Thursday, November 08, 2012

Book Review: Enniskillen

It's one of my earliest memories. A Sunday evening, I was sitting on my knees in our living room, using the settee as my table to eat my dinner. As always, the television was on, and our eyes were glued to the screen. Images of horror and devastation were being shown, a bomb attack in Enniskillen, as people were gathering to commemorate the war dead at the war memorial on Poppy Day. Remembrance Sunday, the 8th November 1987.

It's now twenty-five years ago since that scene in our front room, but I can still remember it. I'm not sure I can remember much, if anything, before then. The name of Enniskillen was imprinted in my mind.

For the tenth anniversary of the bombing, the Editor of the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, Denzil McDaniel produced a book, simply entitled 'Enniskillen: The Remembrance Sunday Bombing.' Fifteen years since it came out, and in advance of this latest milestone, I read the book, discovering more information about what happened that day, and the stories of those murdered and injured in the attack.

McDaniel puts his journalistic training to excellent effect, as he provides the narrative framework and background details, but allows individuals and their families to tell their own stories. It's a powerful, moving, emotional read, perhaps even essential for anyone to hear how one attack among so many affected so many lives in one small town in rural Northern Ireland.

With the delay of ten years, McDaniel is able to trace the people as they have dealt with the events of that terrible day. As a community gathered together, it was a dastardly attack on the whole community, and there are frank interviews with political leaders, ranging from Sir Bernard Ingham (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Press Secretary), through local MP of the time, Ken Maginnis to Gerry Adams.

Perhaps the most encouraging feature of the whole book is the repeated refrain of the importance of the Christian faith, not only to the twelve people murdered, but also to so many of the relatives and injured. The hope and strength and comfort provides a vivid testimony to the grace and goodness of God even in times of darkness and evil actions. I'm not entirely sure how much McDaniel understands of it, based on the way he describes it sometimes, but he certainly reports the accounts and interviews of the individuals so that their words and faith shines through.

Written in autumn 1997, the book comes at a precise moment in time and Irish history, before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, before the power-sharing executive in Stormont, and chillingly, before the even bigger devastation of the Omagh bomb. As he writes in his final paragraph:

'Enniskillen has come through its troubled day in 1987 extremely well. But in writing this book, the one thing that I found unnerving was the realisation that there is still the potential in Northern Ireland for more Ennsikillens. It seems remarkable that in a society that has suffered so much, we have not quite reached a point where such an awful event can be ruled out. It may seem like a cliche, but the simple fact is that we must learn to live together. We must find agreement, including a political settlement, that allows this generation and future generations to share this land in a peaceful way, fully recognising the richness of both traditions.'

How sad that, in this twenty-fifth anniversary week, we are still burying the victims of terrorism, with final peace still beyond our grasp.

All in all, while it is not an easy book to read, nevertheless it is an important book, and one that is well worth reading. The voice of the victims cannot be silenced; their story must be heard.

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