Belfast Telegraph

Enniskillen bomb: Town remembers an evil act which failed to tear it apart

By Denzil McDaniel

This morning, Enniskillen streets will close to traffic and the town will pause for a ceremony to remember its darkest day, the Remembrance Sunday bombing of November 8, 1987.

Thirty years ago to the day, the town held its breath, numbed by trauma and grief after an attack on civilians gathering for a sacred ceremony to honour local people who died in wars on foreign fields. By the end of the day, it emerged that 11 people had been killed, another was to pass away after lying in a coma for 13 years, and scores were injured, some grievously.

By any standard, it was a shocking and callous attack, even in the context of increasingly desperate and daring violence in Northern Ireland which had been unfolding since the 1970s.

But more so, as Enniskillen enjoyed better community relations than most, if not all, towns in Northern Ireland.

The rich mixture of the two communities in an island town where easy-going people had come to terms with their versions of Britishness and Irishness over centuries.

Differences often overlapped, and there were local people who served through generations in the famous Inniskilling Regiments, the Dragoon Guards and the Fusiliers.

By 1987, the Remembrance Sunday ceremony was attended mainly by Protestants, but nobody expected such an attack due to the number of civilians, including many schoolchildren attending.

So when the bomb exploded, the shock waves reverberated much further than the gable wall which was demolished and came crashing down on a group of spectators, huddled against a building waiting for the traditional laying of wreaths.

The effects came in concentric circles; most immediately affected were the dead and injured who were pulled from the rubble with their bare hands by those attending who escaped injury.

Next came the bereaved relatives, who buried their dead in silent dignity in a week of funerals in the town, corteges often walking past a background of the rubble of the building where their loved ones died.

And then the wider community who sympathised and supported their friends.

All this took place in the eye of the world's media, who descended on Enniskillen. But while it was a major story for many, it was a harrowing local event for me and other journalists on the Impartial Reporter, as I was reporting on the deaths of people I knew in my home town, which was in danger of being ripped apart by division and recrimination. Despite some controversy, that didn't happen.

Gordon Wilson, a local businessman, gave an interview about being trapped under the rubble with his daughter Marie, a 20-year-old nurse who was the youngest of the victims to die.

Recalling her last words, "Daddy I love you very much", Mr Wilson said he bore her killers no ill-will and his words had a providential and profound effect on keeping the lid on a pressure cooker situation.

Out of a new dimension of horror came a sense of hope. Protestants and Catholics joined in candlelight vigils and gradually the town recovered.

But while the wider community moved on, families and injured victims were left to pick up the pieces of personal tragedy.

Today's ceremony will be attended by people with terrible injuries which they've suffered for all those 30 years.

By people who stood alongside their loved ones when they died, and by a young generation who weren't even born when their relatives were killed, but are carrying on the legacy of remembering.

And by townspeople who will silently recall the day that Enniskillen remained unbroken by an evil act.

  • Denzil McDaniel is a former editor of the Impartial Reporter newspaper in Enniskillen

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