distressing to be at Omagh after the bombs?' is the question. Yes, of course: desperately upsetting is the answer. And yet, strangely inspiring as well, because of the unmistakeable sense of determination and resolve among the people that this terrorism will have no dominion over them.
A woman taxi driver took me from Dungannon to Clogher for the funeral of the pregnant mother who died, Avril Monaghan. The driver's voice quavered as she said: "Avril Monaghan's death must not be in vain. We must honour her memory perpetually by doing everything, everything in our power to show these bombers that they have no justification whatsoever to murder in this way."
I could tell by the tone of her voice that the driver meant exactly what she said, and would indeed do everything in her power, to bear witness to her convictions, as a mother and as a Christian.
The local clergy really did a most wonderful job, in offering comfort to the bereaved, in carrying out their duties of burying the dead, and in preaching against the evil of this killing.
At Clogher, the local Bishop, Joseph Duffy, delivered a strong sermon about the necessity of each of us playing our part in crushing the evil that had led to Mrs Monaghan's pitiful death. (Avril Monaghan was killed alongside her 65 year old mother and her 18 monthold daughter; she was also eight months pregnant with twin girls. She left a husband and three children under six. The symbolism of the attack on motherhood and the fruit of the womb could hardly have been missed.) "We must exorcise (this evil) and take it out for once and for all," said Bishop Duffy. "Our future depends on it." Any gesture, nod or wink which in any way excused what the bombers had done is simply morally wrong. This was a small rural parish in south Tyrone, a mere quarter of a mile away from the home of William Carleton, the 18th century storyteller.
At Buncrana, over the Border in Donegal, where was held the funeral of the three young boys — James Barker, Sean McLoughlin and Oran Doherty — the Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty took the unusual step of especially welcoming David Trimble, Ulster Unionist leader to the Mass.
There were many notables present, including President McAleese, the British Ambassador to Dublin, Veronica Sutherland, Seamus Mallon of the SDLP and the Sinn Fein leaders Adams and McGuinness, but it was the first time that David Trimble had been seen at a Catholic Mass.
As a matter of fact, Mr Trimble has declined to attend Requiem Masses in the past for fear of offending his more rigidly Protestant supporters. (When the British, but Catholic, Unionist John Biggs-Davison died some years ago, Ulster Unionists declined to go to his funeral on the grounds that this would be to favour "an idolatrous act".) But Mr Trimble appeared at Buncrana because this time it is important to bear witness — and show solidarity with victims — and when Bishop Hegarty welcomed him, a round of applause broke out in the Church of St Mary, (at Cockhill, just outside the town.) What the Bishop said here deeply affected me. We all condemned this outrage, he said. We all repudiate what occurred at Omagh.
Concerning those men and women who planted the bomb directly, or any men and women who had by word, act or deed supported or connived at the event, the Bishop said that they had done a great wrong and permitted a great sin.
And before there could be any political progress towards change there would have to be repentance.
Repentance was the first step on the road to change.
Without repentance, there could be no true change. Political movement would not be worth pursuing without the repentance of the heart. We must all pray that those who had carried out this evil deed would be given the grace to repent. They need-our prayers. They also need to feel our sense of shame.
It was an occasion heavy with signficance. We all felt it.
Other Ministers and clergy were magnificent too, in the wake of the Omagh atrocity — the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland John Dixon was very impressive, and the Rev. Brian Bower from the Church of Ireland. who participated willingly with a Catholic burial of one of the teenage victims, spoke thoughtfully and honestly.
The priest at the parish of Strathrory, Father Kevin Mullen, a popular character in the Omagh area. visited Protestant and Catholic homes alike, and was welcomed in each.
But what Bishop Hegarty said really stayed with me. We do hope for political solutions to the troubles in Ireland. I also believe in practical solutions — encouraging more business enterprise, self-help, tourist development. (There is a woeful lack of services for visitors in midUlster: taxis, hotels, guest houses and restaurants are dreadfully under-developed.) Peaceful and democratic methods of dealing with old wounds are occurring. But repentance is the first key to change. And we should indeed pray for that grace.