By Patrick Markey
The American Ireland Fund has donated $500,000 to Omagh in Northern Ireland to help rebuild the town devastated by a huge car bomb more than two years ago.
With the organization’s largest single grant, the AIF will assist in building the Omagh Community House project, a three-story community center and memorial planned for the site where the bomb exploded on Aug. 15, 1998.
"We wanted to do a flagship project and a project that would have real resonance in Ireland and around the world," said Kingsley Aikins, the Ireland Fund president and CEO.
"We tend to do hundreds of smaller projects, but this came onto our radar screens and we just said yes," he said.
Omagh, County Tyrone’s largest town, had witnessed its share of grief before the 1998 bombing. But when the dissident Real IRA device detonated just after midday, shoppers and families packed the town’s bustling main street.
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The 500-pound bomb exploded, killing 29 people and injured more than 300. It was Northern Ireland’s most deadly bombing attack.
Many residents are still undergoing treatment and therapy for their injuries and trauma; the Omagh Community House hopes to salve that community suffering.
The building’s ground floor will be converted into a Foyer of Reflection, where thousands of cards, flowers, and condolence books to the bomb’s victims will be exhibited for the public.
The project will also house office space, a cyber cafe, and a conference area and 11 community groups, including those helping victims.
"The whole concept behind it really is community healing, that the people can come back into the town and reclaim it as their own," said Conor McGale, who is coordinating the project.
The donation was announced last week at a literary dinner at University College Dublin, where two of the Omagh victims spoke about their experiences. The AIF is the first major group to donate to the estimated £1.5 million project. Work the site will start as other donations are pledged.
"It’s a massive amount of money for us," McGale said. "And we’re hoping others will follow suit."