Enniskillen 28 years on: A deafening explosion, a silence, then screams

The scene of devastation in Enniskillen after the Poppy Day bomb in 1987
The scene of devastation in Enniskillen after the Poppy Day bomb in 1987

Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the IRA’s heinous Poppy Day atrocity in Enniskillen. In this poignant account, a survivor, SELWYN JOHNSTON, tells his story and how he rescued a very potent symbol of the carnage

In 1987 I was 17 and a member of the Boys’ Brigade.

The original poppy wreath of Enniskillen Boys' Brigade which was rescued from the carnage of the 1987 IRA bomb

The original poppy wreath of Enniskillen Boys' Brigade which was rescued from the carnage of the 1987 IRA bomb

Enniskillen BB had been formed in the late 1920s and several members of the Boys’ Brigade had served and died during WWII. It was traditional for the BB to remember this sacrifice with the laying of a poppy wreath at the war memorial.

Along with two other boys in BB uniform we attended the war memorial on Sunday 8th November 1987 to lay this poppy wreath. I walked to the memorial and arrived just after 10.15am. I was welcomed by Ronnie Towers, chairman of the Royal British Legion, who directed us to our place in front of the war memorial, opposite O’Doherty’s Butchers.

I briefly chatted to friends from school and church and scanned the crowd which was gathering.

Shortly after 10.30am there was a deafening explosion with bricks, thick choking dust and glass showering us. It was as if someone had switched off the lights and then came the silence, which was probably only momentary but seemed to last for ages before the screams and shop burglar alarm bells rang out.

As the dust settled I dropped the wreath and along with others went over to help people from the rubble. We put into practice what little first aid skills we had been taught and wrestled with large chunks of masonry which had buried people in layers.

I remember lifting one piece of rubble and a hand stretched out as we quickly grabbled with our bare hands to lift the bricks.

Another man we helped would not leave as his father was completely buried under him. Bodies lying on the pavement, their heads pressed through street railings with over 10ft of rubble on top. The sights and sounds of that day I will never forget as we helped for over an hour before the emergency services took over.

Before I left the scene, I spotted the poppy wreath I had dropped. Like myself it was white with dust and had been trampled over in the commotion.

I felt it was disrespectful to leave it lying on the ground and picked it up to leave it somewhere safe. However, there was nowhere free from dust and rubble and I decided to carry it home.

As I walked through the lonely town centre a Downtown Radio journalist stopped me and asked for a comment. I said: “At a time we came to remember our dead, we did not expect to be digging them out.”

This later appeared on the front page of the Impartial Reporter, which described how 11 people were killed that day including one Boys’ Brigade member who lost both his parents, another who lost his father and several who were severely injured.

A replacement poppy wreath was provided as the old one was too badly damaged. This was laid at a special service the following Sunday attended by the Prime Minister.

I kept the precious poppy wreath safe as a connection with that day. A poppy wreath that was never laid but has a story to tell of prayers of hope and healing overcoming tragedy on Remembrance Day.

. by bomb survivor SELWYN JOHNSTON