Sunday 18 August 2019

Roslyn Dee: 'Tragic legacy of unborn twins should make Boris Johnson listen'

Notebook

The stark scene in Omagh the morning after the bomb which killed 31 people, including unborn twins, and injured over 200 others.
The stark scene in Omagh the morning after the bomb which killed 31 people, including unborn twins, and injured over 200 others.

Ros Crowley

Babycham. Remember that? Well, that's the first thing that springs to mind when I recall my 21st birthday because, although that particular 'genuine Champagne perry' had never passed my lips before (or since) that November night in the late 1970s, it was, bizarrely, my drink of choice on the evening in question. Which is why, I presume, I remember it so clearly.

I've been pondering 21sts in the last few days, remembering my own party that night in the bar of Roscoe and Gladstone Hall, my university residence near Sefton Park in Liverpool, and thinking too about other 21st celebrations - like the lunch in the Cliff House restaurant on Stephen's Green with my son on a snowy January day nine years ago. And I've been thinking too, in a wider context, about how that landmark birthday is still precisely that - a landmark in one's life.

Why my fixation with 21sts? Because I realised last weekend that Michael Monaghan's twins would have been turning 21 in a few weeks' time. And what a joyous double celebration that would have been for the Monaghan family. For Michael. And Avril. And the twins' four older siblings. And for Granny Grimes, Avril's mother.

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But the Monaghan twins won't be celebrating their landmark birthday next month.

They haven't, in fact, celebrated any birthdays. Not even, indeed, their original birth day. For, while still nestling in the womb of their mother Avril, the twins, with their mother, their sister Maura, and their granny, Mary Grimes, had their lives snuffed out before they began when the town of Omagh was blown to smithereens, 21 years ago today.

Taking all of their lives, and those of 26 others. The worst single atrocity in the history of the Troubles.

Omagh. You only have to say that one word and it all comes rushing back. Where were you on August 15, 1998?

I had spent that sunny Saturday driving around Roscommon and Leitrim with the man who would become my husband.

We were looking for a house - a place that we could buy cheaply and use as our weekend bolthole while we continued to rent in Dublin. And we'd found the very place - a lovely old granite schoolhouse in Scramogue, close to both Rooskey and Strokestown. Although derelict, and in need of serious tender loving care (and an architect), we were undeterred and determined to make it our own.

So, late in the afternoon, we repaired to the small hotel in Rooskey for a celebratory coffee before we hit the road back to Dublin.

But what was going on? Everyone in the bar was clustered around the television.

Above all, I remember the silence in that packed bar, broken only by the low hum of the respectful voice coming from the tv in the corner.

We walked over, and there it was - Omagh obliterated. Lives lost, men and women maimed, families decimated.

That the Monaghan twins won't be celebrating their 21st birthdays this autumn, and will never look back on that milestone birthday in decades to come, is the tragic legacy of a past that - as poet John Hewitt put it - "gave us martyrs when we needed men".

And the very notion that a sunny summer's day on this island should ever again be rent asunder by an act of terror, and such tragedy be allowed to engulf the children of a new generation, is simply unthinkable.

Time, then, surely, for Boris Johnson to heed the words of his own great hero, Winston Churchill: "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

Irish Independent

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