Fermanagh bomb: ‘I felt the blast here in the house’

‘There is fear and there is anger and there is absolute revulsion,’ says FF councillor

Police officers at the scene of an explosion in the area of the Cavan Road at its junction with the Wattle Bridge Road.

Police officers at the scene of an explosion in the area of the Cavan Road at its junction with the Wattle Bridge Road.

 

Sisters Anne Sheridan and Carmel Brick live next door to each other beside the Leggykelly Inn. The pub is about half a mile from Wattle Bridge, and the sisters reminded each other that the pub, closed for a few years now, was bombed in the 1970s. Memories of a lot of things that were a reality before the Belfast Agreement resurfaced in this Border community on Monday.

Séamus Coyle, chairman of Monaghan County Council says most people along the Border were angry – and a bit frightened.

“I am frightened. It is a bit scary,” said Anne. The television was on for most of the day in her kitchen as she monitored Sky News crews and other television stations, horrified that they were back in her neighbourhood. Carmel believes that those who planted the bomb in Wattle bridge were looking for that attention. “They are making a statement, letting us know that they are still here,” she said.

The sisters remember going to school in Clones when the nuns would bring the children to the church every Friday to say the rosary and pray for an end to the Troubles. Their own children didn’t have that backdrop to their lives and now they are hoping that the peace they have taken for granted for more than 20 years won’t be threatened.

“We knew yesterday morning something was wrong because the roads were shut down when people were going to Mass,” explained Anne. Many of the neighbours had noticed increased police activity on both sides of the Border from early Sunday.

Relief at initial reports of a hoax quickly turned to horror. “I felt the blast here in the house,” said Anne.

“Imagine if someone had been killed. Where would be?” asked Carmel. They, like many of their neighbours, think nothing of going in to Newtownbutler across the Border in Fermanagh to do their shopping . “But I won’t tomorrow,’ said Carmel. “I’ll be just a little bit wary”.

Cross-Border shopping

The family drives through Wattle Bridge to get to Newtownbutler or Lisnaskea or Enniskillen, all regular shopping destinations on the other side of the Border. For 20 years it hasn’t cost them a thought.

Local farmer JB Johnson has land on both sides of the Border and remembers too well a life of checkpoints and having to explain himself. He does not want to return to that.

A police road block close to the scene where an explosive device was detonated at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. Photograph: PA Wire
A police road block close to the scene where an explosive device was detonated at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. Photograph: PA Wire

“You were always made feel like a suspect,” he said of the checkpoints and he remembered the “hassle” for people who had business on both sides of the Border. The noise of a helicopter hovering over his land in the aftermath of the blast was a horrible reminder of a life he thought was far behind him. “I remember the British army searchlights used to light up the field,” he said. “They would shine into the house and when you had small children it wasn’t nice”.

Asked abut Brexit, he said, “Don’t mention it please. That is causing a lot of the tensions”.

JJ O’Hara from the Border Communities Against Brexit Group (BCAB) agreed. “When I heard about the Sunday Times leak [of the British government’s no-deal Brexit preparations] yesterday I knew it would heighten tensions”.

Fragile peace

O’Hara said the group has been warning about the potential dangers for 2½ years and is all too aware that any talk of Border checkpoints sparks tension. “The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement is one of the most powerful international peace agreements. I was in Russia two weeks ago and even there they know about it.” He said the leak of the Yellowhammer Brexit dossier was always going to spark tensions.

“We have gone to Westminster and to Brussels to try to explain to politicians just how fragile the peace is,” he said. “I really don’t think the Tory party realises how delicate the situation is.” He says BCAB have brought 144 MEPs to the Border to try to explain the ramifications of a hard Border. “I think any time there is talk of Border posts it is going to heighten tensions. That leak certainly did not help.”

Councillor Séamus Coyle says that, whatever their motives, the actions of those who planted the bomb in Wattle Bridge were “despicable”.

“They wanted to kill,” he said. “There are people who want to reignite what was terrible in our past. The Fianna Fáil chairman of Monaghan County Council said people on the ground were frightened yesterday and also ‘very, very angry’. There is fear and there is anger and there is absolute revulsion.”