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Thatcher Flies to N. Ireland for Memorial : She Joins Prote stants and Catholics at Site of Bombing by IRA

November 23, 1987|Associated Press

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — Thousands of Roman Catholics and Protestants joined with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Enniskillen on Sunday to complete the war memorial service that was devastated two weeks ago by an IRA bomb.

Dressed in black under a hat with a veil, Thatcher flew in unexpectedly from London and stood in heavy rain without an umbrella, remembering the dead of two world wars and the 11 Protestant civilians who were killed as they waited for the original memorial service to begin Nov. 8.

Sunday's ceremony was organized as an act of solidarity among the 13,000 people of this town near the border of the Irish Republic--and as a show of peaceful defiance against violence by the Irish Republican Army.

The overwhelmingly Catholic IRA, banned in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, is fighting to rid Northern Ireland of British rule and unite it with the Irish Republic. It has expressed regret at the loss of civilian life.

It said the radio-controlled charge may have been detonated prematurely by the British army's electronic bomb-detection instruments and that the device was targeted against security forces, not civilians. Investigators have dismissed the claim of premature detonation as baseless and said their finding is that the bomb was triggered by a timing device.

Usually a Protestant Affair

Usually, war memorials are a largely Protestant affair in Northern Ireland. The Catholic minority tends to identify with the Irish Republic, which was neutral in World War II.

But Sunday's event took on an ecumenical flavor, reflecting the revulsion felt throughout the island by Catholics and Protestants alike over the bombing.

"Out of the rubble came the sign of hope," the Most Rev. Robin Eames, primate of the Anglican Church of Ireland, said in a sermon urging Northern Ireland's Catholics and Protestants to bury their feud and unite against terrorism.

Four members of the Irish Parliament attended. Radio Telefis Eireann, the Irish state broadcasting service, televised the two-hour ceremony live.

So did the British networks. Wounded survivors of the bomb were given TV sets on which to watch the ceremony. Some were in tears as they lay propped up in their hospital beds. In all, 63 people were injured in the blast.

Massive Security

The army and police threw a massive cordon around the town in the west of the province and questioned all arriving motorists. Marksmen perched on rooftops. Trained dogs sniffed the route of the memorial parade for explosives.

Arriving unannounced for security reasons, Thatcher laid a wreath at the foot of a statue that depicts a soldier of the old and much-decorated British army unit of Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers. She wore a red poppy, the symbol of war dead, in the lapel of her black suit.

Yards away stood the boarded-up ruin of the community center where the bomb was planted.

A 250-strong guard of honor, unusually large for such ceremonies, carried a forest of flags, adding a blotch of color against the graying sky. As marching bands broke into tune, the crowd walked up a hill through the rain to St. Macartan's Cathedral, packing the Protestant church.

In one section sat the families of the bereaved, among them Gordon Wilson. Wilson, whose 20-year-old daughter, Marie, clutched his hand as she died, has said he bears no grudge against those who planted the bomb that killed his daughter.

"The words of astounding compassion from those who could have been forgiven for words of anger, the wave of human sympathy that has swept across these islands--such have spoken so much louder than the bomb or bullet," Eames said.

"Over the past few weeks so many people have said, 'Is Enniskillen the turning point? Has it really changed the course of events and the way people think?' Time alone will tell."

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