By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Twenty-eight people were killed and more than 200 injured, many of them seriously, in Northern Ireland’s worst-ever bombing in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, on what is being called “Bloody Saturday,” Aug. 15.
One of the dead was a pregnant woman, another was an 18-month-old child. The massive bomb, estimated to be 500 pounds, was no respecter of youth, age, gender or denomination.
Doctors and nurses battled to save the lives of the injured, who were suffering from broken bones, lacerated flesh, burned limbs, shattered internal organs and the sheer shock of the bombing.
Aug. 15 will go down in history for the scenes of unbearable grief and agony as a bomb ripped through bustling crowds at Omagh’s annual festival, scattering limbs and burned bodies through the streets.
The so-called “True” or “Real” IRA was immediately being blamed for the outrage, with politicians, on both sides of the border vowing to hunt the bombers down, while saving the peace process from their actions.
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Sinn Fein’s leader, Gerry Adams, used the word “condemn” for the first time in describing his reaction to a bombing. Adams broke off his holiday and said he was “totally horrified” by the explosion.
The RUC received a warning about a bomb at the town’s courthouse at the North end of the town. They began to move people away from it to a place of safety.
But the bomb went off about 250 yards away 40 minutes later. RUC officers had unwittingly moved shoppers directly into the path of the explosion at the other end of the town. It is believed that the bombers, unable to get the vehicle near the courthouse because of the crowds, simply left it and fled.
Witnesses tell of people in panic rushing around trying to find their children, brothers, mothers and friends in the crowded streets where the town’s festival was taking place.
One man said he saw at least 15 blackened bodies in the street with limbs and hands lying on the ground and carnage everywhere, with injured people screaming and crying.
The badly injured were lifted onto doors and the less injured put on buses to take them to hospital. Scenes there were shocking beyond belief with floors and hospital steps awash with blood.
Lists of the injured being treated were read out at the Tyrone County Hospital to hundreds of relatives who gathered to hear if their loved ones are alive or dead. All phone lines to the town were cut and people were frantic to get news.
There was relief for some when they heard a name they were searching for and discover they are only injured. For others their worst fears are being realized.
Although an alert went out for all off-duty doctors and nurses to report to the Tyrone Hospital for work, it was unable to cope and helicopters ferried the injured to Enniskillen, Dungannon, Derry and Belfast.
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, and the Rev. Ian Paisley of the DUP cut short their holidays to return to Northern Ireland as the full tragedy of the bombing hit home.
John Hume, leader of the SDLP, called those responsible “out and out fascists.” He said they were “enemies of the people of Ireland who have so loudly spoken as to how they wish to be governed together.”
Sinn Fein ard comhairle member Martin McGuinness described the bombing as “appalling and indefensible,” calling on those responsible to stop immediately. “I am appalled and disgusted at what has happened in Omagh. It was an indefensible action,” he said.
“This appalling act was carried out by those opposed to the peace process. It is designed to wreck the process and everyone should work to ensure the peace process continues.”
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, called it an “act of savagery” by those determined to wreck the process. They would never be allowed to win, he said. The people of Ireland wanted a new future and they would get it.
“We cannot just feel outrage at the evil of it and total determination to bring the perpetrators of it to justice, but an equal determination that these people will not win, they will not destroy the process that we have built up.”
“Along with the grief and sympathy we feel for the families who have been bereaved by this appalling tragedy, we have to carry on trying to give people, the children of Northern Ireland, the peace they deserve.”
The RUC chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, said it was the worst outrage he had ever experienced. It was an attack on innocent people by those who killed because they wanted to.