To fill the void while we waited for news, we decided to be as useful as possible. The little community, a mixed community of Catholic and Protestant – a rarity in Northern Ireland, all bandied together. We had lived here all our lives, we were all friends, all neighbours, we had never gotten caught up in the political battles raging through our land. This was a community untouched by the “troubles” until now.
That awful bomb designed to rip us apart, destroy us, destroy our harmony hadn’t succeeded. Here we were, side by side, the orange and the green, working together, helping together, supporting together.
We swept up glass, local businesses had brought skips, local glaziers had brought glass. Joiners, plumbers, builders, all appeared, all came willingly to help put us back together again, help to rebuild the destruction. For those families that had lost almost all of their possessions friends, neighbours and local shops contributed what they could to replace the lost things. This was a little community all working together, all caring for each other, this is what being a human being is all about, not about death and destruction, it’s about caring, sharing, love and support.
The next day we learned that no one had been killed. 1000lbs of powerful explosives had ripped through our streets and our homes, but miraculously, no one had died. This news alone gave us all an even bigger injection of community spirit, we were all alive, all safe. The calm, collected,speedy actions of the police and fire service undoubtedly saved many lives. They saved our community.
The clean up operation and rebuilding took weeks, it was at least a month before we could drive out through the end of the road again, the town traffic that drove past the police station was detoured and in chaos for that month, as this was a main route road. Slowly though, life began to return to normal. Alas, for the residents of the mill workers cottages, their homes were deemed too dangerous to live in and had to be pulled down. The occupants forced to move away from the community and the people they loved.
Today that little community still stands. Most of the old timers have now passed out of this life and into the next. Their children are grown up and like me, many moved away. However, there are lots of them still there, lots of people who remember that fateful night, that night, that brought us together like nothing else could have. I still know who lives behind many of the colourful front doors.
The police station has grown into an even larger fortress. The site were the mill workers cottages once stood, is now encompassed behind the fortress wall. The road is still a busy main route for traffic. Every day traffic pours along it, most of them oblivious to the history that they are driving across, most of them with no recollection or knowledge of the events that took place on the night and morning of the 25th/26th March 1990. But I remember, I and a little community remembers.
I visited a friend there recently. I drove up that hill and parked at her house, the sun was shining as I stepped from the car. I looked around at the neat houses and smiled, it felt the same, the warm friendly atmosphere still hangs in the air there. As I walked around the car to knock on her door, I stopped, I leaned against the boot and I stood quietly in the sunlight looking back down the hill, towards the police station, towards the road. My friend came out of her door and stood beside me. For a while we said nothing, just stood there in the warm sunshine. Then she looked at me and asked “Do you remember that night?” I replied with four words “Like it was yesterday”.
This is the end of my Summer of Words story, this is a true story and is my memory of just one of the many dreadful incidents that the IRA carried out in my beautiful little country. Our town was bombed several times, shops burned to the ground one Saturday evening when terrorists planted incendiary devices inside them. Like most families in Northern Ireland, we were in one way or another touched by terrorism, like most families we knew someone who died at the hands of terrorists.
This incident though, was in many ways the catalyst that made up my mind that things had to change for our people. By the summer of that year I had joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now the PSNI), I had become a police officer, I wanted to do my bit to save someone else’s community.
* apologies for the quality of the picture – but it is 20 years old!
A recent picture of the police station, it is the full area behind the red brick wall, I couldn’t fit the whole thing in to include the space where the Mill cottages were, as standing outside police stations taking pictures, isn’t exactly encouraged! Hopefully it gives you an idea of the size of the building. For a town with a population of approx 60,000, this is a huge police station.
I got this picture from Google Earth to show you the station properly. The huge mast is the CCTV camera that looks into the town centre. The grey, red and black steel fence was added after the bombing and is the site where the mill cottages stood.
Tiny URL for this post: