Using the past to move to a positive future

Published: 25 Oct 2012 15:30

For Enniskillen Bomb survivor Stephen Ross, recollections of the blast on Remembrance Sunday, November 8, 1987 remain as vivid now as the actual day of the event. Now a father of four, living in Basingstoke, he says it does not feel like it took place 25 years ago next month.

Stephen Ross and wife Heather and their family, Abbie, Megan, Ben and Erica.

"I can't erase the memories of what happened that day; it's not possible to do that. I can see it as visually now as I did then," explains Stephen, who was among those miraculously pulled alive from the rubble.

A student at Enniskillen High School at the time of the bomb, the teenager sustained serious injuries to his face and head when masonry fell on him. His jaw, nose and cheekbones were fractured and his leg was badly broken. His teeth were wired and he had to have his face supported by a metal cage - an image for which the courageous fair-haired schoolboy was to become known the world over.

Speaking in recent days - as the 25th anniversary approaches - Stephen admits that it is not possible to forget the sounds, the taste of concrete, the blood, noise and generally events of that day.

And while he believes it is important to move on, it is not possible to forget. "It is what we do with our memories is the key thing," feels Stephen, who highlights the need of using the past as a positive to work for the future. He is of the opinion to use what we have as a means to help others.

The Enniskillen man is in no doubt that the people of Northern Ireland are great and the country is lovely. "We need to focus on the positives of what we have now," says Stephen, a Pensions Manager in Windsor, who plans to travel to his home town for the 25th anniversary as he feels it is important to show support for those who were injured and those who lost their lives.

Moving on from the unforgettable trauma he went through in his own life, he highlights that what we sow in our thoughts and in our attitudes today, we reap in the actions of others tomorrow.

Setting the right attitude for our young people is what is important to Stephen, who, when asked, delivers talks at events about what happened to him. He speaks from two perspectives - firstly, that he has learned important things from the bomb, and secondly what he believes as a Christian and how he responds to things in everyday life situations.

One of the most seriously injured bomb victims, the young survivor mentions that he still has problems with his teeth, but "other than that nothing else." However, he feels that he will probably suffer the effects more when he is older, particularly as he points out that his leg was badly broken. "People remember my face," said Stephen, who goes on to say that the worst injuries were actually to his left leg which sustained multiple fractures.

"It was like a jigsaw," reflects Stephen, who spent five weeks being treated in the Altnagevlin Hospital in Londonderry. He did not return to Enniskillen High School until March the following year and studied at home for his GCSE's that June. Three more GCSE exams followed in November 1988 for Stephen, who went to sit his A' levels at Portora Royal School.

He did a degree in business at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and then at the end of his course got a job in England; he ended up staying on and getting married to Heather and raising a family of four - Abbie, 10; Megan, seven; Ben, three, and one-year-old Erica.

He admits that he has never felt bitter. "It only affects you; it does not achieve anything," feels Stephen, whose beliefs as a Christian have always been of tremendous importance to him. For him, "it's not what you say, it's how you live it that matters."

Stephen remembers how in the aftermath of the bomb he was greatly supported by visits, cards, letters, and by the prayers of people from everywhere; he speaks of the support he received from his parents Graham and Norma Ross who visited every day for all of his five weeks in hospital.

One in a family of four, his sister Catherine - who had been with him at the War Memorial that day - sustained a fractured scull.

Having later learned that it was a miracle he survived, Stephen recalls that one of those who pulled him from the rubble told him afterwards that he had been underneath a substantial piece of concrete that was propped up by a single brick and took six people to move.

That was 10 years afterwards, according to Stephen, who recollects that on the day of the explosion he had been to his Sunday School class at Enniskillen Presbyterian Church. His teacher was Mr. Ronnie Hill (who was also his headmaster) and Mr. Hill accompanied members of the class to the cenotaph for the annual Remembrance Service; Mr. Hill was among the seriously injured and went into a coma following the bomb and died 13 years later.

When the question is put to Stephen does the Enniskillen Day Bomb feels like 25 years ago, he replies 'yes and no.'

"I do not make a lot of the anniversaries, it does not change what happened," indicates Stephen, who feels "it has happened. We cannot turn the clock back; we have to move on."

He speaks of the need to learn from those experiences and it taught him how to deal with his thought processes 'that things happen'.

"The greatest mistake would be to forget what happened," believes Stephen, who stresses not to forget what happened in the past, but to use it "as a lesson for the future, not as a monument to self pity."

A keen visitor to Fermanagh around twice a year, he has been back several times to attend the Remembrance Service and for him, going to the War Memorial on the 25th anniversary will be a personal remembrance.

"It won't change what has happened but it's important to remember those who live with the effects of what happened that day; those who were injured and those who have lost family," concludes Stephen.

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