A young person’s perspective on Omagh gun attack
Growing up in Omagh, I had always felt safe. I was born in 2001, three years after the Good Friday Agreement and, growing up, I had no inkling of what ‘The Troubles’ were… because nothing of paramilitaries, violence and religious divide were ever mentioned. I mixed freely with Catholic and Protestants kids alike, completely unaware that there was any difference between us.
In 2011, when police officer Ronan Kerr was murdered in the town, my ten-year-old self couldn’t understand why.
In my innocent pre-adolescent world, it didn’t make any sense that someone who protects our communities and who keeps us safe, would be deliberately killed in such an horrific way. It was surreal, and incomprehensible for myself, whose biggest fear at the time was passing the transfer test.
It wasn’t until I was second year of secondary school when I started to understand what ‘The Troubles’ actually were, whilst in art class, when we were shown a documentary called ‘The Art of Conflict’.
It discussed the history of the Troubles and the association with murals. I was perplexed at the thought that war had been waged on the streets of the country I called home. And what disturbed me the most was the callous attitude of my peers, and those older than me shouting, ‘Up the ‘Ra!’, glorifying the violence that killed our fellow citizens.
As I developed my understanding of the conflict that occurred before my birth, I became proud to grow up in Omagh, as I had never felt threatened for my ‘Catholic’ label, nor my ‘Unionist’ ideologies, which is something I am wholly grateful for.
I was free to indulge in both cultures, and be accepted by both communities with my stereotype-breaking beliefs ,which wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere.
Omagh seemed unscathed by the deep scars of sectarian hatred, seen to greater extents in other parts of the North, as schoolchildren, to this day, mix; and politics has no place in workplaces.
However, there are no words that can fully grasp how horrific the attack on an off-duty officer was last week.
The scene of a peaceful community mixing together for various sports on an ordinary week night was then disrupted by violent chaos, and the overtones of a bloody past.
For those who lived through the Troubles, the gunfire and panic opened old wounds, and for the dozens of children present, a new wave of fresh trauma, from a time they never experienced, arose.
I, personally, worry that the next generation growing up are being influenced by those who glorify paramilitary violence, and normalise the killings of innocent civilians and security forces.
It is so common to see young teens shouting, ‘Up the ‘Ra!’, without even a thought about the Omagh bomb, which claimed 31 innocent lives, including two unborn babies, and which devastated many people’s lives for years afterwards.
It is hard to predict what the future will hold, as Northern Ireland enters a new age of economic, political and social turmoil, with doubts over the cost of living, Stormont, the protocol, and the presence of the so-called ‘New IRA’.
For a young person, it is hard to be optimistic as social tensions rise, but what we can be, is hopeful.
I, and the large majority of Omagh, do not want violence here in our community, nor in this county, and, as the new generation rejects the ideals of the old, we will do what we can to move forward, and maintain our shared multicultural society.
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