It was a summer when everyone was part of Jackie’s army and the nation was buoyed up by the mighty boys in green.
In towns and villages across the country flags flew from windows, bunting was strewn across streets and everyone was glued to USA ‘94.
Then in the 11th minute, the moment that every supporter had prayed for but dared not to believe could actually happen came true, the incoming ball bounced off Ray Houghton’s chest onto his boot and was skillfully struck into the net.
The Irish team kept their 1-0 lead against a much tipped Italian side for the following 79 nail-biting minutes and the country celebrated an epic win.
The goal, the team and the match would become one of the most memorable moments in Irish footballing history.
But just as one second changed the fortunes of the Republic of Ireland soccer team, the lives of a small Catholic community in Co Down were also irreversibly altered that balmy evening.
The Heights Bar was crowded with locals who had come to watch the match. But the buzz of the goal was instantly wiped from the air when UVF gunmen targeted the bar because those who frequented it were predominantly Catholic.
That night the Loughinisland massacre, as it later became known, claimed the lives of six civilians and injured five others.
Just seven months earlier, locals in another tight-knit community were going about their business —mothers were grocery shopping with children and neighbours were catching up with each another along the busy Belfast street.
Frizzells’ fish shop, on the Shankill Road was filled with some of these Saturday shoppers coming in to buy supplies for the week ahead.
October 23, 1993, was a typical crisp autumn day as John Frizzell and his daughter Sharon McBride, took orders and chatted to regulars.
Sharon’s husband Alan had dropped her to work at the family fishmongers that morning before taking their two-year-old daughter for a bike ride.
At 1.08pm, two members of the IRA entered the fish shop armed with a bomb that would rip through the heart of the tight-knit working class community.
In that split moment, innocent lives were lost and many other lives were torn apart and destroyed.
The attack killed 10 people, mostly women and children but also one of the bombers, and injured 57 others.
Almost immediately afterwards the IRA apologised for the attack which they claimed had gone “tragically wrong”.
The explosive which was on an 11-second fuse was intended to target an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) meeting that the IRA believed would be happening in a room above the fish shop. Instead it went off prematurely and wreaked destruction on the street.
The two atrocities which targeted both sides of the divide happened in the months preceding a ceasefire that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Both still linger in the minds of many as they epitomised the senseless and barbaric nature of the Troubles.
The Good Friday Agreement has brought about peace and in doing so has saved the lives of countless innocent people, putting an end to more than two decades of senseless murder, maiming and injury.
But 20 years on, those left behind continue to silently mourn the loss of parents, siblings, children and friends killed in the Troubles.
They not only carry around the burden of grief, post-traumatic stress and hurt each day, but also remain tormented by unanswered questions.
The next 20 years must serve these people, those left behind who have yet to have their past addressed, those still seeking truth.
The Good Friday Agreement laid the foundations for dealing with reconciliation and justice.
It stressed the importance of “acknowledging and addressing the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation”.
Later talks, especially the Stormont House Agreement, sought to put in place mechanisms to finally deal with the past.
Among the key mechanisms agreed upon by all sides as part of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement deal were the establishment of:
But more than four years on, the legislation needed to establish these initiatives has yet to be passed by the British Government.
This is the final piece in the jigsaw, and while victims still feel the Good Friday Agreement is the only way forward, every year that passes their frustrations grow, especially given the fact that mechanisms to address the past have not been implemented.
Emma Rogan was only a child on the evening Ireland claimed victory against Italy and paramilitaries cruelly stole her father’s life.
“In this part of the world it’s a JFK moment, everyone knows where they were when it happened and remembers what they were doing when they heard about it.
As a young child, Emma couldn’t fathom why a ceasefire, which came just eight weeks after the massacre, could not have come quicker and spared the life of her father, Adrian.
She still strongly supports the Good Friday Agreement as she is among the last generation who remembers the dark days of violence in Northern Ireland.
“If it’s the only thing that has come out of it, if nobody else had to endure what we had to, I 100% agree that the Good Friday Agreement is worth protecting and is worth fighting for.”
However, she believes the process is not finished and the next phase of helping victims address many unanswered questions needs to be established as a matter of priority.
“All we wanted was the truth, so that when I am not here my children and my children’s children will know what happened and we will have a true account of history.”
While she said the families of those murdered in Loughinisland received solace through the work of Alex Gibney and his No stone Unturned documentary that shed new light on the atrocity, many others are still waiting for the establishment of agreed-upon mechanisms to allow them deal with the past.
Gary Murray’s sister Leanne was just 13 when she was killed on the Shankill Road. He was further up the street and their mother was in the shop next door when the devastating bomb exploded.
“I was only 15 at the time, it was not very nice for something like that to happen, especially at my age.
“Leanne was a lovely bubbly girl, quiet, she had her small circle of friends. But with me she was a cheeky madam because I was her older brother,” he remembers.
The impacts of that day remain with him and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress just over a year ago.
“The Good Friday Agreement has punished victims, in fact it has nothing to do with victims because they have been left out in the cold.
“I would like to see peace and reconciliation not only for my children but for my grandchildren.
“I don’t want them to grow up the way I did,” Gary said claiming that the issue of the past must be addressed before people in Northern Ireland can fully move on.
“I would like Stormont to get back together for devolution to be restarted so MPs can get together and to deal with victims issues.”
What unites Gary, Emma and many others is the now urgent need to get answers about what happened their loved ones.
Mark Thompson, CEO of Relatives for Justice, believes the 1998 deal was the “best settlement” that could be reached at the time but there is now a “moral and ethical duty” to resolve issues for victims.
“The majority of victims voted for the Good Friday Agreement and the majority would still be generally in support of it.
He said there is a frustration with the pace of political progress and with addressing the past but warned that this should not be confused with anti-agreement sentiment.
“The people who want to chip away at this and who are most vocal against it and seek to sabotage the agreement and criticise it are by and large those who did not bury loved ones.
“Those who shouldered coffins and buried their loved ones are the ones who support it.”
But he voiced criticism of the UK Government for dragging its heels on the implementation of legislation that would allow the Stormont House Agreement come into force.
He claimed the British government is using a “smothering blanket to protect people from the sins that they have committed.”
A spokesman for Sinn Féin also said the British government are “more interested in covering up its deeds than acknowledging and healing the past”.
While Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United said the Troubles are still “very raw” for many who lost loved ones or were themselves injured.
“They had to deal with the burden of trauma and grief, the loss of someone of their own injuries and they feel justice has not been served.
“There is nobody who wants peace more than those who have been hurt the most, but what they don’t want is a phony peace.
“It’s not about the bombs and guns and decommissioning them, it’s about decommissioning the mindset,” he said.
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