Salvaged from the rubble of the Enniskillen bombing was a wreath of poppies that Selwyn Johnston had been holding before the explosion on Belmore Street on November 8, 1987.
It had been trampled over following the bomb and was covered in dust when the then 17 year old picked it up and carried it home where it has remained for 30 years having never been laid. It is a symbolic reminder of hope amid the devastating IRA blast which killed 11 people and injured 63.
The memories of the bricks, thick dust and glass showering him as he stood near the war memorial have never left Mr. Johnston, now 47. The horrifying sounds still echo like ripples. He was there to lay a wreath on behalf of the Boys’ Brigade in memory of the fallen, instead just 15 minutes after arriving he was frantically trying to save the lives of those who lay trapped.
“At the time we went to remember our dead, we didn’t expect to be digging them out,” he told The Impartial Reporter this week, repeating what he had said when he was interviewed following the bombing. 
“After the explosion it was as if someone had suddenly switched off the lights followed by an eerie silence as the dust and debris settled, which was probably only momentary but seemed to last forever before the screams and shop burglar alarm bells rang out,” he recalled.
He, along with other Boys’ Brigade members, put into practice what little first aid skills they had been taught and quickly wrestled with large chunks of masonry which had buried people in layers. 
“I remember as we frantically grappled with our bare hands to lift the bricks a frail arm suddenly stretched out of the rubble looking for help.
“Another man I pulled from the rubble would not leave as his father was completely buried underneath him. I was unable to lift a section of the wall which covered him and together with a policeman we helped lever it off his back. He was shocked and dazed, covered in a thick white dust with blood stains,” he said. 
There were bodies lying on the pavement, he recalls, trapped between railings with over 10 feet of rubble on top of them, their lives rapidly slipping away. He felt helpless, the support he offered seemed inadequate, he says.
“As the masonry was strewn over a wide area it was impossible to know where the actual road surface was making you fearful of walking on someone during the rescue operation,” he said.
There he remained for over an hour as the emergency services took over. 
“Before I left the scene, I spotted the poppy wreath I had dropped. Like myself it was white with dust and had been trampled over in the commotion. I felt it was disrespectful to leave it lying on the ground and picked it up to leave it somewhere safe,” he said.
However, as there was nowhere free from dust and rubble he decided to carry it home. 
During the short walk through a lonely island town he phoned his mother using a coin box at the Royal Hotel to say he was safe after someone told him she thought he was dead. 
One member of the Boys’ Brigade lost both his parents in the bomb, another lost his father and several were severely injured including student Stephen Ross who sustained serious injuries to his face and head when masonry fell on him and his leg was broken.
The day before he and Mr. Johnston had travelled to Dublin on behalf of Enniskillen High School and along with students from St. Fanchea’s College and St. Joseph’s College they were awarded the prestigious title of Young Conservationists of the Year for their success with an inter schools environmental project at Castle Island.
“Stephen Ross and myself returned to Enniskillen in jubilant mood late that evening knowing that we would both meet up again the following morning at the Remembrance Day service,” he said.
But little did either of them know how that day would unfold.
“Every Remembrance Day Service is poignant for those people who were involved with this tragedy and in particular the bereaved and injured as they quietly reflect where they were standing, what they experienced and how the day changed their lives forever,” said Mr. Johnston.
Next week he will return to the war memorial to lay a poppy wreath for the first time in 30 years in his capacity as High Sheriff for County Fermanagh, an ancient and ceremonial role with an obligation to represent the county and support the community during his time in office, something he has done ever since that dark day.
He does not yet know if he will be able to lay the wreath he retrieved all those years ago, which still includes a hand written message reading: ‘2nd Enniskillen Boys Brigade, 8th November 1987’. But it will be on his mind as will all those memories.
“I kept the poppy wreath as a connection with that day, a poppy wreath that was never laid but has a story to tell of prayers of hope, healing and overcoming tragedy on Remembrance Day,” said Mr. Johnston.