Martin Fletcher: Omagh ... deadliest bombing of the Troubles remembered ten years on

Roundup: Talking About History

[Martin Fletcher was appointed Associate Editor of the Times at the end of 2006.]

Ten years ago on Friday Donna Marie McGillion was shopping in Omagh with her fiancé, Garry, his sister Tracey and Tracey’s daughter Breda, who was to be flower girl at their wedding the following week.

At 3.10pm they were yards from a maroon Vauxhall parked in Market Street when it exploded, killing 29 people and two unborn babies in the deadliest atrocity of the Troubles.

Breda died. Garry and Tracey were severely injured. Donna Marie, then 22, was so badly burnt that she was identified only by her engagement ring, and the last rites were read. She spent months fighting for her life.

Today Mrs McGillion is transformed. She married Garry and has two young children. The mask she wore for three years to protect her plastic surgery is gone, but she is still disfigured. “I have built a good life,” she said, but her cheerfulness hides a deep and lasting pain. At night she hears the screams of the injured and Garry shouting for her amid the mayhem. She receives counselling and finds it hard to talk of the bomb without crying.

She has one piece of shrapnel lodged in her spine, which affects her arms, and another in her knee. She cannot work, lift her children or walk far. She takes painkillers daily, and has to moisturise her scarred body twice every day. After more than 20 skin-graft operations she has refused any more. She avoids mirrors. “I have to look to the future for my family,” she said, but admitted: “I will never forget [the bomb]. It is there when I get up in the morning and go to bed at night.”

Omagh has also been outwardly transformed over the past decade. A regeneration programme has turned a quiet market town into a lively regional hub. The street where the bomb exploded has been prettified and there are smart new boutiques and bars, a new arts centre, college, shopping mall, riverside walk and farmers’ market. The army base, which served as a temporary mortuary, has closed and there is a pioneering plan to move five schools serving Protestant and Roman Catholic students on to its 170 acres.

This outward transformation, however, conceals deep anguish...

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