The “dignified and poignant” service to remember the La Mon atrocity victims made the endeavours to trace all 12 of the bereaved families worth the effort, Lisburn and Castlereagh mayor Tim Morrow has said.
Mr Morrow said the 40th anniversary commemoration – which was held at the Lagan Valley Island civic centre on Saturday morning – was important to the families and proved very emotional on the day.
Three married couples were among the dead when the IRA launched a firebomb attack on the La Mon House hotel near Belfast where members of the Irish Collie Club were holding a dinner dance.
The nine-minute warning of the explosion was not enough to have the venue evacuated and the huge fireball created by the blast charred many of the victims beyond recognition.
Saturday’s commemoration also involved the rededication of a La Mon memorial window which has been moved from the old Castlereagh Council building to the new council headquarters in Lisburn.
Mr Morrow said: ““It was a very dignified and poignant service. I know there are people who feel very hurt that nobody has been convicted [of murder] but we didn’t want to get involved in the politics of it – we simply wanted to make this a service of remembrance for the lives that were lost in one of the worst events to happen during the Troubles.
“Contacting the families was the most difficult part of the process. A few were easy to contact but a lot of families live in England now and it was very difficult to contact them.”
Mr Morrow added: “We kept them on board the whole way through to make sure it was what they thought was appropriate. The whole point of the service was that they thought it was appropriate.
“We had a beautiful sunny morning with the sun shining through the windows. The windows are much more spectacular from the inside of the building than the outside, because when the sun shines through it brings all the colours to life.
“You can understand why people were emotional – people having lost both parents, or brothers and sisters. It’s hard when you remember that sort of thing.”
Mr Morrow went on to say: “I only live a mile from La Mon House and I was 18 went that bomb went off. I remember vividly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, because I was home alone that night and my parents were out at dinner dance and I thought they were at La Mon. So it just brought it home to me that it could have been my parents.”
Dr Andrea Nelson, whose parents Paul and Dorothy Nelson were killed in the blast, said the terrorist attack had robbed her and her siblings of “a lot of their childhood”.
She said: “Losing somebody in such tragic circumstances, so needlessly and at the hands of evil men, was just so traumatising. It broke our hearts as young girls.
“Losing them at such a young age we lost a lot of our childhood, but luckily they were able to put a lot of love into the first 14 or 15 years we had with them, and we have been able to keep that with us for those 40 years.”