Omagh Bomb: Twenty Years On

Today, August 15th marks the 20th anniversary of the Omagh Bomb. I wasn't directly affected, (unlike another bomb in Omagh some years later that killed my school mate Ronan Kerr) but I do remember exactly where I was when I heard - listening to the Radio 5 score updates to hear if Aston Villa could beat Everton on the opening day of the season. The news at half time was lead by sparodic reports that ten people had been killed.

It turned out to be 29 people and two unborn twins. Images of a father carrying his child on her shoulders right next to the car with the bomb in it are particularly haunting. And to compound the tragedy further, a school trip from Buncrana (a Donegal town with it's own unfair share of hurt) was visiting Omagh that day, a town with very little tourist interest, bringing children from Barcelona with them, who were among the victims.

We in Northern Ireland have come a long way in the last twenty years - I remember a time when the uniforms that signified if you went to the Catholic-maintained schools, or the predominantly protestant 'Controlled' schools would never interact, in a bizarre, but entirely normalised act of self-segregation.

I remember how for years the words 'bomb' and 'shooting' were so commonplace on the local news they were an amalgam of white noise of incidents that happened somewhere else. Then every day for months on my way to school the bus would pass a hole in the road about the size of the car, and a large pile of rubble where familiar shops used to be.

An event of such magnitude that it would bring the combined political force of President Clinton, Tony Blair and Prince Charles to the town in the following months would of course inspire works of art. Some of it successful (Paul Greengrass' Omagh, starring local actor Gerard McSorley), and some of it not so successful (a 'monologues' play about the bomb I saw once, written by someone who had clearly never been to the town, nor knew of the issues that preceded and followed it). In my own work, I had referenced it in Sitting Up for Michael, where the characters refer to it as simply 'the bomb' - the way everyone in Omagh has come to know it.