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Markethill bombing as seen by a teenager
 
               
The bombing
On Wednesday, 28 August 1991, a massive explosion rocked Markethill, a predominantly Protestant village in Co. Armagh in Northern Ireland. The IRA placed a 1,000 lb bomb in a van outside the police station. The explosion was heard more than twenty miles away. The blast destroyed the police station, injured a soldier, destroyed a factory, shops and houses, and damaged hundreds of other buildings.
Forty minutes warning had been given and many buildings were evacuated, but not, for some reason, the house of one thirteen-year-old girl belonging to one of the handful of Catholic families in the village. She and her three sisters were at home and were not told of the threat. Consequently, they were lucky to escape with only cuts and bruises as the blast almost destroyed the house.

Recalling the experience
The first time this young woman spoke about her experience outside her family was nine years later, when she was on teaching practice in a Catholic secondary school in England. Her students were studying Ireland as part of the Modern World Study at GCSE History.
 
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My background

Markethill
Basically I grew up in a town called Markethill. It‘s a small village in Armagh. It‘s near South Armagh.It‘s a predominantly Protestant village and growing up as a Catholic I was in a minority. There‘s not very many families. In fact, we can probably name all the families that I know that are the same religion as me.


Growing up
I went to a school about eleven miles away from the town. It was a girls‘ school and a Catholic school. This is pretty normal for Northern Ireland. Most children go to either a Catholic school or a Protestant school.


It is divided by their religion very much. When I was growing up there was no such thing as mixed schools or integrated schools. There was never the opportunity for me to meet with other Protestants until I was old enough to be going out and meeting them for myself because we‘re very much segregated in the early years.


The family
I come from a family of seven. There are five kids and I‘m in the middle. I‘m now 22. I have a younger sister who‘s 13 and my brother‘s 20. My two older sisters are 27 and 28. We all have had different experiences of life in Northern Ireland, everybody has.


As a family I guess the main experience was the bomb that we had. I was in year nine and about 13. It was my first real experience of violence in Northern Ireland and, although I‘ve always been aware of violence, it‘s the first time I was ever affected.


The day of the bomb

Messing around
It was a Wednesday, so it was, half-day closing and my sister was working in the local supermarket at the time at a part-time job. She came home at lunch time and said, –Something‘s happening. Something‘s going on‘. We could see all the houses behind us. Somebody was from running door to door and everybody was gathering.


We just thought it was a barbecue. It was a really, really hot summer‘s day ... for lying about in the sunshine and messing around. My sister was doing the ironing and I was watching the TV, lounging in the chair. We were all in shorts, no shoes and socks and it was really hot. It was glorious. I was swinging on the chair with my legs hanging out over the side of it. Another sister, she was outside sunbathing in the garden and my other wee sister was in the playroom. She was three at the time.


The explosion
When the bomb went off, the blast of it was horrendous, It went off just the other side of our fence. We live near a police station, which is about 100-200 yards away from the house. The bomb went off, a thousand pounds. It had been packed into a transit van driven into the town during market day and then left there. The experience of being in a bomb is absolutely horrendous. There‘s nothing like the experience you go through.


What happened to the family
I was sitting relaxing on my chair when something almost like a big suction comes into the room, just lifted me into the air and hurled me about. My sister was standing beside our really big glass windows doing the ironing. She was hurled out over the top of the ironing board.

My wee sister, who was three, was in the playroom. She was probably the luckiest out of all of us in the house. The playroom is in the conservatory and is surrounded by glass with glass roofing too. Every window was blown in with the blast and the whole lot came in round her. She didn‘t get harmed at all. There wasn‘t even a glass cut on her.


My sister who was outside well she got showered with the shrapnel from the bomb. The van just went into thousands of wee bits and bits of metal that got all twisted up and that. And she got showered with them in the force of it. We were all extremely lucky.

The pressure of the bomb lifted the entire roof off the house and set it back down crooked again. It‘s amazing the destruction it can do.


In shock
After the bomb was over I was oh, you can‘t imagine the feeling of shock that comes into you. You know what‘s happened, you know a bomb‘s gone off. You‘re not really thinking straight. You‘re just in a big shock. I landed on the floor somewhere near the TV.

I got up and I was screaming, –I‘m dead. I‘m dead. Look at me. I‘m dead.‘ Obviously I wasn‘t. I thought with the force of the blast I should have been killed. I was looking at my sister and she was jumping about with an iron in her hand. The plug was left in the wall but she had burned the socket of the iron. The whole thing had come out with the blast. But she was going, –You‘re not dead, you‘re not dead. I‘m dead. I‘m dead.‘

It‘s very it‘s funny now, looking back on it after all these years but it wasn‘t funny at the time.
It was so frightening. But you get over that initial shock, I think she slapped me across the face to calm me down. I can‘t really remember. It was just my God, where is everybody else? Where is my family? You know, is everybody OK?

 

Telling Mum
After the bomb actually went off, the place was just covered in smoke and dust. It was really disgusting. Everything, your whole world has just turned upside down, so it is. My Mammy had been playing golf that day with my wee brother and we had to tell her what had happened. Lucky enough, the phone lines were still working. We got through to the club.

She already knew the bomb had gone off. The golf course was seven miles away but she heard the blast. She had seen the big mushroom of smoke that comes up when the bomb
goes off and she just knew that our town was the only town in that direction. This made her run for it.


Head to toe in blood
I don‘t know what we did in the house until Mammy arrived. It must have taken her over 20 minutes to arrive. I don‘t remember that 20 minutes at all. It‘s lost so it is. I‘ll never forget her coming into the house and she was crying, so she was, –Oh my God, where‘s my children? Where‘s my children?‘

 

We were all just standing there like and we looked a bit drab because we‘re all covered head to toe in blood. We‘d all been cut with glass. Not serious cuts, they‘re all like paper cuts, because the glass is in smithereens.


Mammy comes in and here we all are standing covered in blood with our clothes all ripped and in states of shock. She comes in and she was touching each of our faces and wiping the blood away. We‘d blood on our arms and legs and she was wiping it away to make sure we were all right. And, I don‘t know why, we were all just standing with the phone until mum had checked us all over. And she was dead frightened because all she could see was this pool of blood at our feet.

 

None of us were badly hurt. It looked worse than it was. But there was this like whole wee pool of blood at our feet. That was why she thought some of us had been cut badly because we were leaking blood. It had happened I think when we were running through the house in our bare feet over all the glass. And we never, we didn‘t realise we were cut, so we didn‘t. And, obviously then we realised, hello, we‘re standing on glass. Is there any wonder there was a pool of blood?

 

That was my first ever experience of violence in Ireland. And it was a horrendous thing to go through.


The results of the bombing
It took us two years to get our house back to normal again after it happened. Everything that we owned was covered in glass - our mattresses and everything. We, ourselves had to be really careful, you know. We couldn‘t brush our hair because our hair caught the blast on the way through, so it had. And we just had to shake it out. You can‘t wash it because it would cut into your scalp. For two years we lived in two rooms of the house.

 

Why no evacuation?
The Northern Ireland Office comes round after the bomb and inspects it to see the damage, for your insurance money and that. When they came round to visit us, they said we were so lucky to be evacuated and so lucky to get out when the alarm was given. My Mum was so annoyed. She said, –There was no warning given you know. The kids were all in the house. Nobody told us to get out.‘ She was really angry that everybody behind us who were all further away from the bomb, were all evacuated and we weren‘t.

 

Some people ask, –'Why was that?‘ You could say maybe it was an isolated house and the people going door to door missed it or maybe because we were Catholics. In a Protestant town, maybe we weren‘t the priority on the list.

 

Whatever the reason, we were all extremely lucky to get out. Everybody who walked through the house said what saved all of our lives was the Venetian blinds and curtains. They took the brunt of the blast and protected us from most of the bigger lumps of shrapnel and glass coming through. That was the first bomb that we had.