Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bomb families told 20 years felt like 100

Mourners still awaiting justice in a town where ‘reconciliation never really happened’.

People visit the Omagh Memorial garden after attending the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People visit the Omagh Memorial garden after attending the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People visit the Omagh Memorial garden after attending the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
White Rose petals are thrown into a pond at the Omagh Memorial garden by people who attended the ceremony for victims of the car bomb on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena died in the blast during the ceremony for victims of the Omagh car bombing on Market Street on the 15th August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathered on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People observe a minutes silence on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Richard Scott reads a poem entitled "Reality" during the ceremony for victims of the Omagh bombing at the site where a car bomb exploded on Market Street in Omagh on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Fr Kevin Mullan reading a poem entitled "A call to return" during the ceremony for victims of the Omagh bombing at the site where a car bomb exploded on Market Street in Omagh on 15 August 1998. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 15, 2018. The worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland conflict killed 29, including a woman pregnant with twins. See PA story ULSTER Omagh. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Victims who "suffered and those who are still suffering" have been remembered at a cross-community ceremony ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - died in the 1998 attack in the County Tyrone town. The memorial included prayers in both English and Irish as well as a reading in Spanish, the native tongue of two of the victims. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Victims who "suffered and those who are still suffering" have been remembered at a cross-community ceremony ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - died in the 1998 attack in the County Tyrone town. The memorial included prayers in both English and Irish as well as a reading in Spanish, the native tongue of two of the victims. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Victims who "suffered and those who are still suffering" have been remembered at a cross-community ceremony ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - died in the 1998 attack in the County Tyrone town. The memorial included prayers in both English and Irish as well as a reading in Spanish, the native tongue of two of the victims. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Victims who "suffered and those who are still suffering" have been remembered at a cross-community ceremony ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - died in the 1998 attack in the County Tyrone town. The memorial included prayers in both English and Irish as well as a reading in Spanish, the native tongue of two of the victims. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris with Michael Gallagher in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris with Michael Gallagher in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris with Michael Gallagher in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Relatives and guests take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Members of Omagh Community Youth Choir take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Pictured campaigner Michael Gallagher. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Michael Gallagher join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Pictured survivor Donna Marie McGillion. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Pictured George Hamilton..PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Pixtured Miinster Shailesh Vara MP and Minister Simon Harris. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
12/8/18 PACEMAKER PRESS The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb was held in the memorial garden in Omagh. Michael Gallagher Omagh bomb campaigner. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th August 2018 - Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara MP and Irish Minister Simin Harris join relatives and guests to take part in the Omagh Bomb Memorial Service in the Memorial Garden of Light ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Twenty-nine people - including a woman pregnant with twins - were killed in a car bomb attack in the County Tyrone town in 1998. It was carried out by the dissident republican Real IRA, several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

In Omagh, reconciliation never really happened.

Twenty years later families bereaved by the bombing gathered for a ceremony redolent of history and full of memory.

I am sure for you, 20 years is more like 100 years John McKinney

Omagh Council chief executive at the time, John McKinney, said: “I am sure for you, 20 years is more like 100 years.”

The blast which ripped the heart out of this market town community happened just months after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended decades of conflict – but not entirely.

The single worst atrocity of the conflict was still to come, 29 killed by a massive car bomb which exploded in the busy main shopping street of the Co Tyrone town with inadequate warning.

Police had begun to evacuate the area, but were inadvertently shepherding people towards the site of the explosion, after the dissident republican bombers gave the wrong location.

Eyewitnesses at the time have recalled eerie quiet in the immediate aftermath and there was silence again 20 years later as Omagh gathered in mourning which has never really ended, justice never served, and the killers never caught.

Among those present was Justin Hughes, a dapper man, wearing a smart grey suit.

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Justin Hughes’ twin sister Julie Hughes died in the Omagh bomb and he lay flowers and blinked back tears during Sunday’s commemoration (Liam McBurney/PA)

He waited politely to allow other relatives to place their floral tributes ahead of him.

He was there to remember Julie Hughes, a 21-year-old accountancy student home from university in Scotland ahead of returning to complete her final year.

She was his twin sister.

She had a summer job working in a photographic shop and was evacuated due to the inaccurate warnings.

Mr Hughes gave his personal message among the flowers a quick kiss, then laid the bouquet on the edge of the reflective pool which forms the centre of the memorial garden, pausing only to gently adjust a white petal which protruded slightly.

He rose and walked a few steps, into the embraces – long and lingering – of his family.

It was a protracted hug, other family members looked on anxiously, one gave him a reassuring pat on the elbow and tilted her head close, unaware, for that moment, of other mourners passing by.

Mr Hughes blinked back the tears and dabbed his face with a handkerchief, receiving a peck on the cheek and an arm on the shoulder.

I hope and pray that justice will be done in the future Leslie Matthews

Leslie Matthews sang a piece called Our Special Absent Friends.

He said: “Three steps forward, two back.

“I hope and pray that justice will be done in the future.”

Twenty years after Omagh, Northern Ireland is in political limbo.

With powersharing at Stormont – the crown jewel of the 1998 peace agreement – suspended for months and endless rounds of negotiations unable to restore it, the future looks uncertain.

Mr McKinney recalled the sense of hope which surrounded the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

“A hope for a better place.

“A hope that we would grow together.

“A hope for reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, and I regret to say this, the reconciliation never really happened.”

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