UDR man recalls the horrific moment he lost his leg after under-car bomb attack

Noel Downey and his wife Helen, 'a source of incredible strength'
Noel Downey and his wife Helen, 'a source of incredible strength'

Noel Downey will recall the moment he was seriously injured by an under-car bomb as part of a victims’ remembrance day in Stormont today.

He will be talking today as part of the European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Terrorism.

Noel Downey and his wife Helen on their wedding day

Noel Downey and his wife Helen on their wedding day

Mr Downey was a serving UDR man when his leg was blown off as he got into his car outside a pub in Lisnaskea.

The 53-year-old from Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh joined C Company of the Ulster Defence Regiment in early 1982.

He explained his motivation for doing so: “There were a number of reasons but mainly I felt convicted to do my bit in protecting the community from what was happening in Co Fermanagh.

“1981 was a very difficult year, tensions were rife, I had a number of friends murdered by the Provisional IRA – including Jimmy Graham whose coffin I carried – we also came through the trauma caused by the hunger strikes which divided communities outside the prison walls in a chilling sectarian way.

“But my main motivation for joining the UDR was the murder of Ronnie Graham, who was one of three brothers murdered over a four-year period in south Fermanagh.

“I worked with Ronnie in the Sir Richard Arkwright Cotton Factory, his murder and the triumphalism of republican work colleagues within that factory sickened me to the pit of my stomach.”

On June 10, 1990 Mr Downey had parked outside the Weavers Pub in Lisnaskea and called in for a game of cards.

“After this I was planning to travel to Newtownbutler to pick up Helen (his then girlfriend, now his wife).

“It was only the second time that I had parked in that particular place, outside the pub – I certainly had not built up a routine. There was a general threat against security force members within Lisnaskea at that time but nothing personal against me as such.

“When returning to the car around 1pm I opened and threw my left leg in as I would always do and upon sitting down, the mercury tilt bomb was triggered by the motion.

“I remember a white flash, being blind and deaf for a period of what seemed to be a couple of minutes. I believe I was temporarily knocked out. I reached over in the blindness and opened the catch on the door – I kept saying to myself ‘I’m alright, I’m alright’.

“I got out of the car and attempted to walk but I kept falling down and the blood was seeping out of me. I made a distance of some 20 metres but after some time realised why I had kept falling, my left leg was gone.

“I later realised that my leg had been blown off and had actually struck me under my jaw, causing me to lose four teeth, two of my teeth were actually lodged in my leg which was blown into the back of my car.

“I remember feeling really annoyed that a good watch that I recently acquired had been destroyed and my new trainers – that was the least of my problems but it’s amazing how the mind thinks.”

He added: “My life was forever changed, I went through multiple serious operations and skin graft procedures. My body ceased to be my own.

“Serious physical injuries are often accompanied by serious mental health injuries and this was the case for me – nightmares, flashbacks, bouts of depression, anger, hopelessness were all behaviours which I encountered.”

He said his wife has been a “source of incredible strength” and the couple have been blessed with two children “who bring much joy to our lives”.