‘Omagh’s spirit of unity and love will endure’: Protestant minister

15th August 2018. 'Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
15th August 2018. 'Omagh bomb 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony. 'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

The unity and love that existed in Omagh prior to the terrorist bomb atrocity has endured and will ensure a bright future for the town, a Presbyterian minister has said following the 20th anniversary commemoration.

On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered on the spot in Market Street where the Real IRA device detonated in August 1998 killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and wounding many more.

Clergy from the major Christian denominations took part in the service, which included prayers, hymns and reflections.

A bell was rung 32 times to reflect each life which was lost in Omagh, and once for all the victims of the Troubles. The tolling finished at 3.10pm, the time at which the bomb exploded.

The street then fell silent for two minutes in remembrance.

Afterwards, Rev Jane Nelson of First Omagh Presbyterian Church described the service as poignant and a cause for hope.

“I got a real sense of peace and unity from the crowd as we stood together shoulder to shoulder, and of the love that exists in Omagh. A love that existed in Omagh before the bomb and continued afterwards,” she said.

“But also there was a sense of hope, with young children there who have no memory of the atrocities that many of us had to live through during the Troubles, and a sense of expectation that together we can make a difference, and make a change for the good for all the people in our society.

“And there was certainly a sense of solidarity with all victims, and all of those who have been bereaved through war, terror and violence, here in Northern Ireland and across the world.”

Rev Nelson said the media coverage of the anniversary commemorations had showcased the resilience of those whose lives were shattered by the massive blast – many who have continued to make the most of life’s opportunities.

“I was very moved by the stories that people shared with me of young lives that were damaged through loss of limb or loss of sight and yet those young people are now in their thirties with families, with businesses, with careers and opportunities, and they are moving forward, not wanting it to overshadow them.”

Rev Nelson also paid tribute to Church of Ireland rector Rev Ian Linton, co-chair of the Omagh Churches’ Forum, who helped plan Wednesday’s service along with Fr Eugene Hasson.

“It was a beautiful service,” she said.

“The good relations that there are between the clergy here in Omagh mean they are able to show a united front in supporting and caring for one another in Christ’s name in the town.

“I felt that it was a very poignant service, organised by the Omagh Churches’ Forum, which provided an opportunity for the whole community to come together. It was very significant that we gathered at the site of where the bomb was detonated 20 years ago, and that we paused in silence to reflect upon the lives lost and the lives that were shattered as a result of that atrocity,” Rev Nelson added.

Richard Scott, a retired police officer that attended the scene in 1998, read the poem Reality, which was written by Tracey and Paula Skelton, who lost their mother Mena in the bomb.

Fr Kevin Mullan, one of the final speakers, addressed the bombers directly.

“Come you who 20 years ago did this to Omagh, please come back once more among us to this market place, which you tore up with your bomb, to this street and its shops where you left our relatives, friends and visitors broken, bleeding, dead,” he said.

“You were not afraid then. Come with your tears, and do not be afraid now.”