8th November 1987 - twenty years ago - was Remembrance Sunday in the UK and Ireland, a day for ordinary people to remember ordinary soldiers from all religions and political persuasions who died, inter alia
, to stop these islands becoming the outer reaches of the Third Reich.
That day, about 100 people gathered near Paddy McNulty's bike shop in Enniskillen to wait for the wreath-laying, oblivious to the fact that the night before two IRA terrorists had planted a home-made bomb in the building behind them. It exploded and the wall collapsed on them, killing 11 and injuring 63 (the High School headmaster, too, died of his injuries after years in coma). It was an act of mindless terrorism against ordinary Protestant people, nothing more and nothing less, and it shocked the world.
Years later, when my travels took me across Europe, eyes would light up with recognition at the mention of my home town, then dull with sadness and disgust.
With a 10,000 population, everyone knew people among the dead. For me, they included a distant cousin, the man who built my dad's trailer and the daughter-in-law of my granddad's best friend. Not saints, just ordinary Irish folk murdered by their fellow Irishmen for the sake of Ireland. Pointless and pathetic.
Yet good things transpired. With tear-filled eyes the next day, Gordon Wilson told how he had held the hand of his young daughter as she died, and publicly forgave her killers in front of the world's media in the most touching act of Christian forgiveness I've ever seen. Ordinary Catholics, most of whom here have Republican sympathies, were utterly shocked to see the town's Protestant community blown apart in what might be seen as their name. When Gordon, a Methodist, walked into the town's Catholic church to attend a memorial service, the congregation spontaneously stood as a mark of respect and solidarity. And although political differences persist, Catholic tears will also be shed today.
Looking back, the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing was the beginning of the end of the Troubles. Enniskillen could not be seen as part of an "armed struggle". A struggle against ordinary civilians like a nurse, a teacher, an ambulance driver and several housewives was a ridiculous notion and showed the IRA for what it had become - brutal, mindless butchers. Support for terrorism outside the hardline heartlands began to falter, and Sinn Féin's political and electoral efforts were redoubled and, ultimately, rewarded.
Last week saw an ecumenical remembrance service in Dublin at which the Irish Tricolour and the British Union Flag were lowered to the floor side by side to honour the same soldiers honoured every year in Enniskillen. Sinn Féin and the DUP are now governing Northern Ireland in partnership with the UUP and the SDLP. Gerry Adams has apologised for the atrocity in Enniskillen. Cross-border relations are more cordial and cooperative as each day passes, and the days of the IRA are over.
As the great and the good, the pompous and the non-pompous, gather today in a necessary and proper act of remembrance, let us - in the spirit of Gordon Wilson - not bear ill will but be thankful for the brighter days that now persist, remembering the tragic role our loved ones had in the terrible process of bringing us thus far.