Belfast Telegraph

Prince Charles goes back to Omagh 20 years after IRA bomb attack

Royals meet with bomb victims and lay wreath

The Prince of Wales laying a wreath with the Duchess of Cornwall
The Prince of Wales laying a wreath with the Duchess of Cornwall
Prince Charles with Caroline Martin, whose sister Esther Gibson was killed in the Omagh bomb
The royal with Stanley McCombe, who lost his wife Ann in the blast
Prince Charles meeting members of the public in Omagh town centre yesterday
Prince Charles visits the scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998
The Prince of Wales meets Suzanne Kelly and her mother Chris Kelly, who survived the Omagh bombing
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
Prince Charles and Camilla are presented with a bunny rabbit by Matilda Callaghan on the exact spot of the Omagh attack
The Prince of Wales is pictured laying a wreath with the Duchess of Cornwall
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

The sister of an Omagh bomb victim and an elderly woman who was seriously injured in the blast were yesterday asked to leave the remembrance garden to the dead shortly before Prince Charles arrived to keep a 20-year-old promise to re-visit the town.

Officials, believed to be from London, told Caroline Martin and Mary Ellis that they couldn't stay in the garden while the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, laid a wreath of white roses and herbs for the 29 people and unborn twins who were killed in the Real IRA explosion in August 1998.

Prince Charles shows skills as handyman in Tyrone

The two women were moved behind crush barriers on the street outside as the royal couple walked around the memorial, but after negotiations they were allowed to come forward to meet Charles and Camilla.

Caroline, who lives in Enniskillen, had arrived early at the garden with a bouquet of flowers in memory of her 36-year-old sister Esther Gibson, who died on a shopping trip to Omagh.

Esther's photograph was on the floral tribute and Caroline, who wore a coat which had belonged to her 'happy-go-lucky' sister, was visibly upset by the request to move from the garden.

But after she was permitted to meet the royal visitors, she said she was pleased with the decision and that they had come to Omagh.

"It shows they haven't forgotten our suffering," she added.

Caroline had met the Prince before, when he came to Omagh three days after Northern Ireland's worst single atrocity. It was on that occasion that he pledged to return to the town to meet the Omagh families again, which he did a year later.

Mary Ellis, who was badly hurt in the blast, reminded the Prince that he comforted her as she lay in her hospital bed 20 years ago.

"He was lovely, he held my hand," said Mary, who added that she was disappointed at having to leave the garden.

The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting the public in the centre of Omagh town centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting fire officers in the centre of Omagh town centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting fire officers in the centre of Omagh town centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting the public in the centre of Omagh town centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales in the Memorial Garden. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured with Caroline Martin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann in the Omagh bombing. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales in the Memorial Garden. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th June 2018 - The Prince of Wales has visited the Memorial Garden in Omagh Town Centre where a floral tribute was laid.ÊÊ The wreath of white roses and herbs of remembrance (rosemary,Êlavender and thyme) was from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. His two-day visit to Northern Ireland began in Belfast earlier on Tuesday. The Prince of Wales is pictured meeting Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann in the Omagh bombing. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales is presented with flowers by local school children as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales greets the nurses in the palliative care unit as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales meets Mary Shields in the palliative care unit as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales meets palliative care patient John Black as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales meets nurse Leonie McCaffrey and dialysis patient Eaimie Gormley as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales meets Mary Shields in the palliative care unit as he visits Omagh Hospital as part of his tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales has visited the Omagh Hospital and Community Care Complex in County Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
OMAGH, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 13: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall arrive to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing at Memorial Garden and Strule Arts Centre on June 13, 2018 in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are paying a four day visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Omagh Bomb memorial as part of their tour of Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
OMAGH, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 13: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are presented with a bunny rabbit by Matilda Callaghan on the exact spot of the Omagh bombing at Memorial Garden and Strule Arts Centre on June 13, 2018 in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are paying a four day visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The Prince of Wales looks at a power driver as he puts screws into an ornamental wheelbarrow during a visit to the Owenkillew Community Centre in Gortin, as part of his tour of Northern Ireland with the Duchess of Cornwall. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales uses a power driver to put screws into an ornamental wheelbarrow during a visit to the Owenkillew Community Centre in Gortin, as part of his tour of Northern Ireland with the Duchess of Cornwall. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 13, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

But she was clearly delighted to eventually shake the royals' hands and to chat with them. Caroline said she had given up any hope of justice for the Omagh families.

She added: "I'm frustrated and angry that the killers are still out there. If they were behind bars you could maybe get a wee bit of ease.

"But I accept that will never happen. Yet we all know who did it."

The mother of another Omagh bomb victim said she didn't know anything about the royal visit.

Patricia McLaughlin from Buncrana, whose 12-year-old son Shaun was killed in the bombing along with two young friends, had gone to the memorial garden to show it to relatives who had travelled to Ireland from America and England for a family wedding.

Patricia said the pain of her loss was still as raw as it was 20 years ago.

Breda Devine, 20 months
Breda Devine, 20 months
Esther Gibson
Spaniard Gonzalo Cavedo poses with a child on his shoulders beside the car carrying the bomb that seconds later killed 29 people, including the photographer
Elizabeth Rush
Olive Hawkes, aged 60
Julie Hughes, aged 21
Ann McCombe, aged 45
Mary Grimes, aged 65
Aiden Gallagher, aged 21
The bomb attack was the worst ever atrocity of Northern Ireland's decades of violence.
Brian McCrory, left, aged 54
Samantha McFarland, aged 17
Philomena Skelton, aged 39
Jolene Marlow, aged 17
The scene of the Omagh Bomb
Brenda Logue, aged 17
Alan Radford, aged 16
Bryan White, aged 27
Oran Doherty
Lorraine Wilson
Fred White
Veda Short
Geraldine Breslin
Deborah-Ann Cartwright
The scene of devastation in Omagh Town centre where upto 25 people have been killed in this afternoons blast. PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/08/98
Gareth Conway, Omagh bomb victim
James Baker, Omagh bomb victim
Several men have faced charges in connection with the attack, but nobody has ever been convicted of the murders
Cathy and Michael Gallagher, the sister and father of Omagh bomb victim, Aiden Gallagher.
PACEMAKER BFST 03-08-99: Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a chat with Claire Gallagher, who lost her sight in the Omagh bomb, before yesterday's friendly against Omagh Town in aid of the Omagh Bomb Fund.
The happy couple — Ryan and Claire Bowse on their wedding day last year, nine years after Claire lost her sight due to injuries suffered in the Omagh bombing
The damage caused by the bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998
Donna Marie McGillion, who was seriously injured in the Omagh bombing
The secret email which shows intelligence bosses knew that Omagh was a prime target for a terrorist attack weeks before the car bomb that devastated the town
Claire Radford, whose brother Alan was killed in the Omagh bomb, examines a new stained-glass window in the town's library with her daughter Mia. The window was created in memory of the victims of the blast which killed 29 people and unborn twins.
Michael Gallagher whose son Aiden, 21, was killed in the Omagh bomb attack Pic Paul Faith
Michael Gallagher (right), whose son Aiden, 21, was killed in the Omagh bomb attack with Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann Pic Paul Faith

"It never leaves me," she said. "And there was an empty seat at the table at the wedding for Shaun, who would be 32 now." Patricia and her relatives left before the royals arrived.

The chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Howard Thornton, welcomed the fact that Prince Charles had been true to his word and come back to Omagh to remember the town's tragedy just before the 20th anniversary of its darkest day.

In 1998, with the late Secretary of State Mo Mowlam by his side, Charles laid a wreath in a shrine of flowers on the Strule Bridge, on the other side of the road from where the memorial garden now stands.

At the memorial yesterday, Charles and Camilla took time to read the inscriptions listing the names of all the people killed in the bombing.

They then chatted with dozens of cheering local people and flag-waving children from Omagh County Primary School as they made their way to the scene of the blast. In Lower Market Street, they met business people and members of the emergency services who had been in Omagh 20 years ago.

Shop owner Tom Watterson told Charles and Camilla that three of his employees were killed in the explosion.

Ann McCombe, Geraldine Breslin and Veda Short had been evacuated from the shop after a false telephone warning from the terrorists claimed that the bomb had been left at the town's courthouse. Another employee, Doreen Preston, was injured.

Mr Watterson said: "I told the Prince that the members of staff were all brought down the town to keep them safe but the three girls were all killed as they stood on the opposite side of the street from where the bomb went off."

Optometrist Barry Curran said that people in Omagh had been determined not to let the bombers win.

"We decided there was nothing else to do but rebuild and Omagh is a thriving town now," he said.

Fireman Paddy Quinn was one of the first responders on the scene five minutes after the explosion. "It was like something from Hiroshima," he said.

Five ambulance officers also met the royal couple.

Ethel McCormick recalled how ambulance crews, bus drivers and car owners "did an amazing job" ferrying survivors to hospital.

"The sights we saw that day will live with us forever," she added. John Taylor said he and his ambulance colleagues from around the province had never really talked about what they saw.

Tommy Blee from Omagh said he told the Prince he'd been off-duty on the day of the blast.

"I was on the scene within minutes. And the realisation of what happened was awful," he said.

After their walkabout - and their visit to the obelisk at the spot where the bomb exploded - Charles and Camilla went to the Strule Arts Centre where they met more people who lost loved ones or who were hurt in the attack.

Around 50 people were present at the gathering and it was one of the first times that so many victims' relatives had been together in the one room since the tragedy. They were positioned in small groups so that Charles and Camilla could talk to as many of them as possible.

Afterwards, Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden died in the bombing, said: "It's important that we are not forgotten about. I think the fact that they both came here today was very uplifting. It's encouraging that people in high places are still thinking about us."

Charles had met several of the family members before and during those encounters he always insisted he was determined to go back to Omagh. He returned in May 1999 and said the IRA murder of his uncle Lord Mountbatten had given him an understanding of how people in Omagh must feel.

The Prince's concerns for the people of Omagh, however, have gone further than pleasantries and platitudes, with the heir to the throne keeping in touch with a number of relatives.

In a letter to Mr Gallagher, an aide said Charles "well understands the grief and sense of loss which continue to be felt by all those whose lives were so tragically affected by the bomb in Omagh".

There were reports in 2002 that Charles, during a visit to Northern Ireland, invited the then Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan to a private lunch at which the police's Omagh investigation was high on the agenda.

The Prince also helped to raise funds for the Omagh victims. One of his lithographs of Windsor Castle, which he signed and donated to a charity auction in Dublin, was sold for £53,000.

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