We Have Come Too Far to Turn Back Now

Article excerpt

NO-ONE caught up in the hopeless tribalism of Ulster could fail to be moved by the Good Friday Agreement between the warring parties.

Those who witnessed the barbarism of the Seventies, as I did, could ever have dreamed then that they would see leaders of the tormented Province even sitting down together.

Only fools would have predicted that today nationalists and unionists would vote for a joint future.

But the determination of people on both sides of the divide to give their children the chance of peace is real.

Many, hopefully the majority, feel they did not overcome the daily obscenities of death on their streets to let it slip away now.

Few families have not been touched by the violence since the first victim, 67-year-old Francis McCloskey, died during riots in Dungiven, Co Derry in February 1971.

But the deaths were not confined to Northern Ireland. Many died in IRA atrocities in England, like 12-year-old Tim Parry in Warrington. Twenty- one died in the Birmingham Pub Bombings in November l994.

They all, like my friend and neighbour Bill Thomas, died for Ireland.

And no-one has ever been able to tell me why.

Bill was not even Irish. He was a Welshman, an engineer working for the BBC and he lived opposite me in Belfast with his wife and two lovely daughters.

When the IRA blew up a TV mast on Brougher Mountain, near Trillick, Co Tyrone, they also left a landmine and a command wire.

Bill and four workmates were blasted to bits as they went to fix the mast, so the people who killed them could watch the telly. He was only 35.

Those who lived through the bloody horrors of those days were sustained by a hope that each atrocity would surely be that last - and a rare brand of humour that mystified outsiders.

During the bombing campaigns, as the IRA tried to blast Ulster into a united Ireland, shopkeepers would post signs on their boarded-up windows saying "Business as usual during altercations".

A countryman telephoned me after a series of bombs ripped the heart out of Belfast and left many dead saying "I hear you had a wee bit of trouble there yesterday". …