A man who pulled the dead and injured out of the rubble of an IRA bomb attack in Belfast 20 years ago today says it was just like 9/11, “except that it was on the Shankill Road”.
Gary Lenaghan was a shopkeeper on the Shankill who witnessed the bomb from 100 yards away, just after 1pm on October 23, 1993.
Nine innocent people were killed when IRA man Thomas Begley carried the bomb into Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road. He was said to have been targeting a UDA meeting that was supposed to take place upstairs, but didn’t.
His bomb was on an 11-second fuse and killed him along with nine other people. Another 57 people were injured.
Sunday saw a major republican commemoration for Begley in the Ardoyne area of west Belfast, drawing widespread condemnation, but staunchly defended by Sinn Fein. IRA man Sean Kelly, who assisted Begley in the attack, took a prominent role and offered an apology which has been rejected as insincere by a number of victims.
Mr Lenaghan last night recounted the bombing itself.
“I had a stall outside the shop that day. It was a crisp, peaceful October day,” he said.
“I saw the bomb going off. It sounded like a fighter jet flying past above your head.
“There was an almighty crack and then complete silence. Then there was another huge bang as the building collapsed.
“We were pulling dead and injured people out of the rubble right until the end – including Thomas Begley.
“It was just like 9/11 except it was on the Shankill Road.
“Instead of white dust there was black dust and papers dropping out of the sky.
“People were lying everywhere across the road. Parents and children were crying out looking for each other.
“The building was collapsing further as we were trying to dig people out but people thought nothing of their own safety.
“The bodies were covered in black dust.”
He believes the Begley family had a right to remember their son as they saw fit.
“But how would the people of Londonderry feel if someone unveiled a plaque on the Guild Hall to the Parachute Regiment?”
The republican event in the Ardoyne on Sunday, he said, was not in memory of Thomas Begley.
“It was remembering the act [of terrorism] and those who participated in that act.
“They are trying to airbrush what they did out of history and to promote the bombing as something that was good and noble.
“Those were things that nobody should see on a populated street.”
He added: “How would the Irish community feel if during St Patrick’s celebrations in New York someone unveiled a plaque to the 9/11 bombers? That is how the Shankill families are feeling.”
l A memorial service is taking place at West Kirk Church on the Shankill Road today at 12.30pm.
Schoolchildren will leave the church to lay wreaths in the nearby Memorial Park and at the site of the bombing.
A woman who lost both her parents in the Shankill Road bomb has told the News Letter that she has not slept for some weeks in the run-up to the 20th anniversary today.
“Last night I only got to sleep about 9am,” Michelle Williamson said.
“I have to be strong for mum and dad for the anniversary.
“I feel physically sick standing here and remembering our dead after [Sean] Kelly’s words [of apology] on Sunday.”
After the remembrance events of today she said she would “reflect”.
“My husband will pick up the pieces,” she added.
“There are no politicians pulling my strings, the victims are fighting for themselves now. This is coming from the heart – I want justice for my mum and dad.”
She went to the bomb vigil on the Shankill Road last night and is attending the memorial church service on the road today.