Gor­don Wil­son, an unas­sum­ing draper turned peace ad­vo­cate, was real spirit of En­niskillen

Fa­ther held his dy­ing daugh­ter Marie’s hand, but bore no ill will to the IRA bombers, writes Al­ban Magin­ness

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS -

The un­for­tu­nate mis­un­der­stand­ing over the fu­ture sit­ing of the En­niskillen bomb me­mo­rial has left a sour taste af­ter the re­cent solemn com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 11 peo­ple killed and scores of oth­ers in­jured in the IRA bomb­ing of the En­niskillen re­mem­brance ser­vice on Novem­ber 8, 1987.

Hope­fully, this will be sorted out in the very near fu­ture, as the En­niskillen bomb­ing is seen, in the union­ist com­mu­nity, as an out­ra­geous at­tack by the IRA on their re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal iden­tity. It is, there­fore, a very sen­si­tive and im­por­tant is­sue.

The bomb­ing was, by any stan­dards, one of the most out­ra­geous in­ci­dents of the Trou­bles — not just be­cause of its large death toll, but also be­cause it in­volved the tar­get­ing of a re­mem­brance ser­vice with its marked re­li­gious char­ac­ter, sa­cred in par­tic­u­lar to the Protes­tant com­mu­nity.

In sim­ple terms, it was an un­jus­ti­fied and cow­ardly at­tack on a largely civil­ian gath­er­ing in the cen­tre of En­niskillen to prayer­fully com­mem­o­rate the dead of the two World Wars.

The great irony of the En­niskillen at­tack was that it was car­ried out by an or­gan­i­sa­tion, namely the IRA, which was pur­port­edly car­ry­ing out its para­mil­i­tary ac­tions be­cause it wished to bring about a united Ire­land.

Through this ac­tion — and, in­deed, the rest of its mis­guided cam­paign of armed strug­gle — it un­der­mined the very ob­jec­tive to which it was al­legedly wed­ded.

For what the En­niskillen bomb did was to in­crease the de­ter­mi­na­tion of union­ists to op­pose a united Ire­land and to drive a fur­ther wedge of dis­trust and di­vi­sion be­tween the two com­mu­ni­ties in Fer­managh and be­yond.

The only le­git­i­mate way to a united Ire­land in 1987 was by peace­ful, demo­cratic per­sua­sion. What was true then is still true today and the job of demo­cratic na­tion­al­ists re­mains to con­vince union­ists, solely by demo­cratic and peace­ful means, that a bet­ter fu­ture lies for them in a united Ire­land.

How­ever, through its fu­tile and self-jus­ti­fied cam­paign, the IRA set back the cause of a united Ire­land by one, if not, two gen­er­a­tions.

But the En­niskillen bomb­ing also pro­duced some­thing saintly and pal­pa­bly good, in the won­der­ful per­son of Gor­don Wil­son.

De­spite the mur­der of his young daugh­ter, Marie, and be­ing a vic­tim of the bomb­ing him­self — hav­ing been buried with the dy­ing Marie un­der the rub­ble of the bomb ex­plo­sion — he emerged as an ad­vo­cate of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Hav­ing been res­cued and know­ing of the death of his young nurse daugh­ter, he re­mark­ably said: “I bear no ill will; I bear no grudge.” He was even quoted as say­ing: “I will pray for these men tonight and ev­ery night.”

What a pow­er­ful per­sonal tes­ti­mony to for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion were those words alone.

He did not de­mand re­venge, or even jus­tice, as he might rea­son­ably have been ex­pected to do. He had cap­tured in those phrases and, in­deed, in his sub­se­quent, rather short, life of peace­ful ad­vo­cacy, the spirit of peace, and not sur­pris­ingly went on to set up a trust called the Spirit of En­niskillen.

This was to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and, in par­tic­u­lar, to pro­vide for young peo­ple on both sides of the di­vide an op­por­tu­nity to meet one an­other and to travel abroad to­gether in order to get ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing out­side North­ern Ire­land, so as to pro­mote greater un­der­stand­ing.

He was also ap­pointed to the Ir­ish Se­nate by Taoiseach Al­bert Reynolds in 1989 and there con­tin­ued to pro­mote

peace­ful un­der­stand­ing be­tween north and south and sim­ply among every­one he met.

He met the IRA in an at­tempt to un­der­stand its ac­tion in En­niskillen and else­where.

He also met Sinn Fein in the late1980s and early-1990s, when it was nei­ther pop­u­lar nor prof­itable to do so.

He chal­lenged the IRA through di­a­logue, com­mon sense and rea­son to jus­tify its ac­tions.

He did so out of a sin­cere con­vic­tion that it must be per­suaded and en­cour­aged to end its vi­o­lence and work through pol­i­tics to achieve change.

How­ever, he was not con­vinced that his ef­forts made any im­pact upon it, or in­deed any­one else, in­clud­ing loy­al­ist paramil­i­taries, that he also met and tried to get to put away the gun.

Gor­don Wil­son was a mod­est man and, al­though a Sen­a­tor in Dublin, he was not a pro­fes­sional politi­cian by any means.

Yet he was dis­arm­ingly pow­er­ful, be­cause of his mod­esty and the very sim­plic­ity of his mes­sage of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

He was a most un­likely voice for peace, given the enor­mous pain and hurt that he had to bear in his per­sonal life.

The cruel and sense­less vi­o­lence of the En­niskillen bomb, 30 years ago this month, trans­formed him from a quiet, unas­sum­ing draper into a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for peace in our so­ci­ety.

So, out of that ter­ri­ble evil, there came great good­ness — and that is some­thing we should re­mem­ber and value.

The late Gor­don Wil­son, and his daugh­ter Marie who was killed in the En­niskillen bomb

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