ON THE day of the funerals of the last of the Omagh dead, the town centre was as silent and dark as the grave.
Though it was the height of summer, the weather mirrored the sombre mood as dark clouds closed in, and a steady drizzle saturated the floral tributes placed lovingly on the streets in memory of the dead.
Every shop on the Main Street was closed as a mark of respect. In the emergency co-ordinating centre, near the Courthouse from which people had moved last Saturday into the worst of the car bomb blast, mourners were still signing books of condolences.
On the same table lay a magnificent wreath of red roses and white lilies, sent from Spain in memory of the Spanish who had been killed and maimed in the explosion.
Outside the building there was a flower-bed of wreaths, from Orpington, from Kingston-upon-Hull and from many other places.
Further down the street, near the epi-centre of the blast there were more bouquets outside shops whose staff had walked to their deaths while trying to reach safety.
The messages told their own story. "Lost for words", said one; "Why?" asked another.
Yet another carried a plaintive plea: "All we are saying is give peace a chance.''
There were wreaths from the Fire Service, from the Gardai at Ennis. And from a group of Dubliners there was a wreath of orange-coloured lilies and yellow and white daises with the inscription: "We came because we care.''
The macabre geography of last Saturday's mistaken rush for sanctuary was inescapable. The shops at the bottom half of the street were wrecked. Some of those in the top half bore tributes to the dead and injured who had worked there.
A small white teddy bear, sodden with rain, had fallen off one of the wreaths and lay spread-eagled, mouth and nose, on the wet pavement.
The urge was inescapable to pick it up, and to place it gently in its rightful place, as a futile gesture of trying to pick up all the little ones who had died and had been maimed, and trying to pretend that this was only a nightmare.
Tragically the nightmare was real, in the harsh light of this awful summer's day. On Wednesday there had been 16 funerals. On Thursday there were eight more. The drip, drip of the rain and the cold wind chilled the bones, but the chill in the heart was deeper still.
Silence was everywhere, amid the reminders of ordinary life - a poster for a concert, the sight of a small child in a buggy, so reminiscent of all the other small children in buggies who had not been so fortunate. There was an air of deep, deep desolation in the heart of Omagh.
Desolation does not change. As a writer who has covered too many atrocities in my time, I remembered the same atmosphere of stunned silence and heartbreak in my native village, Bessbrook, after the Kingsmills massacres. …