Remembering Ralph Burrows, whose son Stephen died in the Coshquin bomb

The scene of the 1990 Coshquin bomb.
The scene of the 1990 Coshquin bomb.

In this piece local man Eamonn Baker pays tribute to Ralph Burrows, the father of Stephen Burrows who was one of the five British soldiers killed in the Coshquin bomb. Eamoon met Ralph on a Towards Understanding and Healing residential, and revealed how, in a poignant visit, Ralph once went to the spot of the 1990 bomb with a former Provisional IRA member, to lay flowers at the spot where his son died.

‘I first met Ralph Burrows at a Towards Understanding and Healing residential in Coleraine during July 2005.

Eamonn Baker.

Eamonn Baker.

He and I shared time together in a small group. The purpose of the group was for us to share in our own time, and without pressure, whatever it was we thought we could share about the impact of the Troubles in our lives.
Ralph spoke about the terrible loss of his son Stephen in the Coshquin so- called “human bomb” incident of October 24th 1990. Stephen was one of five British soldiers killed in that explosion. As many of us know, local man Patsy Gillespie was also tragically killed. The IRA had chained Patsy into a vehicle and forced him to drive an enormous bomb into the army checkpoint. The nature of this bombing and the six deaths provoked widespread revulsion and anguish here and was a crushing heartbreak for Ralph and his family over in Blackpool and Chester. Stephen had served 11 years in the British Army and was shortly due to leave.

Towards the end of those few days on residential, after a morning of soul- searching, I heard myself spontaneously blurting out to Ralph, “If there’s anything I’ve done or not done that has contributed in any way to the death of your son, I ask your forgiveness.” My recall is that he did not offer me any forgiveness. But I felt that the very fact of asking brought us a little closer. Later that year, I contacted him by phone and he agreed to do an interview with me which was published in the Derry Journal to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Coshquin bomb under the headline: “A father’s story”

In that interview, Ralph speaks movingly about the loss of his son and about his struggle in the days, weeks, months, years afterwards to hold himself together. What really helped emotionally was not medication and not psychiatric services but spending time with other victim-survivors who had experiences similar to his own. Ralph found solace and connectedness through the people that he met in groups organised through the Glencree Peace Centre in Wicklow, through Towards Understanding and Healing here in Bishop Street and through the Warrington Peace Centre. Ralph became friendly for example with Kathleen Gillespie who had lost her husband Patsy in the Coshquin bomb. He gathered courage enough to connect with former members of the Provisional IRA. I remember one former Provisional IRA member bringing him down to lay flowers at the site of the bomb at Coshquin. I remember him sat talking and listening with Rosemary, wife of IRA volunteer, George McBrearty in the Telstar Bar in Creggan. These conversations and connections mattered to him. They helped him make some sense of Stephen’s death. Ralph contributed positively to our Towards Understanding and Healing training dvd launched in 2008. Those who view the dvd often comment on the “silver haired man” who becomes tearful when he speaks about his son. I have seen that dvd many many times. Ralph’s tears and upset touch my heart.

As did the news of Ralph’s death this morning. He was a warm, likeable, down-to-earth Northern English working class man, finishing out the season in Pontins when he got word of Stephen’s death. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Ralph will surely miss him.

‘Ralph spoke about the terrible loss of his son in Coshquin so called human bomb’

Eamonn Baker

May he rest now in peace.’