Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

The Shankill bombing: We stared into the abyss, before seeing hope rise from the ashes

Rescuers: Marty Marchant(right) and Alfie McCrory pictured at the Shankill bomb memorial garden.  The two men pulled people form the rubble in the aftermath of the IRA bomb attack at the fishmongers in which 10 people were killed including one of the bombers. Photo by Jonathan Porter/Presseye.
Rescuers: Marty Marchant(right) and Alfie McCrory pictured at the Shankill bomb memorial garden. The two men pulled people form the rubble in the aftermath of the IRA bomb attack at the fishmongers in which 10 people were killed including one of the bombers. Photo by Jonathan Porter/Presseye.

For those too young to remember the Shankill bombing 20 years ago today, it is impossible for them to imagine the sheer horror of the atrocity. Frizzell's fishmongers was packed as it usually was on a Saturday when a bomb carried in by two IRA men exploded prematurely and without warning, killing one of the bombers, nine of the people in the shop and injuring more than 50 others.

Rescuers dug frantically with their bare hands to pull the dead and surviving from the rubble. And it was a bombing which unleashed a horrendous response from loyalist paramilitaries who killed 14 people in the following week in a series of murderous attacks.

It is astonishing that out of that bloody cycle of murder grew the peace process. A province which seemed to be rushing headlong into the abyss, recoiled almost at the point of no return. It seemed that Northern Ireland could no longer stomach terrorism and its human toll.

That, of course, is no succour to those bereaved by the Shankill bombing. For they can still vividly recall every second of that awful day of October 23, 1993. The bereaved have dealt with it in different ways. Some have chosen never to talk about their grief, others have worked with organisations which help victims' families, some continue to harbour outrage at the bombing and vow never to forget or forgive, others just try to get on with their lives.

But what the people of the Shankill have done on this 20th anniversary is remember their dead with dignity.

The various events which are taking place this week have struck just the right note, celebrating the lives of those who died and recalling a black stain on our history with appropriate reverence. There is justifiable anger at the unveiling of a plaque in Ardoyne at the weekend to the IRA man who died in the bombing. While his family of course still grieve for him and are entitled to do so, for republicans to have a public commemoration to him at this time when the emotions of the Shankill bereaved are bound to be raw was quite simply wrong.

Perhaps those contrasting commemorations show that while we have relative peace in Northern Ireland, dealing with the legacy of the past is a task fraught with difficulty. To the bereaved families, every dead person was a victim of the conflict irrespective of how or why they died.

It probably has to be accepted that there will never be a meeting of minds on the definition of victim. And it is also becoming more doubtful if the peace will be followed by any form of truth and reconciliation process.

Should it just be enough to grieve for those who lost their lives in Frizzell's on that bloody Saturday – or in the myriad of other murder scenes during the Troubles – and vow with all our might never to allow the province to descend into such inhumanity again?

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