Charles’ Omagh visit shows victims not forgotten – campaigner

The Prince of Wales’ visit to the scene of one of the biggest mass killings in the Northern Ireland conflict shows victims have not been forgotten, a campaigner said.

Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall reflected in silence at a memorial garden dedicated to 29 people and two unborn babies killed by the Real IRA Omagh car bomb blast in August 1998.

They laid a floral wreath of thyme, lavender and rosemary, picked from the garden of the royal residence in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle, and paused for a moment’s reflection.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall lay a wreath at the Omagh Bomb memorial garden (Niall Carson/PA)

Michael Gallagher lost his son Aiden, 21, to the blast just months after the Good Friday peace agreement.

He said: “This is recognition that Omagh has not been forgotten and we are in a very critical time coming up to the 20th anniversary.

“It is nice to know that other people are still thinking about us.”

Charles visited the Co Tyrone town, including its hospital, shortly after the blast.

Charles meets Mary Shields in the palliative care unit as he visits Omagh Hospital (Niall Carson/PA)

Today he officially opened a new hospital in the town.

The old one was the epicentre of the relief effort for those who suffered the most grievous of injuries.

Donna Marie McGillion suffered burns to a large proportion of her body.

She was among around 50 survivors and victims who met the prince at an arts centre in the town today.

Large crowds greet the Prince of Wales at Omagh Hospital (Niall Carson/PA)

She said: “We go through pain every day and it is lovely to know that other people still remember that.”

Mr Gallagher said some families still could not come into the town because of the trauma.

“The issue here is those responsible were never brought before the courts in either jurisdiction and that still for many families causes pain.”

Paramedic John Taylor from Dungannon was one of the first to respond.

Charles met DUP leader Arlene Foster during his visit to Omagh Hospital (Niall Carson/PA)

He said: “You walk up the street and you can still see the scene.

“The atmosphere that day, there was an eerie silence, you could hear sirens and firemen shouting different instructions and people but there was an eerie silence in the whole place.

“Every time I drive through it – it brings me back.”

Esther Gibson, 36, from Co Tyrone, was among the dead.

Her sister Caroline Martin clutched flowers with her photo on them.

She said: “I just felt I wanted to be here to remember Esther.”

There were emotional scenes as the prince and duchess met families of the dead, paramedics, firefighters and police officers who had to deal with the carnage.

Charles and Camilla walked up the main street of the Co Tyrone market town past the site of the blast.

The shopping street was lined with well-wishers who cheered the royal couple and waved flags.

Charles also met hospital nurses who treated dozens of victims. All bar two were stabilised.

He toured Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex, which opened a year ago.

Joann McCullagh was a staff nurse in the intensive care ward on the day of the attack and said she worked at the “coal face”.

She said: “We worked tirelessly throughout the day and night, dealing with the very traumatically injured patients.

“We as a group of people worked very closely together to support each other in the dark days that followed.”

Charles was greeted by cheering healthcare workers as he walked around.

Sinn Fein’s West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley and DUP leader Arlene Foster were among those there to welcome the prince.

- Press Association


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