Omagh Aftermath:In a land of dark shadow, three boys are buried by thousands

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The Independent Online
BUNCRANA IS a beautiful seaside town on the Donegal coastline, a town not readily associated with images of devastation, scenes of indescribable grief.

But yesterday it was witness to "a land of dark shadow and of appalling pain", as the parish priest, Fr Shane Bradley, struggled to find words to describe the terrible occasion, the funeral of three young boys: "It is an eerie, eerie place, lonely, desolate and full of inconsolable torment," he said "It is a place no one, no one absolutely no one should ever have to visit."

Thousands of people, far more than the 4,000 who live in Buncrana, turned out to say their final farewells to Sean McLaughlin, 12, James Barker, 12, and Oran Doherty, who was just eight. Among those who congregated at St Mary's Church were David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Also there was the Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon and the Irish President Mary McAleese who, two months ago, received a "poem of peace" written by Sean and his classmates. Yesterday one of them read the poem out during the Mass. Called "The Bridge", it read:

Orange and green - it doesn't


United now

Don't shatter our dream

Scatter the seeds of peace over

our land

So we can travel

Hand in hand across the

bridge of Hope

There was also a group from Celtic Football Club, including their Danish international player Marc Rieper, and two other players. Little Oran had been a fervent Celtic fan, he was buried in a Celtic jersey and his coffin was draped with a Celtic flag.

Children walked hand in hand with their mothers and fathers, they carried flowers and they cried.

Friends and fellow pupils of the boys lined the long drive into the church. Uncomplainingly they stood for two hours in the rain and cold wind, waiting for the funeral cortege to arrive. When finally it did, and the three small coffins were carried out, there were more tears.

Fr Bradley, in his address, reminded those present that, with the three boys, Buncrana had also lost two Spanish visitors, Fernando Blasco, 12, and Rocio Abad Ramos, 23. Two others remain in hospital. The mourners were told that death "was no respecter of age". But no one tried to hide that these lives had been taken by the deliberate actions of men.

Fr Bradley said: "We got here against our will as a result of a terrifying, evil act, as people who seem to have such a distorted grip on reality that they thought that their cause could be furthered by the planting of this bomb.

"Their action has not only wounded over 200 people and caused emotional havoc for them and thousands of others, but has also brought our Spanish visitors and ourselves to this brutal place. I can only pray that they see what they have done and repent."

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry and Raphoa, the Most Rev Seamus Hegarty, also made plain who the community holds responsible for the atrocity. He said of the bombers: "I want them to hear this call. I ask them to repent, to resolve finally to give up their immoral trade in destruction and death, not temporarily or conditionally but permanently and seek forgiveness for what they have done."

The bishop ended by welcoming Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon and telling them that the people were depending on them to build on the Good Friday peace agreement.

He said: "We are relying on you and on your colleagues in the Assembly to continue to build on the gains which have been made.

"It's the only alternative, there is no other. We wish you well and a fair wind in all your endeavours."

Those inside the church and thousands outside greeted this with prolonged applause.

After the hymns and prayers in English, Gaelic and Spanish the three small victims were carried to their graves by their weeping relations.

As the coffins were taken from the church, James's mother reached out, sobbing, to touch her son's coffin. She was comforted by her husband, Victor, and daughter Estella, 14.

The family moved to Donegal from Surrey in March because they wanted a better quality of life.

The burials took place in graves side by side filled with lilies, hydrangeas and daisies with the sun breaking through the mist of the Illies Hills over the town.

"It's such a lovely spot, they will be at peace here," said an elderly woman, and wiped her eyes.

Bishop Hegarty's sermon,

Review, page 4