AS Enniskillen struggled to come to terms with the bombing in the days that followed 30 years ago this week there was a story of hope and togetherness despite the unimaginable heartache.
Watching the television in the family home in Irvinestown as news of the 11 dead came filtering in Feargal O’Kane, a 17 year old student at St. Michael’s College, lifted a piece of paper, some pencils and sat down at the kitchen table.
His school had started an annual Christmas card competition the previous year where the cover was to be designed by one student, so as the news reports revealed the devastation 15 minutes down the road, he began to sketch in the hope of conveying a message of peace and love amid the horror.
“What brought it home was the image of the Cenotaph standing upright amongst the displaced masonry and timber. I had walked past it the previous afternoon,” Mr. O’Kane recalled.
“As the seriousness of the situation became apparent, we were hushed into silence as reports spoke of multiple casualties and fatalities. Nothing of this scale had happened in the area during the Troubles and we realised this was major,” he told The Impartial Reporter.
Mr. O’Kane said it was “hard to grasp” the enormity of what he was watching on television, saying it could have been “the other side of the world.”
“The names of the deceased began to be released and Marie Wilson, the young nurse, was among them. Her photograph stared out from every screen across the land and beyond. Then came her father’s extraordinary interview. Gordon Wilson, arm-in-sling, bruised and bandaged in a hospital chair, had just lost his beloved daughter. Yet here he was forgiving those who had taken her life,” he said.
The response by Mr. Wilson “remains remarkable,” said Mr. O’Kane. 
“How he was able to express those words of compassion in the moment he was in is bewildering. Relayed in a gentle manner, with neither malice nor hatred, his words reverberated around the world and I, like countless others, was profoundly affected,” he said.
The atrocity and the response by Mr. Wilson “was the only topic of conversation at school the following day” and the atmosphere was “heavy and laden with sadness.”
Students were reminded by art teacher Gerry Donnelly that the deadline for St. Michael’s annual Christmas card competition was the following day and one student had to come up with a cover and another had to compose a verse for inside.
“I hadn’t intended entering but as the day wore on I had the thought I could do something to contribute to the ongoing situation around me, if only in a small way. Without thinking too much, I sat at the kitchen table and sketched an image of the Cenotaph covered in snow. The message ‘Peace Be With You’ was written to the side, and I added the names of the eleven deceased onto the base of the monument, copying them from the newspaper,” he said.
Mr. O’Kane described his design as a “clumsy, amateur attempt at a tribute but the sentiment was heartfelt.”
“As a 17 year old, born at the beginning of the Troubles, it was a knee jerk emotional reaction to the closest tragedy of my young life. I handed it in the following morning and it won,” he said.
Coupled with the verse by second form student, Ewan Gordon, it was sent to the printers for an initial print run of 400. However it quickly sold and the school had to order another run of 4,000. Again, these sold fast with orders coming in from all over.
“UTV News arrived at the school to film interviews with all involved and I heard that Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II and then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had all received a copy – who knows, but I do know they were posted across the world.
“The school was apparently going to go for a further run of 10,000 but the printer said he couldn’t get them done before Christmas so it was decided to let it be. I hadn’t expected the reaction but was grateful to the college for seeing the value in it and getting it out as quickly as possible to express solidarity with our suffering neighbours.
“I read a few years later the names of the victims were added to the base of the newly renovated Cenotaph, not quite life imitating art but quietly pleasing to see that others also thought it a fitting tribute,” said Mr. O’Kane.