Belfast Telegraph

Texas Massacre is a stark reminder of Darkley

Editor's Viewpoint

If anyone can relate to the horror of the massacre at the Texan Baptist Church, in which 26 people were killed and another 20 injured, it is Pastor David Bell. For he was caught up in a similar incident in Northern Ireland 34 years ago when republican gunmen opened fire on the congregation of Darkley church in south Armagh, killing three and wounding seven.

It was not the most serious crime of the Troubles in scale, but it did plumb new depths. It was an evil sectarian act, an obscenity which sent shudders through the province.

Just as the people in Sutherland Springs, Texas are wondering why death was visited on their little church at the weekend, so too did the people of Northern Ireland in 1983 when news of the Darkley attack began to spread.

In any faith-based society, the idea of wantonly attacking a Church service is beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of people. Places of worship, even in the worst of times, are regarded as somehow sacrosanct, although low level vandalism of Church properties is becoming more commonplace.

For the most part, during the Troubles churches were oases of safety. Large numbers of people congregated there, but attacks on and near Church property were rare. It was as if terrorists felt that faith, and its practice, was for the most part out of bounds to their campaigns.

The number of mass killings in America is often blamed on the existence of the second amendment of the constitution, which protects the rights of citizens to bear arms, a right that is jealously - although in the minds of outsiders, insanely - guarded. But as Darkley showed, when evil takes root those infected by it do not need an excuse to allow them to give expression to their hatred and bigotry. In the US, guns of all varieties are as common as supermarket vegetables, which facilitates the sort of horror seen in Texas and recently in Las Vegas.

Yet in Northern Ireland, where huge security operations were carried out on an ongoing basis, those who wanted to kill their fellow men, women and children were able to get the weapons they needed. It is not so much the guns we need to decommission, but the hatred that lurks in some people's minds.

David Bell is now pastor of Darkley church and the events of 1983 remain fresh in his mind. His life has moved on, but the obscenity of the church attack still stains his memory, as it will for the survivors in Texas.

Belfast Telegraph

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