Thursday 15 August 2013

Dark dark clouds, silver lining

[Today is the 15th anniversary of the Omagh bombing, the bloodiest (28 dead, 200+ injured) event of the Irish Troubles]
The Boy was born in early December 1975 and came home to a garden flat looking out to sea in Dun Laoghaire - poor students could rent such places back then.  We were wrapped up in ourselves as The Boy was wrapped up in a cosy warm blanket. But in the cold black heart of 'bandit country' of South Armagh is was a bloody awful month of reciprocal atrocity which paused only after the Kingsmill Massacre on 5th January 1976.  On that evening a minibus returning textile workers (both protestant and catholic) to their homes was stopped, the only remaining catholic on the bus was identified and told to leg it.  The other 11 occupants were then gunned down -  miraculously, one of them survived.

In the dark humour of the day, this shocking incident was transmogrified into a joke:  Gunmen stop a chap in the dark and ask what is his religion.  Unsure which side his interrogators are from - one balaclava looks much like another - and thinking quickly, he replies "I'm an atheist".  To which the answer is "Sure, would that be a protestant atheist or a catholic atheist".

Twenty years later, after 'bring up baby' in three countries on two continents we returned home.  The Beloved had work in domestic energy efficiency and fuel poverty which she brought from her last job in England.  Part of this involved running training courses in Northern Ireland and her local contact had a rather interesting background.  His grandfather had been a Jewish glazier from central Europe who had survived the holocaust and in the late 1940s made his living wandering through the rubble restoring the stained glass windows of some of the hundreds of bomb-damaged churches.  A combination of accidents and opportunity and a growing family brought him to Belfast in the late 1950s.

The Europa Hotel in downtown Belfast was completed in 1971 at the height of the troubles.  It was where all the journalists used to hang out plagiarising each other's stories and became the 'most-bombed hotel in Europe'. Surviving and trading through 28 damaging attacks during the troubles, they only closed after the Provos put a really big bomb outside in 1993.  And who got many of the contracts to repair the glazing? The conspicuously neutral company set up by the little feller from Central Europe.

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