She told me all about her grown-up children living in Britain and elsewhere – part of the continuing brain-drain that I’ve now joined who could not get work at home. She volunteered information about her physicality. She had difficulties with mobility and I could see without trying to stare that the flesh of her face and arms was pocked all over. She pointed out the dents, telling me they were all over her body, and told me that her injuries were incurred during the Omagh bomb, the blast claimed by a dissident IRA group on 15 August 1998, several months after the signing of the Belfast peace agreement. The cruel irony was that this caused the highest body-count in one event of the 'Troubles' but, depending on whose statistics you follow, the twenty-nine deaths (including of a woman almost to term with twins) are not necessarily included in official death statistics of the conflict.
The woman explained that the pub she ran was all but destroyed in the blast. It was early in the day, so luckily they had few customers, but anyone who was in there was injured. Being behind the bar, she experienced one of the worst casualties in the building, her body became almost instantaneously riddled with shards of glass. Her business and livelihood were destroyed, and her mobility substantially decreased for the rest of her life. The pain was constant. She was entitled to no victim support given that the event took place after the official end date of the conflict. She was forced into early retirement with a diminished pension. Her husband was also injured and neither of them were able to work ever again. Meeting her and hearing her story affirmed for me what I had felt for some time, that it is the living who continue to suffer, and it is for them that those of us with the wherewithal and capacity to take action must at least strive for some sort of resolution and social justice.
I carry these stories, these experiences, and more like them always. I remind myself that they are all too real and all too personal. The political is the personal as much as the personal is political.