THE feeling Fermanagh border Protestants took to meet the Taoiseach yesterday was sadness as a result of their experiences of the Troubles, writes Philip Bradfield who accompanied them.
All six people on the minibus travelling from the SEFF in Lisnaskea yesterday were pensioners.
They were clear that they were carrying the weight of much heartrending history on their shoulders.
Repeatedly they used the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to describe their experience of the Troubles along the Fermanagh border.
Harriet Kirkpatrick, 62, said with tears in her eyes that she personally knew 19 people who were murdered by the IRA.
Her first husband Winston Howe was an RUC officer who was murdered with a colleague while on patrol in a 1980 landmine attack.
Ernie Wilson, 76, was a school bus driver and part time UDR member who was targeted with an IRA bomb while driving 17 teenage girls to school in 1988. The leader of their delegation yesterday, Stormont minister Arlene Foster, was one of his passengers.
He survived but with eye, ear and emotional injuries.
Fluent Irish speaker Maureen North, 73, told how the IRA bombed their border home and shop in Newtownbutler five times.
In 1990 the IRA tied her and her husband up in a field and turned their son, then 26, into a human bomb, forcing him to drive a 3,500 pound device to an army checkpoint at Roslea.
It failed to go off but their son was forced to leave his dreams of working the family farm and go to England.
Harriet Kirkpatrick said: “You just turned on your radio each morning and hoped it would be over but there were always more murders.”
However they said there was no loyalist retaliation in Fermanagh.
“Are you surprised by that?” Maureen North asked, “We just kept going to funerals day after day.”
SEFF said the IRA murdered 46 people in the 25 mile “murder triangle” along the border between Lisnaskea, Newtownbutler and Roslea from 1972 to 1994.
One man, former UDR platoon sergeant Robin Ferguson, said that five out of his 15 UDR men were Catholics who served in absolute secrecy. “I think so many people believe the UDR were all Orangemen,” he said.
Tears were shed on the minibus yesterday as people recounted how their kin and neighbours were cut down.
A common theme was that people were not just murdered, but tortured and mutilated beyond recognition.
Each murder happened within miles of the border, and the perpetrators inevitably fled back across it. The delegation was unanimous that they wanted Enda Kenny to acknowledge the Irish State’s failure to stop the attacks.
George Latimer’s father-in-law was shot in the head with a shotgun in his school bus, and his (George’s) brother was shot dead in his border hardware shop.
His family were forced to flee their border farm after repeated IRA gun attacks.
The Garda said they could find no trace of the gunmen, but George found dozens of shell casings, apple cores and an empty whiskey bottle.
SEFF chairman Eric Brown said: “Under articles two and three, we were Irish citizens, but we were not protected as such.
“Yet when foot and mouth struck in 2001, the border was sealed so you could not even get a ham sandwich across. I knew several people who had them confiscated from their lunchboxes by the Garda.”