Enniskillen is thriving now and has earned its peace

The cenotaph in Enniskillen, which once stood unremarked in the centre of the Co Fermanagh town. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The cenotaph in Enniskillen, which once stood unremarked in the centre of the Co Fermanagh town. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Before the war memorial in Enniskillen became an international symbol of inhumanity it stood unremarked at the centre of my home town.

I passed it countless times, never heeding the 650 inscribed names of my counties fallen in the Great War.

The scene around the cenotaph in Enniskillen after the 1987 IRA bomb. Photo: Chris Bacon/PA Wire

The scene around the cenotaph in Enniskillen after the 1987 IRA bomb. Photo: Chris Bacon/PA Wire

Bouges and Balfours, Cassidys and Clarkes, Gaels and Planters – all minced regardless in that terrible, grinding slaughter.

The cenotaph was just a landmark for directions then.

On November 8th 1987 – 30 years tomorrow, a kinetic freight of pure, murderous spite catapulted this sad monument onto the conscience of the world. An IRA bomb detonated in a building adjacent to the memorial where townsfolk had gathered to remember the dead.

While eleven people were being torn asunder I was lying in my bed at Durham University.

The presence of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Enniskillen cenotaph is a powerful gesture of reconcilliation

The presence of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Enniskillen cenotaph is a powerful gesture of reconcilliation

While I was still oblivious to the unfolding horror, my father, an ambulance driver, was on the scene digging his friends from the rubble with his bare hands.

I had to go back.

I felt driven home by the need to stand and bear witness to the carnage.

It felt so overwhelmingly personal, I still haven’t really got over it.

Ian Acheson, an Enniskillen-born counter extremism expert and a former prison governor

Ian Acheson, an Enniskillen-born counter extremism expert and a former prison governor

Two weeks later, I stood with my parents at the rescheduled parade and all I can remember is a sea of yellow Royal British Legion standards as every branch in Britain poured into our broken wee community in an act of solidarity that still brings a lump to my throat.

Something else came out of that awful day.

Gordon Wilson’s words of forgiveness for the cowards who robbed him of his daughter, Marie, were inconceivable to many people in the Protestant community in Fermanagh, then being ravaged by despicable sectarian republican murder gangs.

But they did light a spark in me.

A growing sense that our obligation to the future must contain more than rage and grief.

Gordon Wilson, a big man in every sense of the word, nudged me towards a way of making sense that relied on more than anger.

As a result, some years later I became involved with Enniskillen Together – a charity set up to create spaces for the town’s Protestant and Catholic kids, then largely unknown to each other, to meet.

I helped lead a group of these youngsters on a humanitarian expedition to Romania in the early 1990s. The antidote to extremism is now as it was then – it’s much harder to hate people when you truly know them.

Enniskillen is now a thriving tourist destination – the home of two international literary festivals celebrating old boys from my school, Portora Royal – Oscar Wilde and Sam Beckett.

It has surely earned its peace.

The presence in Enniskillen of the Irish Taoiseach at the town’s weekend act of Remembrance is a powerful gesture of reconcilliation.

The old sow no longer eats her Farrow with the same relish.

But tomorrow, at least, in my minds eye I will see Enniskillen stripped bare of this hard won modernity.

And I will bear in mind those dead.

• Ian Acheson is an Enniskillen-born counter extremism expert and a former prison governor