Timeline of the Omagh bombing
Attack came just four months after signing of the Belfast Agreement
Buses are commandeered from the nearby Ulsterbus station to help take the injured to hospital. Shelves and doors are used as makeshift stretchers. As news of the attack filters through, off-duty medical personnel head for the hospital. As well as those who died, more than 300 people were injured in the blast. Army helicopters are scrambled to help the ambulance service ferry patients from the swamped Tyrone hospital to other medical centres.
Omagh’s leisure centre is transformed into an incident centre, with hundreds of relatives gathering there waiting for news on loved ones. Inundated with calls, the Tyrone County Hospital phone system crashes. Staff ask members of the public for mobile phones to contact other hospitals. A temporary morgue is set up in a British Army base in the town.
Sunday August 16th
Relatives of those people still unaccounted for wait at the leisure centre overnight.
The identity of the 28th victim who died on the day is revealed. (Sixty-one-year Sean McGrath would die a month later from injuries sustained in the bomb.)
The then RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan addresses the world’s press at the scene. “This is an attack, not carried out against the police or the army, but against the people of Omagh. We have had men, women and children slaughtered, slaughtered by murderers who want to murder, slaughtered by murderers who have nothing else to offer but murder, people who gave us a totally inaccurate warning, people who phoned to say there was a bomb close to the courthouse and as our officers searched and moved people from the area of the courthouse, a bomb detonated some 400 yards away.”
An ambulance carrying one of the injured from the Erne hospital to Belfast collides with a car. The car’s driver, 38-year-old father-of-three Gary White, is killed.
The Queen, British prime minister Tony Blair, President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, US president Bill Clinton and local politicians all voice their condemnation. Significantly Sinn Fein figures such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also condemn the attack - the first time they had unequivocally denounced a republican terrorist bombing.
Tuesday August 18th
The Real IRA admits responsibility for the attack. The group claims its target was commercial and not civilian and blames loss of life on failure of RUC to respond to “clear” warnings. Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam describes the statement as “a pathetic excuse for mass murder”.
Saturday August 22nd
One week after the attack a day of reflection is held. An estimated 60,000 people gather in Omagh with thousands more attending vigils in other towns and cities across Ireland.
In Omagh, a service is conducted by church leaders on the steps of the courthouse. The event is best remembered for a moving performance by local singer Juliet Turner, whose ballad Broken Things was beamed across the world.