Soldier who survived 1988 IRA bomb to make first visit back to scene of Ballygawley attack
A former soldier who survived an IRA bombing which killed eight of his comrades will revisit the scene of the atrocity for the first time this weekend.
Dave Hardy was asleep at the back of the bus carrying soldiers to an Army base in Omagh when the bomb detonated near Ballygawley in the early hours of August 20, 1988.
He was among the 28 wounded and suffered horrific injuries including a bleed on the brain, collapsed lung and multiple broken bones.
Mr Hardy spent months in hospital before he was transferred back to his home in North East England.
Members of the public, including local residents and members of two flute bands who were travelling on the road, gave comfort and assistance to the wounded until emergency services arrived.
This weekend, Mr Hardy will meet the medical staff who cared for him and Grace Curry, a member of the Star of the Valley Flute Band from Limavady who, along with her partner, comforted him.
The reunion is part of a Remembrance Sunday commemoration organised by the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), who will hold a service and wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the explosion.
Mr Hardy, who still receives treatment for his injuries, said he is grateful for the opportunity to meet those who helped him and the 27 other survivors.
He said: "To be honest, I am not allowing myself to think too much about the visit and I think it won't hit home with me until I am at the airport, but it will be good to be able to meet the people who helped me.
"I have been asked to go back to Ballygawley before but I never felt the time was right before, but now I am in the right frame of mind to visit.
"I have no memory of what happened at all.
"I think in a way I have been spared so much because I didn't see what those who came to help us saw.
"I still have so many unanswered questions that I hope Grace Curry will be able to fill in.
"I have been told she and her partner sat with me until the ambulance arrived. I have corresponded with her through Facebook Messenger but we have never spoken so it will be good to be able to see her and the other people face to face."
Mr Hardy said he has talked very little about the blast.
He added: "I have never really spoken to my children about it but, in the earlier days, I took myself off to the beach and sat for hours watching the tide go in and out and tried to process everything.
"It still affects me, particularly around the anniversary when I will have nightmares. But I hope this weekend, tough and all as it will be, I will be able to find some peace of mind and lay a few ghosts to rest."
Kenny Donaldson, from the SEFF victims' group, has been organising similar services for survivors of the Ballygawley atrocity.
He said: "Each year since the 25th anniversary, we have been bringing survivors back and this year Dave is coming back for the first time.
"Our belief has always been that those who served within the Army regiments in many ways have 'unfinished business' with Northern Ireland.
"Through their service they were subjected to many events that shaped their lives but they haven't felt able to come back and engage with that pain.
"So as an organisation, we bring them over, provide a wraparound service of counselling and peer to peer support so they are able to deal with those issues and meet the people who helped them."