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Putting us in the picture: People impacted by Northern Ireland Troubles tell their stories in words and photographs

Victims and paramilitaries are among those featured in a new exhibition opening in Omagh tomorrow evening, as Leona O'Neill reports

Margaret Quigg
Margaret Quigg
James Greer
Lyra McKee
Exhibition organiser Eamonn Baker

A powerful exhibition focusing on the Troubles and described as a 'kaleidoscope of heartache and resilience' opens this week. The event, '200 Words and One Picture', explores the profound impact of decades of violence on individual lives and features victims, paramilitaries and ordinary people.

Richard Moore, who was blinded by a soldier's rubber bullet as a child, talks about the dilemma his father had sending him to a mainstream school.

James Greer, a former UDA man, describes the moment he realises the depth of the madness that he got sucked into.

Chrissie McAnee speaks about visiting her brother, the north west's first INLA blanket prisoner, John Adair recalls growing up at the height of the Troubles in Strabane, while Emmet Doyle recounts the night Lyra McKee was murdered on the streets of Creggan last April.

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Lyra McKee

Organised by Towards Understanding and Healing, the exhibition, which opens in Omagh tomorrow, features contributions from over 50 people.

Their individual stories are accompanied by an image taken by photographer Donal Dunn that, according to exhibition organiser Eamonn Baker, is a 'kaleidoscope of heartache and resilience'.

"This process has been deeply moving," he said. "I have been privileged to hear sometimes heartbreaking stories from people from widely diverse community backgrounds. We are very grateful to all our contributors, young and old, who have bravely shared their stories."

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One of the contributors is Mark Olphert, who was 12 years old when his father, John, was shot dead at his shop at Nelson Drive in Derry in 1983.

A section of his '200 Words' reads: "Later, my older brother Peter mopped up my father's blood at the doorway of the shop. I was 12 years of age at the time, a pupil at Foyle.

"In the days that followed, I happened to answer the phone three times to adult voices sing-songing: 'We got him, we got him, we got him'. One day from the school bus, I could see scrawled on a wall the graffiti: 'John Olphert Ha ha ha'. The next time we passed there, the graffiti was gone."

Robin Young, who as a police officer had to sift through the debris of the Coshquin bomb, also contributed.

He wrote: "My experience of victim recovery at the Coshquin human bomb of 1990 and the Omagh explosion of 1998 affected me deeply and I suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The support I obtained from so many people during my recovery inspired me to get involved with peace and reconciliation work worldwide to make a positive impact on peace at home and abroad."

Another participant, former UDA man James Greer, spoke of his 'epiphany' speaking to a fellow loyalist prisoner.

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James Greer

"I wasn't long in before I met 'Sammy' - not his real name," he says. "He told me the story of what got him arrested. He had shot dead a Catholic shopkeeper, then his wife, and had only missed out narrowly on shooting their young daughter, who had somehow managed to dodge his bullets.

"He was gloating and frustrated that he had not killed the child. I think he expected a pat on the back, or maybe he just needed to talk, to confide ...in my gut I was horrified... to the UDA men around me I went on looking the part. In my own mind I was realising the craziness I was part of. I call that conversation my 'epiphany'. If this was what being in the UDA meant, I wanted out."

Margaret Quigg, who was married to IRA man Gregory, speaks in her contribution of her experience bringing their newborn daughter to see him in prison.

"Gregory joined the IRA after Bloody Sunday," she said. "We met shortly after that around February. I turned 17 in July 1972.

"He was arrested and on remand in Crumlin Road jail. I discovered I was pregnant. I went up to the 'Crum' one day and his mother had been up and had got the visit. The warder was standing looking at me pregnant and I burst out crying. I will never forget that man for this.

"He turned and said, 'Hold on a minute', and he came out and let me go on the visit to see Gregory.

"Gregory was 17 when he was sentenced to five years in Long Kesh. Long Kesh was a very scary place. You had invasive body searches.

"Shauna was born on April 3, 1973. She was about a week old when I took her up to Long Kesh. Gregory was seeing his daughter for the first time. It was emotional. As Shauna got older, visits became more stressful. When Gregory would reach out to hold her, she would start to cry and look at him like he was a stranger. This was heartbreaking for me. I could only imagine how Gregory must have felt."

Some of the contributors, such as this cameraman, wished to remain anonymous.

He recalled: "I arrived at the scene of a huge bomb on the Buncrana Road at Coshquin, that had just killed five soldiers and a civilian called Patsy Gillespie.

"I was the first civilian on the scene after the ambulance service. A big black British Army soldier pointed his machine gun at my car and screamed at me to get out. As I jumped out of the car I quickly shouted 'I'm media' and showed him my ITV cameraman's ID.

"I tried to calm him down as he was obviously in shock and his hands were shaking which I thought was not a good idea when he had a gun pointed at me. After a few minutes of talking to him he asked me did I have a mobile phone.

"He dialled a number and I thought he was going to ring Army HQ to pass on details of the bomb, but he suddenly said 'Hi Mum, it's me. In the morning you will see terrible news on the TV about my unit, all my mates are dead but I'm still alive, Mum. Love you, bye'.

"He handed me back the phone as he wiped the tears from his eyes. To me it reinforced my belief that no war is worth a human life and under every uniform is someone's child with a life story."

Sylvia Porter, sister of 32-year-old part-time UDR man Olven Kilpatrick who was murdered by the IRA at his shoe shop in Castlederg in 1990, spoke about her brother's killing.

"I just remember it coming on the news," she said. "It was like an ordinary death. You just got up the next day after the burial and got on. I couldn't cry and I couldn't cry for years, never cried. I took it that bad. After Olven was buried, my whole body just closed down. I was on top of an open fire and I didn't feel the heat. I was shivering. It must have being in shock. My whole body from top to toe came out in a rash, it was the trauma.

"I was in shock for years. Every morning I woke, he was in my head, every morning. No family member understood. It was just me and him and we were very close. He was five years older than me. He was a big brother. He looked out for me all the time. He was a gorgeous fella. He was so full of life. We would have a dance in the house before he went out. A wee jive.

"The two of us went up to granny's walking, running down hills racing. He even phoned up when my daughter was born and was telling everyone who came into the shop his sister has had a wee baby girl. The shop was called S & K Shoes. But at the same time, he always said: "I am a sitting duck here."

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Exhibition organiser Eamonn Baker

Eamonn Baker said the exhibition gives the public an opportunity to 'walk in the shoes of another person'.

"I think one of the things that matters to me about this exhibition is that it is inclusive," he added. "It's not about this community or that community, rather about all of us.

"It's about the suffering that we endured and the possibility that we can transform our lives. It gives you the opportunity to walk in the shoes of the other person."

The exhibition opens in Strule Arts Centre in Omagh tomorrow at 7pm. There will be an opportunity to meet some of the contributors and hear their stories, and also at 11am next Tuesday, January 14. The exhibition runs until Saturday, January 25 and admission is free. The exhibition will then move to The Duncairn Arts Centre in north Belfast, opening from February 6 for 10 days.

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