Page last updated at 05:55 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 06:55 UK

Omagh and me - 10 years on

Omagh bomb

By Judith Cummings
BBC News

At ten past three today, I will remember the moment I survived 10 years ago.

I was 21 years old, I had just graduated from university with a degree that really should have been better, and I was spending the summer at home to gather my thoughts about what the big wide world would hold for me.

With nothing much happening, I was happy to work a day in a friend's shop while they were on holiday. I was filling in for another member of staff and it was my first day on the job.

It turned out to be a very quiet day money-wise, my friend and I were fretting that the owners would come home to a bad day's takings. But then at about 2pm business started to pick up.

More and more people came into the shop - when we asked a customer about the increase in numbers down 'our end' of the town we were told about a bomb-scare up at the courthouse.

We had no fear and were glad to hear the till ringing a bit more frequently.

In my 21 years, I had lived a life removed from the Troubles - yes I saw it on TV but it never came too close.

I was a Protestant who had been brought up to have friends of both faiths, some of my first friends were the children of my parents' Catholic friends. It wasn't until I went to primary school that I really gained Protestant friends.

I had spent the previous three years telling my university friends in England that Northern Ireland really wasn't that bad anymore and that I lived in a quiet little town, where nothing really happened and where pretty much everyone got along.


Then on 15 August my life changed.

As Market Street got busier, I would take it in turns with my co-worker to go out on to the street and look up toward the courthouse to see if anything was happening.

We were not to know that every time we stepped outside the shop's front door we were within a couple of feet of a car that was packed with 500lbs of explosives.

The next thing I remember is the darkness, the dust and then the screaming.

The new memorial gardens, Omagh
An artist's impression of the new memorial garden

To this day I can't remember the sound of the explosion, although bombs in films and on television kick-start something in my brain and I'm taken right back to that moment.

My friend and I were okay, we had been standing half-way up what was a very narrow shop, so the full force of the bomb hadn't travelled very far up it.

The front of the shop was a mess of rubble. I don't remember if there was anybody in that part of the shop when the blast went off. Maybe it's better that I don't.


There was a side door to the shop, so I was able to get everybody out and into a car-park behind the main street. We were all obviously in shock but nobody seemed to have life-threatening injuries.

Shock makes you do funny things. Twice I went back into the crumbling building, once to look for a pair of shoes I had left behind and then to get the keys to the shop - not realising that this was pointless as there were no doors left to lock.

Not long after I was bundled into a car and taken up to the hospital. The images I saw there will haunt me for the rest of my life.

My dad tracked me down at the hospital. I was bloodied and bruised but I didn't want to stay there so he sent me home with a neighbour.

He stayed at the hospital to help carry in the injured and to wait for my mum who he knew would eventually make her way there.

My mum had been in Dunnes Stores at the time of the blast. For those familiar with Omagh, you'll know this is only around the corner from Market Street. She had raced round, witnessed the devastation and began looking for me.

She saw what was left of the shop where I had been working, not knowing I had made it out the back and was safe. After thinking she had found me amongst the rubble a couple of times, she gave up her search in the town and went the hospital where she found my father who was able to reassure her that I was OK.

I, meanwhile, was at my neighbour's being fed sherry, valium, sweet tea and cigarettes when my mother burst into the house. It was the first time she had ever seen me smoking but I think she forgave me.

I cannot begin to imagine how horrific for my mum that hour must have been, as she looked for me in Market Street.

Later that night there was a constant stream of visitors at the door, friends and family disbelieving that I could really be OK after being so close.

At about 8pm my mum insisted on taking me back to the hospital. The left side of my body was covered in a huge black bruise from my shoulder to my bum, there were cuts and bruising to my face and she was worried about any internal injuries.

Part of the memorial being installed last month
Part of the memorial being installed last month

I was given the all-clear and sent home where I watched with disbelief the scenes that were unfolding on the news, finding it difficult to comprehend that I had been a part of it.

It wasn't until the next day that I found out a good friend had been killed. I had been with her just two nights before and we had made plans to go out on the Saturday night.

It hadn't occurred to me that any of my friends could have died. We were 21, we were meant to invincible.

Moving on

The next few months passed in a blur.

I couldn't sleep and was probably drinking a bit too much.

At night I was having more and more flashbacks that I couldn't handle. I felt guilty for walking away relatively uninjured when others did not.

I was angry with myself that when the police came to speak to me I could remember nothing of the car, despite the fact I had stood so close to it a couple of times.

My mother sent me to my GP who prescribed sleeping tablets, when I went back for a repeat prescription the third time he, very kindly, said no and that I should look into getting some counselling.

It was nearly six months before I took him up on his advice. Therapy was something only Americans did, but it helped. Just to vent to a neutral person and to talk things through lifted a lot of the mist from my head.

In the intervening 10 years I hope I have moved on.

This week has been hard, especially working in an office where Omagh is seen as a story and there has been much talk of it in the run-up to the anniversary.

There have been many tears shed over the years, but one thing I have learned, and perhaps the most important for me, is that the bombing is a part of my life.

I was there, it has undeniably shaped the life I now have and there is no point trying to get away from it.

So this afternoon I will attend the memorial service to remember those who did not survive and to be thankful that I did.

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