Peace brokers name victims who's deaths made personal impact
Peace brokers name victims who's deaths made personal impact
TWO PRESIDENTS and two prime ministers are among those taking part in a unique radio memorial to the dead of the Northern Ireland Troubles that will be broadcast today in Belfast and Dublin.
President Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, and Irish President, Mary McAleese, each recall different victims of the Troubles and speak of the significance of their deaths. The programme also features party leaders including David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists and Northern Ireland's First Minister, John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, as well as the talks chairman, the former US senator George Mitchell.
The programme, the work of the Irish broadcasting station RTE, is also being broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster. It was based on the book Lost Lives, which details the stories of all 3,637 people who died in the Troubles.
Mr Clinton chose as his subject Maura Monaghan, who at 18 months old was the youngest victim of the Omagh city centre bomb that killed 29 people in August last year. Her mother and grandmother also died in the explosion.
President Clinton says: "I still feel a personal connection with this tragedy. Two weeks later, Hillary and I visited Omagh. We saw the scene where the people were killed, and then we went to the leisure centre where the families of the victims had to wait for news of their loved ones.
"They were there again to meet us, as were many victims who had been terribly injured on that day. That meeting was one of the most difficult and moving experiences of our lives, but I have to say it was also one of the most uplifting.
"Again and again people who had been injured or lost loved ones said, 'Keep going with the peace process, keep going and don't give up on it, do whatever you can to make sure that nobody else suffers as we are suffering.' I never forgot their courage and their faith in a new beginning. And so we kept going, and now it looks as though, after all the difficulties, the new day we've been talking about is finally at hand."
In his contribution, Mr Blair remembers the Quinn children, three young Catholic boys who were burnt to death in a fire started by loyalist petrol-bombers in July 1998. He says: "Their whole lives stretched in front of them, but they were never to see the new millennium. Reading now the account of those who heard the last desperate cries for help as the Quinn boys tried to escape the flames, the same feelings come back again and again - pity, anger, despair, but perhaps most of all the powerful conviction that there has to be a better future than this.
"In spite of the impact of years of appalling actions, the violence which engulfed these three boys was so dreadful and their murder so despicable that the whole community caught its breath, reflected, and said this has got to stop."
He also pays particular tribute to two people whom he said had turned their grief into a powerful force for progress. These were Colin Parry, whose son, Tim, 12, was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, and Rita Restorick, whose son Stephen was the last soldier to die in the Troubles, in 1997.
Mr Trimble recalls Frederick Anthony, who was killed by the IRA in Lurgan in 1994. He became emotional while recording his contribution.
He says: "He was a cleaner in the local police station and he hadn't been well for some time and had been off work for nearly six months. He had got into his car to drive his children round to their grandmother's house but a boobytrap bomb had been placed underneath his car and he was killed.
"The entire family was in the car; one eyewitness said the children's shoes were lying at the roadside.
"His three-year-old daughter was seriously injured. She spent a week in a coma, both her legs were broken and she had pieces of shrapnel lodged close to her brain. You see, she had been in the back seat just behind her father, and she was standing up holding on to his seat talking to him when the bomb went off. Her survival was close to a miracle. I arrived at the scene within the hour, but I won't forget it."
Mr Hume recalls the 1993 incident in the Co Londonderry village of Greysteel when loyalists shot dead seven people in a bar. He says: "Greysteel was a terrible occasion and it was an awful murder. At the funerals I was deeply moved and I will never forget it, because at the time I was being criticised because of my dialogue with Gerry Adams.
"A young girl came up to me and put her arms around me and she said, 'Mr Hume, we prayed for you around my daddy's coffin last night. We prayed that you would succeed in the work you were doing, so that no one will ever have to suffer in the future what we have suffered.'
"When I think of the enormous generosity and Christianity of that, that the people who had suffered were not looking for revenge but were looking for a society in which it would never happen to anyone else, I was so moved that I broke down.
"The great tragedy as we enter that new beginning, and as we leave our terrible past behind us, is that there are many people who will not be with us to build a new future. The greatest tragedy of all is that we cannot bring them back, so the best thing we can do for those victims is to build an eternal monument to them. Let that eternal monument be an Ireland north and south of totally lasting peace."
Mrs McAleese, the Belfast-born President of the Irish Republic, recalls John Ramsay, a Protestant man shot dead in north Belfast in 1974 by loyalists who thought he was a Catholic. She remembers that her family knew the Ramsay family and the family of one of the men who killed him.
She says: "Their son, our friend, became a killer of Catholics, a killer of a man he thought was a Catholic. He broke many hearts that day, among them John Ramsay's wife and only child.
"Many silent years later my sister lifted the phone and rang his father, a man who had been kindness itself to her and to all of us. She said her name. He could only sob wildly in reply. What an awesome unholy waste. Thank you God for this chance to begin again."
Mr Adams says he found it impossible to pick one individual name to remember. He goes on: "I was drawn naturally enough to family members who have died, to neighbours, friends and comrades, to IRA volunteers, to members of Sinn Fein, to hunger strikers.
"I was drawn to incidents which I had forgotten about, to victims of the IRA, but I think what this is about is people who have a story to tell. I am reminded that there are victims of British violence who haven't had their grief acknowledged. We can't bring back those who have died but we can make sure that it never happens again, that this island never goes through what we've gone through for the last 30 years."
The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, remembers Edward O'Neill, one of the victims of loyalist car-bombs which claimed 33 lives in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974. He says that on that day he had been a hospital administrator, and had spent the entire night at the casualty department, adding: "It is a memory that will remain with me for ever."
"Lost Lives" (Mainstream Press of Edinburgh, £25) was written by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton. It has been selected as book of the year in a number of publications.Reuse content