The most impressive man I ever met was Gordon Wilson from Enniskillen. I met him briefly in Belfast about six months after his daughter Marie was among those murdered in the Poppy Day bombing in 1987. I thought about him last weekend when I saw the location of another massacre.
“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.” He didn’t say that to me. Those were his words in an interview broadcast after the tragedy. They were words I could never have spoken.
When I met him I shook his hand and looked into his eyes. It was like looking at someone sent by God. His ability to forgive was a special quality and I don’t think I could display it if I was put to the test.
Last weekend I read the small sign placed at the scene of the Miami Showband Massacre. It was put there to mark the 46th anniversary of the attack on July 31, 1975. I was surprised when it asked for everyone who died there to be remembered.
Remembering all the dead means remembering the murderers who set off the bomb and accidentally killed themselves along with the innocent musicians. The bomb was meant to explode later and kill all the showband members.
I should not have been surprised. A few years ago I met Stephen Travers who survived the attack. A wonderful entertainer and a man of true forgiveness, he reminded me of Gordon Wilson. There is no semblance of hatred in his heart. I admire how he can campaign for truth and answers but still see the killers as young men who should be “playing with their grandchildren.” I honestly admire his generosity of spirit.
Gordon and Stephen are not the only names associated with forgiveness. There are others dotted across the country and I long to be like them. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, we ask God to be forgiving, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. We are not meant to hold a grudge but for some people who suffered in the Troubles it must be impossible not to.
I didn’t suffer but I still have a longing to eyeball the two teenage girls who firebombed my father’s shop in 1975. They were eventually caught and sentenced. They would be pensioners now but I would still like to tell them how much I despised what they did. One of the bombs didn’t explode and I found it an hour later. I had the good sense not to touch it. When the bomb disposal officer arrived he lifted it and it shredded his protective gauntlet and set light to his clothing before a fireman sprayed water on him. If I had touched it I would probably be disabled now. Would I forgive those girls or the boss who sent them on the mission? I don’t know but honestly I don’t think so.
I’d also like to go back to 1976 and have a firm chat with a paratrooper who assaulted me in Newry when I was 15. He wasn’t much older than me. I can still see his wicked smirk when he grabbed me by the throat and pushed me against the railings of a shop in Hill Street. He was like a football hooligan in a uniform.
He was an example of why so many young men in the area detested the army. An elderly lady intervened and whacked him with an umbrella. If I could go back I’d thank her dearly. Three years later I saw members of the parachute regiment go through Warrenpoint. I saw their faces as they sat in the back of the trucks. They were jolly and happy. I recall hearing the laughter. Minutes later 18 of them were killed in the Narrow Water ambush. I remember hoping the soldier who hit me wasn’t in the lorry. I prayed for them and I still do when driving near Warrenpoint. Maybe there is a little forgiveness in all of us.
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