with Brexit - are 'the people' right? Democracy, as someone once said, is the least flawed of all the other options.

The mesmeric but distasteful Mr Trump has shown himself, so far, to be totally unsuitable for the role of president, despite his honeyed acceptance speech.

However, as Hillary Clinton said in her eloquent and moving final address, we must treat him, at least, with an open mind.

The people of America and of the UK will have to live with the harsh realities of their democratic votes and only time will tell whether their choices lead to chaos or stability.

In the meantime, we might reflect during this Remembrance weekend on the great divisions in so many countries and other parts of the world, including our own.

The sombre truth is that we all have to learn to live with division - and try to bring healing.

If we fail to do so, we will remain in a perilous condition, and future Remembrance Days may witness even more casualties, despite the supreme sacrifices of those we are honouring this week.

Belfast Telegraph

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