Belfast Telegraph

Kingsmill survivor’s words should stop us sinking further into sectarian bog

By Alf McCreary

Last Sunday morning, the Dublin broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan interviewed Alan Black, the sole Kingsmill survivor, on RTE Radio.

It was one of the most searing interviews I have heard, and on a par with that of the late Gordon Wilson, who talked so movingly about his daughter Marie holding his hand under the rubble of the Enniskillen bomb, shortly before she died.

Alan is also an outstanding communicator who can describe the horrors of violence in detail and with deep humanity in the midst of evil.

He also has a special gift, like Gordon Wilson, of momentarily stopping us in our tracks and asking ourselves how did we get to the stage where so many of our people butchered so many innocent others?

This is the question which still hangs over us all, and it goes much deeper than the significant political fall-out from Barry McElduff's inane antics and belated, unconvincing apology.

Alan Black once again raised basic questions about pain, devastation, spilled blood and about how Protestants, Catholics and non-believers still treat each other.

This is also a deep theological question, even though the Presbyterians and the Methodists - to my knowledge - were the only main churches to comment on the community implications of the McElduff travesty.

In his disturbing interview, so full of raw pain, Alan said that although he had no time for organised religion, he believed in God and that he had prayed "for the boys" who were killed, and also for their families.

He also told how he went to Scotland for a period to try to find some peace.

On a short Christmas visit back home, he and his family stayed with his mother-in-law. One night there was a knock on the door, and there on the doorstep was Mrs Reavey, whose Catholic sons were shot and murdered on the eve of the Kingsmill massacre.

Mrs Reavey was bringing Christmas presents for Alan's children. This simple act of profound Christian goodwill spoke volumes.

Its symbolism would provide much material for sermons from clergy of all denominations, if only they had ears to hear.

Those who did not catch the Alan Black interview live can Google it, so there is no excuse in saying "I did not hear it". It is difficult to listen to, but we must not brush it under the carpet just because it makes very unpleasant listening.

In my earlier career, I wrote extensively in two books and in countless articles about the victims of violence, and it took such a toll on me over the long term that for a period I left daily journalism.

Nevertheless, I remember all those people, and I wince when I see new victims on television, because I know what they are going through, in much the same way that my long experience reporting from the Third World makes me wince all over again when I see more pained and dying children and adults from the developing world on television.

In particular, back home I will never forget Enniskillen, partly because of my respect for Gordon Wilson and his widow Joan and family.

Nor will I ever forget what happened in Kingsmill, partly because it so deeply affected my native village of Bessbrook, and because of my lifelong respect for Alan Black, and for my old schoolmate Walter Chapman, who died in the attack.

For one rare moment, Alan has pulled back the curtain to show the reality of sectarian violence in our midst.

He has made us all think, but as in the case of Gordon Wilson, time moves on and the harsh world of politics and violence takes over again.

The question facing all of us, including the politicians, the voters and the churches, is how to move on with dignity and humanity to forge a permanent peace.

Or will we once again grow weary and overlook the Gordon Wilsons and the Alan Blacks and others, and slowly sink even deeper into our suffocating sectarian bog of bloody-mindedness and 'No surrender'?

It is time that the alleged people-power campaigning against violence and political deadlock began to show some results.

Belfast Telegraph


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