By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The County Tyrone town of Omagh fell silent, except for the tolling of bells, at 3.09 p.m., Tuesday as its citizens remembered the 29 people and two unborn children who were killed in the Real IRA bombing two years ago.
An interdenominational service was held in the town to commemorate those killed in the explosion on August 15, 1998.
It was a solemn moment as the town faces up to the start of inquests into the killings beginning on September 6.
No-one has been convicted of any role in the bombing, although one man from south of the border faces charges in connection with the massacre.
Michael Gallagher, father of Aidan Gallagher, 21, who was killed in the bombing, said everyone in Omagh was concentrating on the upcoming inquest and what an ordeal it would be for the bereaved families.
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The families are particularly upset at the thought of the horrific injuries their loved ones suffered being make public. Omagh leisure center has been booked and is being refurbished for the month-long inquiry beginning in two weeks.
The RUC and gárdaí say they believe they know the names of those responsible but lack the evidence to bring charges. Both forces have pledged to do everything they can to get those involved into court.
British and Irish leaders have appealed to witnesses to come forward and help authorities capture those responsible for the worst atrocity in Northern Ireland’s history.
In a joint appeal Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern called for help in tracking down the Real IRA members who detonated the 500lb car bomb.
Both leaders called the bombing one of the region’s darkest episodes.
"Despite intensive investigation on both sides of the border that has been a model of co-operation between the RUC and the gárdaí, it remains a matter of regret that there have not yet been more charges," the two leaders said in their statement.
"Justice demands that all those responsible for the horror that was Omagh are brought before the courts. To that end we call on anyone with fresh information about the atrocity to come forward."
The two leaders said the Real IRA intended to stoke up conflict and use violence to bring down the Good Friday peace agreement against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland, north and south.
While Omagh residents held a simple service to remember the victims, in New York immigrants from the County Tyrone town were similarly marking the low-key anniversary.
Sean Rice, owner of The Irish Rover in Astoria, said people just wanted to move on from the tragedy.
"Everyone’s thoughts are with the families. They’ll never forget," he said. "Now it’s time to get on, and find a place for it and leave it there."
Soon after the bomb exploded, Irish New Yorkers gathered together to raise funds for the victims. The Omagh Relief Fund managed to pull in more than $100,000 through charity events and donations.
More recently, the American Ireland Fund donated more than $500,000 to help Omagh rebuild the bombsite into a special memorial center.
Andrew Bushe in Dublin and Patrick Markey in New York contributed to this story.