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Community gathers to mourn victims of Omagh, 20 years on

Omagh bombing victims Avril Monaghan and her 18-month-old daughter Moira being taken into the church in Augher, Co Tyrone, for their funerals, in 1998.
Omagh bombing victims Avril Monaghan and her 18-month-old daughter Moira being taken into the church in Augher, Co Tyrone, for their funerals, in 1998.
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It was a tragedy too terrible to remember but too monumental to forget.

On the 20th anniversary weekend of the biggest single atrocity during the 30 years of troubles in Northern Ireland, relatives of those killed in the Omagh bombing gathered to remember their loved ones at an interdenominational service.

Twenty-nine people, including a pregnant woman with twins, were killed when a car bomb tore apart the Co Tyrone town on August 15, 1998. The victims came from Ulster, the Republic of Ireland, England and Spain.

A republican splinter group calling itself the Real IRA claimed responsibility for the attack, which came four months after the Good Friday Agreement to end the bloodshed.

The peace process had been supported by the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin, which the rebels accused of betrayal.

George Hamilton, Northern Ireland’s chief constable, the former Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, and Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris, are among those attending yesterday’s service.

Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar and Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary in Westminster, were both criticised for their decision not to attend.

In a statement, Ms Bradley said: “We must never forget the loss that the victims of terrorism live with each day and the remarkable courage of all those affected by such unspeakable acts.”

The Omagh Community Youth Choir performed a piece of music composed for the event by its musical director Daryl Simpson.

The choir includes Cara McGillion, 17, the daughter of Donna Marie and Garry who were left seriously injured by the blast.

In Omagh’s memorial garden, wreaths were laid and the names of all those killed were read out, one by one.

Relatives of the dead sat opposite the garden’s reflecting pool, their garlands of flowers reflected in the water.

A song was sung for Our Special Absent Friends.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden, 21, died, and who chairs the support group which organised the service, paid tribute to all the victims of the three-decade conflict.

Mr Gallagher said that as a small province Northern Ireland had its greatest challenges ahead, and called on the political parties to seek agreement “so that we can move forward”.

“Working alone we can achieve very little but in collaborative ventures we can achieve a great deal.”