Aftermath: Times Literary Supplement review
Published: 11 September 2009
I reported on the Omagh atrocity in August 1998. All bombs cause appalling suffering, but Omagh was a particularly “soft” target: the explosion disproportionately killed young children, the elderly, the pregnant, and ordinary families shopping for school uniforms on a Saturday afternoon. The telephone warning was misleading and inadequate. And once again, the swell of Irish people who declared “not in my name” was increased and this time, among the mourners at many funerals were Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, keen to affirm that they had now taken the political path and deplored what the “Real IRA” splinter group had done.
Despite the horrified reaction to the twenty-nine deaths, it proved difficult to secure a criminal prosecution against the prime suspects because of an apparent lack of witnesses. Ruth Dudley Edwards implies and with good reason – that there seemed also a lack of political will to prosecute. The peace process was indeed on track, and the politicians seemed keener to accentuate the positive: the late Mo Mowlam sounded more anxious for the families to forgive and “move on” than to pursue justice. (Forgiveness is a virtue, but there must be repentance before pardon.) Yet some unlikely heroes emerged to support the bereaved Omagh families, including Bob Geldof, who appears in these pages, livid with righteous anger, Peter Mandelson – genuinely caring and concerned and Paul Dacre, the Editor of the Daily Mail, who dedicated music on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs to the Omagh families. Dudley Edwards describes the long project of getting together a sometimes motley crew of supporters – reformed terrorists, an eccentric lawyer or two, Lord· Salisbury – to mount a civil case to pursue justice for Omagh. After eleven years, that justice finally came to pass and the defendants were summoned, charged and found guilty: their assets were also seized, which may prove a particularly effective deterrent.
This is not only an admirable book, packed with information: it is also a necessary book. It puts everything and everyone associated with the Omagh bombing on the record, in context, and with humanity. The families emerge with great poignancy, as does Dudley Edwards’s compassion for them. A chronology of “politics and terror” at the end only lacks one date: September 11, 2001, when the attack on the United States changed everything for Real IRA terrorists recruiting in America, and those US politicians who had been inclined to support bombs in Ireland suddenly saw it all quite differently.
This vital, powerful book tells a story of loss, resilience and terrorism… Distinguished historian and journalist Ruth Dudley Edwards was centrally involved in the bringing of this Omagh civil case. In her impressive and vivid book, Aftermath, she becomes the families’ crusading chronicler… this book…recounts a remarkable story of victims’ resilience and vindication, and deserves to be very widely read.
The Omagh families have not only held terrorists to account for the death of their loved ones; their legacy is a new legal remedy for victims of violence everywhere.
For anyone interested in this chilling area of recent Irish history, Aftermath is recommended reading.
…a remarkable and moving story, told in masterly fashion by Ruth Dudley Edwards. Her narrative grips from the start. It is as compelling as a thriller and displays the sympathetic imagination of a great novel.
A remarkable and moving story, told in masterly fashion by Ruth Dudley Edwards. Her narrative grips from the start. It is as compelling as a thriller and displays the sympathetic imagination of a great novel… This is an extraordinary and uplifting story of how a group of ordinary people managed to get the justice they sought. It is beautifully told.
Ruth Dudley Edwards’ account of the Omagh bomb is all the more heartbreaking for her mastery of the small human details… Its portrayal of cruelty and suffering is relevant far beyond Ireland.
This vital, powerful book tells a story of loss, resilience and terrorism… this book…recounts a remarkable story of victims’ resilience and vindication, and deserves to be very widely read.
The merit of Ruth Dudley Edwards’s valuable book about the Omagh families’ “pursuit of justice” is that it meticulously chronicles how they did so, charting the enormous efforts involved in raising large amounts of money and getting the case under way.