Today marks 40 years since Derry man Richard Moore lost his sight after being hit with a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier while making his way home from school.
The ten year-old schoolboy was walking along Creggan Road on May 4th, 1972 when he was struck on the bridge of his nose with a rubber bullet fired at point blank range by British soldier, Charles Inness.
Mr Moore, who went on to found the charity, Children in Crossfire, has met with the former soldier regularly in recent years and the pair have become friends.
The Derry man has gained international recognition through his charity work and his efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in the North. The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, has said Richard is his hero.
Reflecting on the 40 years since the day his life was changed by a rubber bullet, Richard has said that blindness has been a positive experience for him.
“It is hard to believe that it has been 40 years since I was shot. I have now been blind for 40 years. For a long time I thought of myself as a person who had lost his sight but at this stage I have been a blind person longer than I was a sighted person. Reflecting on blindness now, it has been a positive experience for me,” he said.
Richard said much has changed in the forty years since he was shot. “When I look back at the time I was shot and consider what has happened since then it would have been hard to imagine at the time. I am sure that if someone had told my parents when I was shot or when I was growing up as a child with blindness that I would have gone on to live the life I have done they wouldn’t have believed it,” he explained.
However, Richard acknowledged that it was difficult growing up with blindness. “When I was a teenager I would have been fashion conscious and out trying to meet girls like everyone else and I was always aware of how others would perceive me. I would have been worried if I was wearing the right clothes.
“It was also difficult as I got older and friends started learning how to drive, and then later as they started to get married and get houses. These were all things that were normal for them but major hurdles for me,” he said.
Richard later married Rita and the couple have two daughters, Naoimh and Enya. He said his blindness has its limitations and benefits. “It was difficult when Rita was expecting because I had to rely on others for help. When the children were born it was difficult not being able to see them but they are a gift. Their support and their sacrifices, and their flexibility allows me to do what I have been able to do over the years,” he said.
The Derry charity worker said accepting his limitations opened up a new world of possibilities. “If you keep banging your head against a brick wall thinking it is going to move all you will end up with is a sore head. I have had to accept the fact that I am blind and that has been the key to unlocking my mind and it has led to a wide and varied life.
“When I was at St Joseph’s I thought I wanted to be an audio typist and then I got my GCEs and I started thinking of A-levels and university and I wanted to be a social worker. I then went into running pubs and that is how I got involved with charity work and that led me to found Children in Crossfire.
“People would have understood if I had given up. I would have got enough sympathy to do that but I didn’t want to,” he said.
Richard said that he decided to set up Children in Crossfire in recognition of the support he received over the years. “The motivation behind setting it up was that I am, and always have been, on the receiving end of so much kindness and I wanted to give something back. When I accepted my blindness I realised my limitations but also my potential. When I travel to Africa with Children in Crossfire I see so much potential. Every child, no matter whether in Africa or in Derry during the Troubles, has potential,” he said.
Richard said he hopes his positivity about his blindness can be an inspiration to others. “Where there is goodwill and enthusiasm anything is possible. I can’t separate the good things in my life from blindness itself. I have had some amazing experiences as a blind person because of my blindness. I would not have had those experiences if I was not blind.
“I understand that there are people out there who struggle with blindness but it has not been such a struggle for me because I have had the support of the people around me; my family, the wider community in Derry, and people further afield. Sighted people have challenges in life too, everyone does, it is how you tackle them that is important,” he said.