Enniskillen Rememberance Day Bombing 8th November 1987 - the boy in the iron cage
“As we remember let us not forget...I’ve learned from the years of the troubles that we can either be consumed by the past, the anger, suffering, unforgiveness and so called injustices of things others have done, or we can use the valuable experience of suffering from the troubles as light for others to follow and reminder to us ourselves in the experiences we face each day.
At the age of 15 I learned first hand what it was to experience excruciating pain and suffering. Sunday 8th November 1987...rememberance day.. isn’t a day I will forget in a hurry. 11 dead (plus another 13 years later after enduring a coma) and 63 injured as a result of an IRA bomb.
The previous day I had been with some Catholic and Protestant school friends at a cross community competition in Dublin and was dropped off by the bus the previous evening at place at which my life was almost obliterated the next day.
The service of remembrance on remembrance day isn’t a time of pomp and ceremony despite what many think but a time to reflect on those from both sides of the Community who gave their lives in terrifying circumstances during the first and second World Wars for the freedom of all.
At 10.30am I stood with my sister and friends next near the cenotaph in Enniskillen. It was a cold and dark morning with a bitter westerly wind and many were starting to shelter next a derelict building opposite the Cenotaph. The previous day a relative had remarked to my brother that the building looked like one somebody would bomb...prophetic word or just sheer coincidence?... how little did he know that it was actually true.
At 10.42am I had just looked at my watch..and I was standing waiting..the next minute I heard something I never want to hear again. The noise from behind was horrendous like cannon going off, feeling a strong wind and being blown forward.. realising it was a bomb.
The next recollection I have is being pulled from the rubble..I can still hear the screams of children and women, not being able to open my eyes nor feel my left leg below the knee, and the taste of blood and concrete and putting my hand in mouth to realise that most of my teeth were gone. It’s not possible to blot out such memories. In fact it took 5 people to move the slab of concrete that had landed on top of me.
The next recollection and only thing remember seeing that day was my dad’s face when he tracked me down in hospital and the excitement in his words ..”Son am I glad to see you”..it had taken over an hour to find anyone and having search through the dead so confused was the situation..
That afternoon the situation became fairly dire.. in the midst of the confusion and the numbers of those be diagnosed I had a lost a significant amount of blood.
The injuries to my left leg were serious..the bone in below the knee had been split along it length and splintered in pieces and my left foot dislocated and broken and right pelvis fractured ..most of the bones in my face were impacted in, my nose broken, my front teeth gone. I was airlifted by helicopter from Enniskillen to Altnagelvin hospital where I underwent and operation of four and half hours. It was anticipated that I’d lose my left leg below the knee and I was so close to death in the operation that one of Surgeons came out of the operation at 1.00am on the 9th November to say to my Dad ‘to expect the worst’.
I did recover however and my leg was spared. The next week in intensive care on a respirator was one of the most painful experiences I can remember. I then spent a further 4 weeks in a ward with my face reconstructed in an iron frame and my teeth wired to hold the bones in place. My left leg in plaster to the waist for next 5 months. I didn’t eat solid food for a period of 4 and half weeks and my body weight dropped to under 5 stone..you soon learn to appreciate even basic food when you go through things like this.
It was emotionally painful to hear of numbers who died as a result of 8th November bombing, all of whom I knew and also to hear that my sister was in hospital also, albeit with less serious injuries. Most of the leadership or elders of the Presbyterian church in Enniskillen had gone in an instant..Where was the love of God in that you might say?..but that is exactly what became a reality to me in this entire experience because it’s ‘what you live’ and not ‘what you say’ that really shows what you rely on in life as your source of strength.
The days in hospital were a media circus. All they wanted was a gory picture and a story. The hint of anger or revenge would have been as blood to a blood hound if I have given even the slightest ground. I felt like Jesus tempted by Satan by questions of my feelings against those who planted the bomb (read on and I’ll say what I think later on the subject).
I did recover and by 18th December I was out of hospital and at home. It took another four months until the beginning of March ’88 before my leg was out of plaster. I had to study like crazy at home to catch up on my GCSE’s and managed to pass them in June 1989, move onto A Levels and then a business degree at Jordanstown before moving to Bristol when I had job offer.
I’m now married ten years to my wife Heather have two little girls, Abi,Megan and a little son Benjamin born in January this year living near Winchester in England. The day I was married..in fact the very hour I was married on 15th August 1998 29 people in Omagh lay dead..it brought it all back and how I felt for the loss and suffering folks experienced there.
In the face of my experience God has been good and he has ‘restored the years the locust has stolen’ in terms of suffering of the Enniskillen poppy day bomb. I was only reminded of it this week when I had to have some of my teeth replaced..you never forget but it’s what you do with your memories that matter. I’ve been made redundant in past jobs, seen my father badly injured in an accident, and also lost a child in the last ten years, but the suffering of the Enniskillen remembrance bombing has helped me to put such things in perspective. I’d like to share some of these things with you that I learned from the whole experience of Enniskillen:
1.”What is love? How can a God of love allow such terrible suffering? He almost seems like a hypocrite’’ Someone wrote this in a letter that I received following the bomb. I can tell you that many showed it in their reaction that followed Enniskillen. Those who prayed, those who came to visit me in hospital and those who wrote to me. For the Christians among your faith shone through... it wasn’t religious performance or good works for others to see..it was real, personal and what you believed and I thank you for that...it was a powerful witness and spoke to me more than the 800 letters and cards I received. From the Christian minister who lost his brother and sister in the Enniskillen bombing yet travelled to Altnagelvin from Enniskillen at the time to leave me the words of Roman 8:28 ‘That in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.’, to letters and poems from school children in a convent in England telling me that they were praying for me. God’s love was shown in the way people responded. What good could come out of the loss of so many good people and such suffering? It wasn’t God who caused this suffering but people blinded by a cause that they were persuaded was ‘just’ and ‘deserved’ at any cost. God does not cause suffering nor can be dictate circumstance otherwise none of us would be alive if he applied his standard in all situations, not just those we think he should act on to prevent suffering or death.
Prior to the bomb I had become a Christian and committed my life to God. At the time of the bomb religion was not something I valued...My view is still the same..becoming and being a Christian versus being religious are two very different things..unfortunately Northern Ireland has had too much of the tribal religion and not enough of the real ‘lived out’ faith in action..The bombing has and still is teaching me what it is to live as a Christian and this is what really matters.
With plenty of time to read in hospital I began to read the bible. The more I read the more I wanted to read and I began to realise that it wasn’t some fiction book and that God’s love was not some abstract theory but a reality through the terrible injustice and suffering that Jesus endured. He had every right and the power to blot out the lives of those who inflicted this on him. He didn’t take revenge on those who inflicted suffering or put him to death, but went through everything I experienced and so much more all for something he didn’t deserve. If you have suffered pain or suffering at the hands of terrorists who have wronged you then try to identify with what it cost God to suffer and what it is to love those who hate you.
2. “How can you forgive the people who did this to you? Can you forgive them?” The question peels like a noonday bell from a Church tower the number of times I have heard it asked in the weeks, months and years following Enniskillen. Tell me this..do you when you are wearing dirty clothes have the right to tell someone else that is wearing dirty clothes that their dress code isn’t acceptable when you turn up at a banquet?? The whole issue of forgiveness centres around ‘rights and justice’ and it depends who holds the keys here - is it your view or God’s view on the issue that matters? What spoke volumes to me after Enniskillen when I read the bible in hospital for myself was to see myself and others how God sees me, and not to start judging who committed the worst actions for only God has the rights to do this. To God the ‘sin’ word is the same for all things that are against Him no matter how trivial the act or word .. it is all the same to God and not ‘graded’ according to who swears, who steals and who wields the bomb or AK47. Having got this clear in my head I began to ask myself what would Jesus do and how would he react in the situation..and you know the answer was clear in New Testament..”Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”..If God’s Son is hanging from a cross, and could have obliterated the people who put him to death how much more reason do I have to ask God to either forgive those who did this to me? Equally I ask for justice to be done on His terms. 12 people lost their lives and I’m not demeaning this. Forgiveness isn’t yours to give, but it is yours to ask God for both for yourself and for those who killed so many in Enniskillen on 8th November. I’m not bitter against those who committed the crime of planting the bomb that almost killed me, and blew my body to pieces, for the justice issue is with God to meet out not me. I can’t say what it feels like for those left maimed for life or those who have lost a loved one in the troubles...that would be insensitive. What I would say is that two wrongs don’t make a right and anger and bitterness harm you as much emotionally and physically as much as it harms others.
‘When life gives you a lemon make lemonade..don’t be bitter for no one likes the taste that’s left afterwards.’
3.”Don’t put your trust in Money or material things. Life is fragile” To not be able to eat for four and half weeks, and to lose more than half your body weight teaches you appreciate everything you are able to eat and to give thanks for it each time you do eat. Being able to do things like washing yourself and going to the toilet unaided should not be taken for granted. Something which I learned from having to be helped to do everything in hospital. They were humbling experiences not humiliating ones.
I now work in a top management job with one of the UK’s largest power and utility companies, and really enjoy what I do. I still have to deal with the same issues of forgiveness when something goes wrong and there’s an inquest to find the answer or someone tries to apportion blame. Whilst I am thankful for what I have it is all temporary and can be gone in an instant...I just pray that now there is some form of peace and stability in Northern Ireland that people don’t forget what happened at Enniskillen or Omagh or any other of the terrible events that have occurred in Northern Ireland’s history but remember the fragility of life and the past suffering to work for the future. You can’t live life on your own strength but you can with God’s... It takes strength not weakness to admit this.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Hopefully it will encourage you to think again about the questions everyone asks ‘Why does God allow suffering?’, ‘Can you forgive?’ in the face of the suffering of Northern Ireland's troubled past and somewhat uncertain future. Don’t take my word for take your bible off the shelf blow the dust and cobwebs of it and check out the facts in the bible yourself and you might be surprised at what God what might say to you from the pages..He’s the same today as he was on 8th November 1987 to me.”
19 February 2009
This story is the personal recollection and understanding of an individual. Any views or opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the individual who recalled their story. Sharedtroubles is acting purely as a facilitator.