Enniskillen memorial - The powerful role symbols can play

A new memorial to the victims of the Enniskillen bombing is to be unveiled on Sunday at a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the IRA attack in which 11 people were slaughtered.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be there and is expected to sport the Shamrock poppy that he displayed in the Dáil this week, to the bemusement of some of his colleagues.

His predecessor, Enda Kenny, broke new ground in 2012 by first attending a Remembrance Sunday service at Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. He did so for the following four years, but never wore a poppy.

The flower that blossomed on the graves of the fallen in the First World War has become a symbol of togetherness and of remembrance for millions of people in Britain and Northern Ireland, but in the south, its wearing is often looked upon with suspicion.

Its association with the Royal British Legion has ensured it has never gained widespread approval here.

That is a pity as it remains a poignant reminder of the tens of thousands of Irishmen who fought and died not just in the First World War but the one that followed it.

Mr Varadkar’s decision to wear the poppy reflects the greater recognition here of those Irishmen who fought and died serving with British forces.

His gesture may be viewed as merely symbolic, unimportant in the wider scheme of things.

But symbols, along with individual actions and statements, are hugely important.

One person can make all the difference and there is no finer example of that truism than Gordon Wilson.

After the 1987 Remembrance Sunday explosion in Enniskillen, two searing images flashed on television screens around the world. The first was of the destruction and devastation wrought by the IRA bomb that killed 11 Protestant civilians as they gathered at the town’s cenotaph for the annual commemoration to honour those who had died in the Great War. A 12th victim died in December 2000 after spending 13 years in a coma due to injuries sustained in the attack.

The second was an imaginary vision of the local draper cradling his 20-year-old daughter as she died in his arms. Gordon and Marie, who was a nurse, were trapped in rubble that resulted from the explosion. He survived with minor injuries but she died shortly afterwards.

Their brief, last conversation among the debris remains one of the post poignant and heart-breaking moments of the Troubles.

While assuring him that she was all right, her life was ebbing away and her last words to her beloved father were: “Daddy, I love you very much.”

Even in the midst of his overwhelming grief, Gordon found the Christian charity to forgive those who murdered his child. “She was a great wee lassie,” he said.

“She was a pet, and she’s dead. But I bear no ill-will, I bear no grudge.”

When the Taoiseach attends Sunday’s memorial in Enniskillen, we should all spend a moment to reflect not just on the heroes of war but on a remarkable hero of peace.

Gordon Wilson went on to become a key figure in the peace process. He is a saint, in every sense of that word.


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