In June 1988, a bomb exploded on the school bus that bus driver and part-time UDR soldier Ernie Wilson was driving.

Over 30 years on, the traumatic ordeal still haunts Ernie (84), whose mental health was greatly impacted by the incident itself and by losing his son to suicide in the years following.

Recollecting the details from the day of the bomb, Ernie shared: “My son, I took him up to search the bus. The police always escorted me and they’d search the bus. That particular morning they weren’t there. I learnt James to drive the bus when he was a young cub and I met a fella and started talking to him so I gave James the keys. He drove her out and I drove her to Lisnaskea and I had half a load for school. It blew up.”

“That actually destroyed me. I wouldn’t hardly even go out. People looking at you and so forth. As the years went on James thought I blamed him. He took his own life, at 27. Everything went downhill from there. My hair went white overnight, that’s the truth,” said Ernie, his face raw with emotion as he recalled that time of great tragedy.

Ernie was diagnosed with depression and was prescribed tablets by his doctor. In later years he was offered counselling through the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) with a counsellor named Helen Murphy. Speaking to this newspaper about dealing with his depression and his initial experiences of counselling, Ernie said: “My own doctor said I had depression and he had me on tablets for many years. They calmed me down but it never took it away, it was always there. The counselling probably did more good but it was hard at the time.”

“It destroyed me at the time when I was talking about it, it destroyed me but when I went home and started to think about it, she was doing me good. I thought she was doing the opposite, bringing the whole thing up. I’ve got a lot better than I used to be but for me to tell my whole story, I’m wrecked afterwards. I’m wrecked for about three days,” he shared.

Ernie went on to explain that although counselling hasn’t cured him of depression, it has helped him a lot and that he would “recommend it to anybody”.

“It helped me, it didn’t cure me but Helen did a good job. I would recommend it to anybody. You have to get it off your chest.

“It’s in there and it’s in all night, all day, it never leaves you. You go down to your bed at night and you’re lying there half the night, it’s eating you away but you must talk to get it out. You get nowhere if you don’t talk it out.”

When asked about the current state of his mental health, Ernie shared: “I’m up and down. I’m lonely. Loneliness is there. My wife was 86 when she died but I lost a son at 27, it’s a different story. To go up to the graveyard and have the two of them in it, it’s hard, very hard.”

“I would advise anybody to go to counselling because if you sit in the house, you’re done. I would say if I didn’t pick myself up and went for the counselling, I’d be sitting here an old man, knowing nobody, my memory and everything would have gone,” Ernie told this newspaper.