31 October 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

monaghan bombingA new publication on the 1974 Monaghan bombing was hailed at its formal launch in the Market House in Monaghan Town on Wednesday evening last by Margaret Urwin of the Justice for the Forgotten organisation as an important exercise in both commemoration and reconciliation.
The Monaghan Bombing Community Links Project was co-ordinated by local man Brian Clerkin and backed by local Peace III Partnership funding and support. The booklet produced, containing extensive photographic and eyewitness testimony relating to the May 17 1974 bomb in the town, was compiled with considerable youth input and is designed to give the current and emerging generation an insight into the event and its impact.

A large attendance of local people, among them family members of those who lost their lives in the bombing, were present for last week’s launch, at which the Cathaoirleach of the Monaghan Municipal District, Co Councillor Sean Conlon reiterated the call on the British Government to respond positively to the Justice for the Forgotten victim support group’s demand for the release of documentation relevant to the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

In his welcome to those present, Brian Clerkin paid tribute to the contribution made to the project by Justice for the Forgotten, the bereaved families and Peace III.

“Justice for the Forgotten were the partner organisation in the Community Links Project and without their support the project would not have happened,” Mr Clerkin stated.

He hoped the publication would “open up a forum for conversation and participation in this very sensitive subject.”
Sean Conlon said he was delighted to be present in his role as Cathaoirleach of the Monaghan Municipal District and recalled the extreme honour it had been to be Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Town Council in 2004 when the 30th anniversary commemorations of the Monaghan bombing had been marked by a ceremony in the town attended by President Mary McAleese.

During his time as a public representative he had established a close working relationship with Margaret Urwin and the Justice for the Forgotten group in relation to this issue, and also with the families bereaved by the bombing and the wider public of Monaghan. They could hold many events and initiatives around this subject, but they would not succeed without the input of the public, who came along in such large numbers in solidarity and as a pillar of support to the families, and to avail of the opportunity to recollect their own memories of the tragic events of May 17 1974.

The Municipal District Cathaoirleach said that Brian Clerkin was a young man from Monaghan Town who had attended third level education and in his thesis covered the topic of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings. Brian’s interest in these tragic events dated back to when he was a student, and the current project arose out of his curiosity as to the circumstances of the 1974 events, and his reflections many decades later as to how, in the streets of Monaghan that he was familiar with growing up, there could have been such a tragedy that took the lives of seven of their friends and neighbours. He asked himself also how the tragedies that occurred in Dublin that day, and the other tragedies of the conflict around that period, could have occurred.

Colr Conlon noted that Brian had taught in Switzerland for six-seven years, and he had always enjoyed meeting him on his return to his home in Killygoan. His close connection to his parish and community brought him to the point where earlier this year, some months prior to the 40th anniversary of the 1974 bombings, he made approaches to the local Peace III Partnership with the idea of putting together a project that would take the perspective of a young person who walked past the bombing memorial in Church Square and wondered as to its meaning.

Such monuments often remained a mystery until someone provided an explanation for them or you looked them up in a history book. Brian felt that since 1974 there had been a lapse in community memory as to what such monuments represented. He therefore embarked on a project aimed at raising awareness of the Monaghan bombing events among the young population of the area, and answering a lot of questions which he and the people he was conversing with had.

Paying tribute to Nicola Payne and Leona Keenan of the Peace III Partnership for the support they gave to Brian in fulfilling his project, the Cathaoirleach welcomed the engagement that Peace III had been involved in over recent times with young people, and noted that Peace IV would have a considerable focus on educating their young population in learning from history, and the mistakes of the past.

Brian was sole co-ordinator of this project, and he thanked and commended him for his role, and acknowledged those from among the wider community who had participated. Colr Conlon said a pivotal engagement had taken place with Justice for the Forgotten and the families of the bombing victims, and this had proven extremely valuable to the project’s success. He also noted the participation of the Monaghan Neighbourhood Youth Project, the Monaghan Foróige Club, and the Teach na nDaoine Family Resource Centre where a number of workshops had taken place including one with Enda Galligan of the Old Monaghan Society.

The group involved in the project had also been part of the 40th anniversary commemoration events in Talbot Street in Dublin on May 17 this year, and the commemoration that had taken place the following day in Monaghan Town. In August they had made a trip to the site of the Omagh bombing and had also gone on a trip to Glasnevin Cemetery.

Colr Conlon said the Peace Programmes had been an enabling force for groups in the local community in exploring and enhancing relationships with their neighbours in the Monaghan locale and beyond. Central to the theme of building a lasting peace was the exploration of their past – this, he believed, was one of the most productive outcomes of the peace and reconciliation process. The current project had taken participants on a tour of their identity, and their place in local society, culture, heritage, religion and history, and had allowed them to explore the perspective of victims and survivors of the tragedies of the past.

However, the Municipal District Cathaoirleach added, this was not to signify finality and closure in relation to the Monaghan and Dublin bombings. There was no doubt that this had not yet arrived for the families in relation to the loss of their loved ones. For them, closure and finality remained as elusive as ever. He reiterated the call that had been made to the Irish and UK governments to engage fully with the request of Justice for the Forgotten to release documents that would hopefully enable a degree of closure to be arrived at.

They all grieved for those who passed on, and this was very much a personal and private experience. But there were other deaths that galvanised a community, and they saw outpourings of sympathy and comfort for those afflicted in their time of grief. For the family and relatives of those who died in the Monaghan and Dublin bombings, the search for justice continued. While they annually met and laid wreaths, and held church and prayer services, there remained the glaring and obvious question of what would it take to provide closure for the families.

Many people in Monaghan recollected exactly where they were when the May 17 1974 bombing took place. They looked forward to the day when the necessary information came forward to provide an opportunity for closure for the families, but until such time they would continue as a community to provide supports for Justice for the Forgotten and to their friends and neighbours who had lost loved ones.
Colr Conlon said the Monaghan Bombing Community Links Project was about future generations learning about the past, which he believed would play a pivotal role in shaping the future. The booklet produced would provide an important companion piece to the Later On publication compiled by Monaghan novelist Evelyn Conlon to mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing in 2004, and the memorial which had been erected in Church Square at the same time.

Justice for the Forgotten’s Margaret Urwin, who had acted as Chairperson for the Monaghan Bombing Community Links Project, said it was wonderful to see such an attendance at the publication’s launch – this was very heartening, especially for the family members of the Monaghan bombing victims who were present.

Ms Urwin pointed out that the Justice for the Forgotten victim support organisation was formed in 1996 to campaign for truth and justice for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Over the years they extended their remit to include the families of the victims of other bombings in the Republic during the Troubles, and they also represented the families of the Miami Showband killings.

Justice for the Forgotten was the only dedicated organisation working with victims in this State, and their services were available to everyone bereaved or injured as a result of the conflict, regardless of political or religious affiliation. They believed that truth recovery was an essential part of peace building and reconciliation.

They had made some progress, but the biggest stumbling block had been the refusal of the British Government to release documents withheld from the Barron Inquiry. Two Dáil motions had been passed urging the British Government to make these documents available to an independent judicial authority for assessment.

Last year Justice for the Forgotten had engaged in talks to this end with the British Ambassador to Ireland, and while they had been hopeful of a positive outcome this did not ensue. They had now embarked on a civil action against the British Government to secure the release of the documents.

Ms Urwin pointed out that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland had accepted a complaint from Justice for the Forgotten on behalf of the families and would be investigating it, but because of severe cutbacks in the North this investigation would be delayed until the end of next year at the earliest.

“When I first met Brian Clerkin at the beginning of the year, I was astonished by his enthusiasm for this project,” Ms Urwin told the audience. Brian was not born until a decade after the bombings occurred, but he had returned to Monaghan after some years abroad and this enabled him to look at his native town with new eyes. He began to ask if young people knew what the memorial in Church Square represented, and also wanted to ensure that memories of the bombing in the town were recovered from those who had lived through it and were not allowed to fall into oblivion. He also wanted to ensure as far as possible that such an atrocity should never happen in the town again.

Justice for the Forgotten were delighted to be associated with the project, and were very pleased that funding had come forward from the Monaghan Peace III Project which made its realisation possible. She had spoken to the young participants on April 24 at their first workshop, describing the events and giving details of those who died. In total 34 people had lost their lives in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, including an unborn baby, and this represented the greatest loss of life on any single day throughout the entire Troubles.

Local historian Enda Galligan gave his eyewitness account of the aftermath of the bombing, and provided workshop participants with information on the local area. The participants had composed a “Poem For Peace” which reflected their newfound knowledge and the families’ search for justice.
Another important part of the workshops was obtaining interviews with eyewitnesses and those impacted by the bombing. Georgina Kent, whose father David Parker was very seriously injured in the explosion, was only 12 years old at the time and her story gave a powerful insight into the suffering of her father and the impact the bombing had on their family. Austin McArdle gave a vivid first-hand account of the actual explosion in Monaghan, which he witnessed, recalling the incongruity of the pints of Guinness still sitting on the bar of Greacen’s public house amid the devastation all around.

Ms Urwin said the final sentences of the accounts given by Enda Galligan and Austin McArdle were striking, Enda stating that: “It is just as if it never happened”, and Austin remarking: “The bomb seems to be just brushed under the carpet.”
“These words resonate with us in Justice for the Forgotten – there is a general amnesia in the media, in civil society and even in the Government itself, which is not confined to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings but the other bombings that occurred in the State in the 1970s.”

Ms Urwin hoped that the booklet now being launched would go some way towards counteracting that amnesia. Dorinda McCormack had composed a poem that had been published in the Northern Standard on the 10th anniversary of the bombing in 1984, and she wanted to thank her for allowing its publication in this booklet.

She hoped all those who participated in the project had benefited from the experience, and would pass what they had learned on to their peers. As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana had written, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

When they opened the booklet, the very first page they saw contained the names, addresses and ages of all the victims, reminding the reader that this publication was an act of commemoration with the purpose above all of remembering the victims. Commemoration was about remembering the past, but it was also an instrument for reconciliation.

Ms Urwin said she was delighted that members of the families of those who died in the Monaghan bombing of 1974 and in the bomb planted in Castleblayney in 1976 had been able to attend that evening’s launch. On behalf of Justice for the Forgotten she thanked Leona Keenan and Gerry Campbell of Monaghan Community Development Board Peace III Partnership, and the Teach na nDaoine Family Resource Centre, for their input to the project.

She wanted to acknowledge very especially the input of Brian Clerkin, who had conceived the idea for the project and brought it to fruition, undertaking the work selflessly and for no personal gain. Great credit was due to him in producing a booklet that would be available for future generations.

At the conclusion of the formal proceedings, Brian Clerkin pointed out that a great deal of information had been compiled in the course of the project that did not make its way into the final publication because of space constraints, but he hoped this material could now be archived and preserved through Monaghan Co Museum and the Co Library Service, and be made available to future researchers.
Mr Clerkin also emphasised that the project had been totally apolitical in concept and execution: “The only politics I have are truth, justice and peace.”

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