ALMOST two decades after republican terrorists launched a vicious campaign of violence in Northern Ireland, the bombing of a Remembrance Day parade in Enniskillen reverberated around the world as a previously unthinkable low.
Wherever in the world conflict has raged, and whatever the brutality inflicted by man on his fellow man, there has been a time-honoured tradition that the burial and commemoration of the fallen should be respected as sacrosanct.
On Sunday, November 8, 1987, the Provisional IRA brought an unspeakable horror to the picturesque Fermanagh town with a proud military tradition.
Their bomb, left in a community hall, was timed to explode as people of all ages gathered to pay their respects to the dead of two world wars and later campaigns.
When the dust finally settled on the scattered debris and the mangled poppy wreaths around the cenotaph, six men and five women lay dead or dying. A seventh man would remain in a coma for 13 years before succumbing to his injuries.
The 40lb bomb had been brought across the border by several terrorist cells working in relays to avoid detection. They placed the deadly device in a building known as the Reading Rooms, adjacent to a prime vantage point for those attending the annual service.
Subsequent statements from the IRA attempted to distance the organisation from the full horror of the slaughter – initially falsely claiming the bomb had been detonated by electronic equipment carried by members of the security forces, and then stating that a UDR colour party was their intended target.
The victims remain in no doubt that, whatever smokescreen put up by the terrorists, civilian casualties were an inevitable consequence of their actions.
On the same day, the IRA had placed a much larger device in the vicinity of a Remembrance paraded by almost 200 members of the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade 15 miles away in Tullyhommon. Had it exploded, the carnage would almost certainly have surpassed that of the Enniskillen tragedy.
The attack on the Remembrance Day ceremony sparked outrage throughout Northern Ireland and beyond. It had claimed the lives of a 20-year-old nurse, an RAF veteran, a local evangelist, a retired RUC sergeant, an off-duty police reservist and three elderly married couples.
The man sentenced to 13 years of life in coma was a local school headmaster.
Almost 70 people suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to head trauma thought at the time to have been fatal or permanently debilitating. Many of those affected still bear constant reminders of the bomb blast in the form of crippling pains and restricted mobility.
Several continue to undergo counselling for trauma and still struggle to accept the possibility that no one will ever be brought to justice for the murder of their loved ones.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the softly spoken words of Gordon Wilson – the father of 20-year-old nurse Marie Wilson who died at the scene – set a conciliatory tone that, in public at least, became synonymous with the town’s Protestant population.
“I bear no ill will. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie,” Mr Wilson said.
For other bereaved families, Mr Wilson’s words were a far cry from their own sentiments. However, as one, they maintained their quiet dignity and refused to allow their devastating sense of loss to further harm relations with their nationalist neighbours.
The site of the atrocity has been redeveloped and where the Reading Rooms once stood there now stands a new multi-use, cross-community centre officially opened by US President Bill Clinton.
The cenotaph remains the focal point of the town’s Remembrance commemorations which have had an added poignancy since 1987.
Many of the bereaved and survivors have recently reaffirmed their determination that justice must be seen to be done — their resolve undiminished by a quarter of a century’s passing.
Early this week, news emerged that a file on the bombing is to be handed over to police by the Historical Enquiries Team.
The report has not yet been published, however details have been handed to the PSNI serious crime squad for further examination.
First Minister Peter Robinson is expected to attend today’s Remembrance event and following service at St Macartin’s Cathedral.
In a statement the PSNI said: “The Historical Enquiries Team has concluded its work on the deaths which were caused at the Enniskillen Cenotaph bombing in 1987.
“Staff have updated the families on the HET work and will formally hand over to the PSNI’s serious crime branch who will assess the potential for further work to be progressed.”
The passage of time has not diminished the Enniskillen families’ desire to see the perpetrators brought to justice.
They will be monitoring the police investigation with great interest.