Belfast Telegraph

We'll never think of Omagh as an ordinary place again

When we listen to the football results on a Saturday and hear 'Omagh Town', we'll think of Omagh last Saturday, the bomb and the terrible, shimmering footage of its aftermath.

By Eamonn McCann

Now and in time to come, whenever green ­ or orange ­ is worn, all changed, changed utterly.

The memory of the bodies of the Quinn children still warm, and now this.

'Two communities mourn their dead,' said a headline over a heartbroken piece by Suzanne Breen in the Irish Times yesterday. It was well meant, but it isn't true. The mourning isn't compartmentalised, demarcated by our jagged, bleak division.

It's not in search of a comforting thought but only for the sake of accuracy that we say we have never been so keenly aware of our common humanity, of the pitiful and pitiable condition we share.

Tommy Sands wrote years ago of two tiny atrocities which have receded into the past, in the way all of us, of all of us who can, have learned to push the mundane passing horror back from the forefront of our minds.

'There were roses, there were roses, And the tears of the people flowed together'.

Now, again, we are in the confluence of our grief, wretchedly aware of our oneness. Omagh won't ever go away.

At a small brief ceremony in the Guildhall Square in Derry on Monday, a schoolboy talked of the ordinariness of Omagh. A place we pass through on the way to somewhere else. Across the bridge, past the bus station, past the mouth of Market Street with a cafe of some sort by the corner of ... I never knew its name until Saturday night. Market Street.

We'll never think of Omagh as an ordinary place again. When we listen to the football results on a Saturday and hear 'Omagh Town', we'll think of Omagh last Saturday, the bomb and the terrible, shimmering footage of its aftermath. In a 100 years in any word-association test if 'Omagh' comes up, we'll think, automatically ­ Omagh, the Omagh bomb.

The people who planted the bomb were ordinary too. I don't believe they meant to massacre, that that's what they were out for.

But they knew well it might happen, that sooner or later by the iron law of averages some such horror was the certain result of their armed-struggle strategy, and they did it anyway, taking their mandate from history and tradition and not from the wishes or interests or the lives of flesh-and-blood ordinary people.

To try to explain it by reference to the psychopathology of the individuals involved or the supposed special iniquity of a category to which they can comfortingly be assigned is to explain it away, to distance ourselves by a furtive pretence that they are not part of what we are.

In the wide-angled shots from late Saturday afternoon, Omagh looked like it had been hit from the air. When bombs come from the air it's impossible to put a human face on the perpetrators. The agency of death seems abstract, mechanical, the strategists in civilised uniforms and braid disconnected from the hellishness they contrive.

In this case we are told we can put names and faces and potted personal histories to the planners, and externalise our anger by focusing on their evil. But it's all the same thing in the end.

We put Omagh now in a slot of especial horror in the litany of torment which goes back to McGurk's bar, Bloody Sunday, Enniskillen, the Shankill, Loughinisland, Greysteel, Teebane, La Mon. We can put it also in its way with Dresden, Coventry, Tripoli, Chatilla.

I hope the people whose own hopes of happiness have been destroyed forever know how many of us, all of us, share their grief with them in our common rediscovered humanity.
 

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