‘Tremendous turn out’ to mark 20th anniversary of Omagh bomb

Victims campaigner Michael Gallagher who lost his son Aiden in the Omagh bombing, speaks at the inter-denominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the attack 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Victims campaigner Michael Gallagher who lost his son Aiden in the Omagh bombing, speaks at the inter-denominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the attack 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The “courage and leadership” of the families and friends of the 29 people who lost their lives in the Omagh bomb has praised at a service marking the 20th anniversary of the atrocity.

Meanwhile, at the event which took place in the memorial garden in the Co Tyrone town, the father of one of the Omagh bombing victims has marked the anniversary of the explosion by urging Northern Ireland’s political leaders to reach agreement so “we can move forward”.

Family and relatives gather at the inter-denominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the Omagh bombing 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Family and relatives gather at the inter-denominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the Omagh bombing 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Michael Gallagher’s son Aiden was one of the 29 people killed in the blast, who included a woman pregnant with twins, when a car bomb ripped through Omagh on August 15, 1998.

The bomb was claimed by a republican splinter group calling itself the Real IRA.

In his speech at the inter-denominational remembrance service, Mr Gallagher also paid tribute to all the victims of the 30-year Northern Ireland conflict, including the La Mon Hotel IRA bombing which killed members of a local Collie Club in 1978.

Relatives of the dead gathered in the memorial garden where they sat opposite the reflecting pool in the Co Tyrone town on Sunday.

Omagh bomb survivors Donna Marie McGillion (left) and husband Gary McGillion (centre) at the service. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Omagh bomb survivors Donna Marie McGillion (left) and husband Gary McGillion (centre) at the service. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Friends and families of the victims, who came from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England and Spain, also laid flowers and wreaths.

Mr Gallagher, who is the spokesman for Omagh Support and Self Help Group, said in his closing speech that as a small province, Northern Ireland was facing its greatest challenges ahead.

“We would appeal to the political parties to seek agreement so that we can move forward,” he said.

Mr Gallagher told those who had gathered in Omagh: “Working alone we can achieve very little, but in collaborative adventures we can achieve a great deal.

Omagh bomb survivor Gary McGillion during the inter-denominational service 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Omagh bomb survivor Gary McGillion during the inter-denominational service 20 years on. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“We as a community have paid the highest price, let us not forget we need to make this work, showing strength, courage and leadership.”

Former Omagh Council chief executive John McKinney told the families and friends of those who were killed that they have showed “courage and leadership”.

“It was a struggle, a daily struggle, and I’m sure 20 years is more like 100 years,” he said.

“It’s also encouraging to see such a tremendous turnout, not just today, but over the last 20 years.”

Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris (left) and Minister of State of Northern Ireland Shailesh Vara at the 20th anniversary service. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris (left) and Minister of State of Northern Ireland Shailesh Vara at the 20th anniversary service. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

He added: “That’s an indication of the spirit of the people of Omagh, the co-operation of the people of Omagh and the support they give and continue to give.

“We can all remember, the hope we had in our minds and hearts from 1995 to 1998, the hope for a better place, a hope that would grow together, a hope for reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, I regret to say, that reconciliation never really happened.

“But if some people actually looked at what is happening in this town and what happens every year, we see the diversity, the inter-denominational participation, and people coming together, then perhaps that might give some guidance.”

He added that Mr Gallagher and his group have fought for justice.

The memorial service which was entitled Out of Darkness included musicians, readers, singers and clergy from a number of religious denominations.

The Omagh Community Youth Choir performed a piece of music composed by its musical director, Daryl Simpson.

The choir includes Cara McGillion, 17, the daughter of Donna Marie and Garry, who were seriously injured in the attack.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton, former Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, and Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris, were among those attending the event.

A song was sung for Our Special Absent Friends by Leslie Matthews, who also paid tribute to Mr Gallagher, saying he was the reason “we are all here today”.

Prayers were said in Spanish and Irish, and a minute’s silence was held for all the victims.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley were both criticised for their decision not to attend the 20th anniversary.

In a statement, Ms Bradley said: “I would like to express my deepest sympathy to those affected by the devastating Omagh bombing ahead of the 20th anniversary this week.

“I hope today’s commemoration ceremony provides comfort to all those bereaved and is marked by hope and remembrance.

“We must never forget the loss that the victims of terrorism live with each day and the remarkable courage of all those affected by such unspeakable acts.”