50,000 attend Omagh remembrance service

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 22 August 1998 23:02

THE FIRST NAME read out was that of James Barker, the young boy from Buncrana. Twenty-eight names in all, with the town or village where they came from, and the list seemed to go on forever.

Then there was Rocio Abad, the teacher from Spain, and Oran Doherty, aged eight, also from Buncrana, who died with his friends. Avril Monaghan, the pregnant mother killed with her young daughter, Maura. Philomena Skelton, whose broken body was discovered by her husband. And when it seemed the list had ended, there were yet more names, more individuals unheard of by most people just a week ago.

Even yesterday, as 50,000 people attended a service of remembrance in Omagh - and thousands of others attended similar services across Ireland - it was still hard to take in the sheer number of people left dead or injured by the bomb.

Father Kevin Mullan, who himself spent days helping the bereaved, reminded those gathered that, only a week before, things had been utterly different. In truth, no one present could have needed reminding, but still he took them back to last weekend when people had come into town for a carnival.

"It is Saturday again. It is a quarter before three in the afternoon," he said. "Seven days and seven nights have passed since last it was this hour on a Saturday afternoon on the streets of this town. Each day and each night of those seven days were journeyed through in horror, pain and grief - and today will have its night and tomorrow its tomorrows."

Relatives of the dead listened, quiet and dignified, with their heads bowed, as they stood on the steps of the Omagh Courthouse at the top of Market Street. Those who looked up would have seen beyond the crush of people squeezed into the town centre beneath them, the part of the town - still sealed off - where the 500lb bomb exploded.

They stood, meanwhile, at the place where the bomb was meant to have gone off, and from where people had been evacuated by the police. Next to the relatives stood the representatives of the various governments and political parties, which in the aftermath of the bombing have vowed to continue the peace process. If they had needed any further impetus to make that process work, then that long, sad list of names was surely it.

Last night, seven people - including two children - were still on the critical list at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. In all, 76 people injured by the bomb are still detained in seven hospitals. Most of those hurt in the blast were hit by shrapnel and flying debris. But it is those injuries that may well be the easiest to heal.

"It is not just the physical injuries," said a spokeswoman for the Tyrone County Hospital. "It is the trauma that people have suffered that might be worse."

Staff at the hospital who had to deal with the injured and dying have been offered counselling, which many have taken up. "There were an awful lot of young people who have suffered terrible injuries and seen terrible things," said John Smith, a social worker. "This will live with many people for the rest of their lives."

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