Omagh bomb took my sight at 15, but I’m a mum with a family now... I can’t let myself be consumed by anger
A woman who was blinded as a teenager in the Omagh bombing has said she holds no bitterness towards those who carried out the atrocity and has had to move on for the sake of her children.
Claire Bowes was an ordinary 15-year-old until that day in August 1998 when a Real IRA bomb ripped through her home town, killing 29 people, injuring hundreds more and robbing her of her sight.
In the last 20 years, the mum-of-three has endured multiple surgeries and overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to finish her education, get married, have children and set up her own business.
She said she tries not to dwell on the negatives as the anniversary of the atrocity looms, but added it's a day that she will never forget.
"On the day of the bomb I was doing what a typical 15-year-old would have," Claire told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I was in the town with my friends, we were just walking about, talking about the teenage disco we had been at the night before, gossiping.
"I remember the bomb going off. I remember my sight going straight away, I was instantly blinded.
"I don't remember being hit, I couldn't see straight away but I thought that it must be dirt or dust in my eyes. I remember getting up and walking around, not knowing where I was or where I was going. I was dazed. I was taken to hospital.
"My mum was a radiographer at the hospital. I remember hearing a lot of injured people around me. I still didn't realise how badly I was injured, I had a piece of metal embedded between two arteries behind my nose."
Claire was airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she had to stay for two weeks and underwent several operations, the last of which was to restore some sight in her left eye.
The surgery was unsuccessful. It was then the reality started to kick in that nothing much could be done.
"When I was given the news I didn't know how I felt or where to go from there," she added.
"My mum asked me how I felt about it all and I really didn't know. It was then she said that we had two ways we could look at this - we could feel sorry for ourselves to which I responded 'no', so this left me with the option of making the most of what I still had and to get on with my life."
Claire said she was a wilful teenager and never let the cruel fate that was bestowed upon her hold her back. She pushed herself on to fulfil her dreams.
"Like many teens I was stubborn and determined to make the most out of life," she added. "I told myself that I was not going to let what happened to me destroy my life. I returned to mainstream school in October, two months after the bomb."
Claire passed her GCSEs and A-levels, went on to a degree and post-graduate diploma in music, got married to Ryan, had three children and set up the Omagh Music Academy.
She said she has not let the trauma of what happened to her or what the bomb robbed her of make her bitter or angry.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," she added.
"I couldn't be bitter. I get frustrated at times and there were times I would have got very upset. Life would be so much easier if I could see. But I'm so fortunate that I'm still here.
"I don't hold any grudges and I just try to make the very best of this life I have been given.
"I always try and put a positive slant on it. Yes, what happened should never have happened.
"But if I let the negativity consume my life, I couldn't move on. I try and stay positive."
However, Claire admits it's not always easy.
She added: "I have a young family.
"I have to focus on the positives for them.
"My two boys know what happened. I let them read an article in the paper last week about me and that led to questions.
"It will always be a part of their lives. But if I was negative or bitter, what would it be teaching them, the next generation? So I do try and be positive and I'm very aware of the fact that I'm very lucky to still be here and making the most of my life. That's what I try and focus on.
"That's without taking away from what other people are feeling because I don't know what it would be like for them, particularly having lost people.
"Now having my own children, I just can't imagine what it was like for those families."
Despite a huge police investigation, no one has ever been convicted of bombing Omagh in a criminal court.
Claire said she tries not to dwell on the lack of justice, adding: "The fact that no one was ever convicted does not weigh heavy on my mind. If I let it then I couldn't move on.
"I was 15 when it happened and I'm now 35-years-old.
"I had lots of living to do then and I still have.
"If I dwelt on things like that I couldn't have moved on with my life.
"I'm married with three children and have my own business.
"I have done so much with my life and if I had dwelt on the negativity I don't think any of that would have been possible.
"I needed to get my independence back and I needed to move on and find new ways of doing things to make the most of it."
Claire said the 20th anniversary is a milestone, but as she lives with the memories and scars from that day, the atrocity is always with her.
"It is hard to believe in many ways that it has been 20 years," she added.
"It's so strange. It doesn't feel like that long. It's just something that has always been there.
"It is part of my life every day, the fact that I can't see, so it will always be something that I'll never forget and it's going to be like that always.
"Obviously I remember the anniversary year, but this year seems to be a bit more of a milestone. For myself and the other families, none of us will forget it, even in subsequent years.
"Every single person in Northern Ireland and further afield seems to remember where they were on that day, when they heard about the Omagh bomb.
"I don't think people will ever forget."