IT’S hard to explain what happened in Omagh last weekend to a seven year old. It’s near enough impossible to answer him when he asks “Why?”.
My children, thankfully, have little or know knowledge or understanding of the Troubles. Their childhoods have not been peppered with news bulletins about bombings and shootings and riots the way my generation’s were.
They have not walked from their front door to the school gate passing soldiers crouched in pathways, training their guns on those who passed.
They have not felt the shudder of a bomb reverberate into their home. Their normality is so blissfully different to ours in the late 70s and early 80s and I am grateful for that.
That said, the life we lived as children at the height of the Troubles felt normal. We didn’t question it then. We accepted the soldiers on the streets and the threats of bombs and murders. We were largely protected from the reality - from the violence of the murders, the threat of the hi-jackings and the trouble on the street.
A friend from Dublin said to me recently that she could barely believe how different our childhoods were, and we only lived a few hundred miles apart. She was horrified when I told her of our normal lives and I kind of pushed her feelings aside and smiled and said that was just the way things were. We are made of tough stuff up North, I told her.
But last weekend, after a week of bombscares and disruptions, a young police officer lost his life at the hands of murderous thugs thinking they are fighting for peace and unity, I didn’t feel so tough.
On a human level my heart went out to Ronan Kerr’s family. I broke down listening to his mother speak on the television. While her words were powerful and her message strong, her voice was cracked and strained with emotion and her eyes were haunted.
The futility of the loss of her son’s life seemed stark and cold.
As a mother I empathised. I put myself in her place. It would be unthinkable to lose a child but to lose a child so violently simply because of his job - that would be beyond comprehension.
On both levels I realised how far we had come as a country. I would not have thought that within a generation children would have been growing up largely free of the worries we had when we were young. I realised how precious that innocence which our children have these days is.
I realised how precious peace is, and also how fragile it is.
I got angry- really angry - at those who think they can stomp over the feelings of a country (a country which voted for peace) and run on with their petty disputes and reckless acts of murder. They do not have my mandate. They did not do this in my name, or in the name of my family, my friends or my community. They, too cowardly to even claim responsibility for their actions, represent no one but their own egos and their own twisted sense of what things should be like.
The bigger picture is not a united Ireland. It is not an “unoccupied Six Counties”. It is not political point scoring or acts of violence designed to scare and intimidate and to hold us all back.
The bigger picture is peace. I don’t care if that sounds overly simplistic. But the bigger picture is being able to live your life freely and without fear. It is about choosing which career path you want to follow, and following it. It is about going out in your car without having to check under it first. It is about being alive to give your mammy her Mother’s Day Card.
To which end, I finish this portion of the column with the words which have been stuck in my head all week - courtesy of Paul Brady:
I know us plain folks don’t see all the story
I know that peace and love is just copping out
I guess that young boys dying in the ditches
Is just what being free is all about
How this twisted wreckage down on Main Street
Will bring us all together in the end
As we go marching down the road to freedom...
Following the great fake tan experiment of last week I can report that I didn’t look even a wee bit streaky when I went to Dublin for the “big event”.
As it was I went to an event hosted by Eason where I got to meet 35 of my writing colleagues, including many of my writing heroes such as Patricia Scanlan, Sheila O’Flanagan, Cathy Kelly and Melissa Hill.
The whole thing was only mildly intimidating - and bolstered by the confidence boost a good dose of make up can give you, I spoke to most of them. And yes, Patricia Scanlan now knows that I once I had grand daydreams of turning the Calgach Centre into my very own City Woman Salon. Sometimes being a writer is just lovely.