AFTERMATH REVIEW: Factual - Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing and the Families' Pursuit of Justice
Lest We Forget: Ruth Dudley Edwards' account of the Omagh bomb is all the more heartbreaking for her mastery of the small human details, writes Suzanne Breen
"If ever you see cruelty, write it in the sky, and then people won't stand for it," an old Kerry woman once told Ruth Dudley Edwards' brother. The author does so magnificently in her account of the Omagh bombing.
This week marks the 11th anniversary of the Real IRA atrocity in which 29 people died. Dudley Edwards' reconstruction, of the hours and minutes leading up to the explosion that sunny Saturday afternoon, is truly heart-breaking: Donna-Maria Barker packing ham sandwiches and cheese and onion crisps for her 12-year-old son James, joining a coach trip that would stop in Omagh; Aiden Gallagher (21), who never bought his own clothes, suddenly deciding he would. "I'm away Mammy to buy jeans. What size am I?" were his final words; Philomena Skelton (39), a home-bird who went into town only twice a year at Christmas and to buy the children's school uniforms heading out with her three daughters to do the latter.
The reader longs to stop the clock. Dudley Edwards' graphic account of the bomb scene makes shocking reading even for those already familiar with the horror that day.
Philomena Skelton's husband finds her in the ruins of the drapery shop "like a rag doll, naked, blackened, burned and mutilated". The blast had blown the clothes off her back and ripped a huge hole in her stomach, leaving her bowel hanging out.
Shrapnel entered Aiden Gallagher's mouth, passing backwards and breaking his spinal cord. An infant was lifted from the rubble and handed to traffic warden Rosemary Ingram. "The baby was black with debris. The baby wasn't moving, it was stiff, but I could find a strong heartbeat," she recalled.
It wasn't strong enough. Twenty-month old Breda Devine died in hospital. Her mother Tracey was told when she awoke from a coma two months later.
Dudley Edwards' mastery of small human details defines this book Lorraine Wilson (15) buried in her mother's wedding dress which she'd tried on a fortnight earlier; Donna-Maria Barker seeing her son James in the mortuary "lying with half his head gone and those beautiful green eyes looking out at me... I never realised how green his eyes were".
The families that, for eight years, Dudley Edwards "talked, ate, drank, protested, celebrated, despaired and cried with" bared their souls. The author writes movingly of suicide attempts by siblings of some of the dead; of the broken marriages and alcohol problems of other bereaved; but mostly of the dignity and courage of those still struggling for justice.
Let no one dare to say they should "deal with it and move on". Dudley Edwards' passionate commitment to the families is clear during the civil case, she was usually the only journalist in court.
The responsibility for the bomb lies solely with those who planned and planted it. The Real IRA warnings were recklessly wrong. But investigation is still required into the intelligence services' role.
At least two people involved in the bomb were agents, and British intelligence was monitoring the bombers' mobiles as they drove to Omagh. Many questions remain unanswered. Dudley Edwards senses cock-up, not conspiracy I disagree.
A public inquiry could address these issues. I don't share Dudley Edwards' opinion of either Nuala O'Loan or ex-British agent Kevin Fulton. But that doesn't detract from this powerful book.
Its portrayal of cruelty and suffering is relevant far beyond Ireland. It should be compulsory reading for everyone terrorists and state forces contemplating planting, or dropping, a bomb in conflict.
Suzanne Breen is the Northern Editor of the Sunday Tribune