You wonder how the bombers feel now about abhorrent act
Pat Lunny was at Mass when he heard the bang.
The Enniskillen Poppy Day bomb had exploded just a few hundred yards from where he was praying in St. Michael's Church.
He had been closer to bombs before, both in time and distance. A booby trap had exploded beneath a car just around the corner from his home in Hillview in Enniskillen, maiming a part-time UDR soldier. Then there was the night he and his wife, Una, were walking into town and he turned back to get sweets for the children and the IRA detonated a bomb in a litter bin outside what was then Hanna's Toy Shop on High Street, killing a police officer. Pat counts himself very lucky that he wasn't collateral damage on that occasion.
"It's providence that I came back to get sweets for the children that night," he says.
But the Poppy Day Bomb was different. This was the slaughter and maiming of innocents on a large scale, made all the more poignant by the fact that they were gathering to remember those who had died for our freedom; killed by people claiming to be freedom fighters.
"I felt sick in the pit of my stomach every time I heard a bomb, like I think all right-thinking people did," says Pat.
That was his initial reaction on Remembrance Sunday 1987.
"It was 11am Mass I was going to. I can't remember whether it had started as normal, because nobody would have known, but when the parish priest came out on the altar I knew this was something different, and he started to talk about what had happened."
Pat recalls the priest, Monsignor Sean Cahill, telling the congregation there could be no equivocation in a case like this in terms of condemnation.
"Like anybody else that was around that Sunday it went from hearing about it to an absolute abhorrence about what had happened," he recalls.
"I was 42 at the time. When the names started coming through, I would have known a lot of them," says Pat.
"That day was horrendous for anybody living in Enniskillen because every half-hour you heard another name that you knew and you wondered how the people who were effected must have felt because the people who weren't effected were devastated. If you are not in that situation, can you empathise with that person?"
He attended a number of the funerals. Two of the dead, William and Nessie Mullan, had lived in Cornagrade, where Pat had grown up.
"The Mullans were just genuinely nice people, as were all the people who were killed, and the people who were maimed," says Pat.
Among the injured he particularly remembers schoolboy Stephen Ross, whose face was crushed by falling masonry and whose fractured jaw, nose and cheekbones had to be supported by a metal cage.
"Stephen's grandfather, Herbie, lived 100 yards from where I lived," explains Pat.
"They were people you knew," he adds.
Like millions of people around the world, Pat was moved by Gordon Wilson's words of forgiveness. The Enniskillen businessman was buried beneath the rubble, holding the hand of his 20-year-old daughter, Marie, who was the youngest to die.
"The whole thing of your daughter dying beside you and the things she said and the things he said............. Gordon Wilson's statement was cathartic," says Pat. "If he had ranted, what would have happened?"
Ask Pat a question and the retired teacher's agile mind will quickly come up with an answer.
However, if the question is about the bomb he hesitates. This is not just a matter of computing facts, there's emotion here, even after all these years. It is not something he likes talking about.
"I can put these things to the back of my mind. There are people who can't, for whom it's a daily cross they have to bear," he says.
"They say your life is changed for ever. It had to be," he adds.
He remembers going into O'Doherty's butcher's shop, beside the Cenotaph, and people being asked by the police if they had seen anything suspicious "and you realise nobody has been brought to task for it and the people who did that are still alive".
He imagines they were quite young when they planted the bomb and wonders, now that they are older and perhaps considering their own mortality, how they feel.
"I wonder if any of them are suffering the way some of the people that survived are suffering. I wonder how they, and all those involved in killing, on no matter what side, can learn to live with it. People who have to live with bitterness; it must be terrible, but people who put that bitterness into people's heads, they don't do themselves any favours," says Pat.
"We only get one life and to take a life is the most horrendous thing to do," he stresses.
His late father, Jim, was an SDLP member of Fermanagh District Council at the time.
"I would never have heard my father speak in that sort of bitter stance about people," says Pat.
"Anybody who lived through it will never forget it. I think life has moved on and in many ways has become more open. I see young people so open and so wise about things, yet I see young people involved in areas of life that's not helping them to have an open mind. Being a teacher at the time you hoped that you were helping open their minds," he adds.
Asked if the bomb changed his life, he replies: "I suppose if anything it would have reinforced what I already understood about the sacredness of life and the value of life and the common humanity of life we all have."
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 08 Nov 12