“The quiet shuffling of feet” is the title of a film being shown next week at the FLive festival in Enniskillen.

The phrase caught my attention; it refers to the surreal atmosphere at the funerals of those killed in the Remembrance Sunday bomb in Enniskillen in 1987. The man featured in the film, David Bolton explains that usually at funerals people are respectful when following the coffin; but there is quiet conversation, perhaps about the deceased.

In the week after the Enniskillen atrocity, however, thousands from the entire community who walked in funeral after funeral were stunned into utter silence. His overwhelming memory was “the quiet shuffling of feet”. It’s a vivid image of a shockingly momentous time in our history.

The film itself is a biopic of David Bolton. It’s an interesting and well-made film. An important film, with many important and powerful messages about the traumatic experiences of conflict, featuring one man’s dignified role in supporting many of those affected.

Currently, there is some controversy over the way our society is dealing with the legacy of decades of violence. Sadly, much of it is being dragged into the angry bearpit of the political arena with all the attendant blame.

Those of us who know David Bolton personally, however, can say he has focused solely on the physical and emotional needs of those affected directly. In the cases of Omagh and Enniskillen, this close support began in the immediate aftermath of those events, when people were plunged into their darkest hours.

To quote St. John of the Cross, “The dark night of the soul” which changed some lives for ever.

This closeness to victims, I would suggest, makes David’s story and his views on the effects of such trauma on individuals and society in general worth listening to.

Research carried out on behalf of the Commission for Victims and Survivors in 2010 estimates 500,000 people in NI had been affected by Troubles violence through bereavement, injury (mental and physical) and caring for someone directly affected. Other robust data between 2008 and 2015 says four out of 10 adults had at least one major traumatic Troubles-related experience and the mental health difficulties of at least 213,000 people are directly linked to the Troubles.

The human impact has been immense.

Remarkably, the trauma transfers to generations born after the Troubles ended, and we live in a place where

more people have lost their lives through suicide since the conflict ended than died in the violence.

By way of context in the film, David reflects on his early life. Born in north Dublin where his dad ran one of the last city farms, the family moved to Fermanagh when he was five to a “rickety old farmhouse with no central heating.”

Fermanagh embraced him, he says, and in many ways his childhood became typical of the rural upbringing of many in our county.

Faith, family and good neighbours, whether Protestant or Catholic were staples. He recalls kneeling, morning and evenings, for family prayers at home, on one occasion being joined by a Catholic neighbour who respectfully waited and joined them in the Lord’s Prayer.

Like many of us in different times, he was “cared for, loved and felt safe.”

But also like many of us, the Troubles were unfolding and he was scared. As producer Fergus Cooper says, this is not just David’s story but all our stories.

In his teens, there were bookmarks of traumatic events; the shock of the deaths of two local farmers in a farm accident, later the killing of one of his teachers in an attack on a UDR base and then the passing of his dad at a young age.

It was while attending the then Fivemiletown High School that he and other pupils, and her colleagues

were devastated by the murder of UDR Greenfinch Eva Martin, a language teacher. The Troubles were suddenly in the midst of these schoolchildren with the futility of “somebody who meant so much to us being taken from us taken from us in such a terrible way.”

Events shape us all, but in David’s case after training in social work, he would spend a whole career working closely with victims of Northern Ireland’s dreadful conflict.

He is, perhaps, uniquely placed to have worked closely with families in both Enniskillen and Omagh, after being called to help amid the chaos in hospital where relatives were discovering whether or not their loved ones were among the dead and grievously injured.

Fergus Cooper’s film is a story well told, interviews with David recalling the dark days and nights. He variously describes feelings of bewilderment, distress, seeing hospital staff walking through blood on the floor, fear of peering into the edge into something dreadful for our community. Even a Gethsemane moment.

I feel it’s important we never forget the depths of suffering.

Throughout, though, it’s clear that David’s approach was, and is, a humanitarian one.

His work in helping with the physical and mental needs of the victims of Enniskillen and Omagh, and later the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma and

Transformation, were people-centred. Later, after conversations with Jordanian psychiatrists when war broke out in Syria, David wrote a book about the effects of trauma in communities in conflict, “Conflict, Peace and Mental Health.”

It’s impossible in my limited space on this page to go into all the facets of the film, but for example the issue of people’s reluctance, fear even, of seeking help, or the trans-generational issues of trauma are fully explored.

I wonder if we in our society are learning these lessons. It seems we are intent on re-fighting age-old differences, yet in the film David points out: “the peace process was about making deals rather than healing the hurts and addressing underlying problems that caused our conflict.”

And discussing the journey of peace-building that we still need to go on, he says that while our peace process addressed the importance of policing, prisoners and even economic development, it did not take seriously the physical and mental damage done to so many people.

It should have been a core governmental concern, he says.

Although modesty always prompts him to acknowledge the massive role of many others, David Bolton’s commitment to those physical and mental

needs make for an interesting and important contribution to the current debate on legacy.

As it happens, after watching a preview of the film, I listened with great interest to a radio discussion on Sunday Sequence about the notion put forward by Free Presbyterian Minister, the Rev David McIlveen that compensation should be paid to victims based on need.

Predictably and perhaps understandably, the reaction was simplified into a row over whether this meant victims and perpetrators would be treated the same.

But on Sunday Sequence, journalist and commentator Allison Morris made a fascinating and brilliantly perceptive contribution by opening the debate out into the way we are drifting into a situation whereby the trauma of victims is being passed on to future generations.

Consequently, the hate will keep building.

Allison said that when people say we should listen to the victims, it should be asked which victims as many want different things; some want vengeance, some want to be left alone, some want apologies, some want truth. But whose truth?

I totally agree with her that some people are promising something that cannot be delivered. Some groups do some good work, but when it gets into an angry argument over allocating blame in a political agenda, is

that doing the victims a massive service in moving forward and helping them to live with their hurt?

Rather, we need a reconciliation process. Is a truth process part of that, or is it impossible, due to a combination of time moving on or the only truths being told are the versions that people want us to hear? Is it time to consider an amnesty, even?

These are all tough questions, but I feel that we don’t listen enough to people like David Bolton, whose compassion and understanding of the needs of the victims leads him to opine: “the danger is that victims of the violence, whose needs are not adequately understood and responded to, we run the risk of them becoming victims of the peace.”

There is a moment in the film which almost goes unnoticed, but David is in contemplative mood as he studies a painting.

The painting’s title is “On the far side of revenge,” a quote from Seamus Heaney’s poem “The Cure at Troy.”

I wonder if we’ll ever get there.

Do we want revenge more than healing for our society?

“The Quiet Shuffling of Feet” is being shown at the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen at 7.30pm on Monday, October 7.