A soldier who was badly injured in the 1988 Ballygawley bus bombing said the reception he received in Omagh during the 30th anniversary of the atrocity was unlike anything he has experienced in GB.
The IRA roadside bomb attack on the Army bus at Ballygawley claimed the lives of eight soldiers on August 20 1988, injuring 28 others.
The South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) organised a reception dinner in the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh on Saturday night for surviving soldiers, local residents, passing civilians and members of the emergency services who helped the survivors.
A special musical tribute was performed by the Omagh Protestant Boys Flute Band, one of several which arrived just after the explosion and gave first aid.
As the names and photographs of the eight deceased soldiers was projected on to a screen on Saturday, tears streamed down the face of a large former soldier who carries major scarring from the bomb attack. His daughter reached out to hold his knee throughout.
Although a burly, intimidating figure, he was later overheard to speak in a soft voice, breaking with emotion. “I just can’t believe what they do for us here – far more than on the mainland,” he said.
Kenny Donaldson, director of services with SEFF, said the bombing may be quite unique in light of the strong persisting bond between locals and surviving soldiers.
“Over the course of the weekend it became clear that many of those returning do have a deep interest in Northern Ireland related matters and how the past is being represented,” he said.
Gordon Burnside of Omagh Protestant Boys Flute Band said bandsmen worked together to lift the bus off the ground to rescue several injured soldiers.
“It was probably the eeriest feeling, and it is still there every day,” he said.
“It does hurt now and again thinking about it. It is the smell of burning flesh that comes back to you and you can see it in your head. We didn’t have any help afterwards. There are quite a lot of the boys and girls that were there who do say that there are times that it just gets to them.”