Marie Breen-Smyth, Associate Dean International, University of Surrey talks to Una McGurk.
Una McGurk was 14 years old when she was seriously injured in the Omagh Bomb on Saturday 15th August 1998. The Real IRA claimed responsibility. She sustained injuries to every part of her body.
“Being fourteen I had begged my parents could I stay with my Granny because I wanted to go to a disco with friends. It was actually the first Saturday I had been in the town the whole summer”
Una and some friends were walking down the street when police told them there was a bomb scare and everyone had to be moved to another part of the street. As this was happening, the car bomb exploded. Una was next to the car as it happened.
“I remember being thrown to the ground and a real blackness, a real eerie feeling and thinking this is a dream I’m going to wake up, this is going to be fine, and then the realisation hit me, I’m not going to wake up, it’s not a dream.”
She managed to get herself up from the ground and made her way down the street to get help, she passed many injured people and the realisation came that she was also injured.
“I broke my right leg and the bone actually came through my leg, so I was walking with that and had sustained a lot of injuries to my left side. It was the shock and not knowing what was actually happening and I just thought, get out of it”.
A man helped Una and brought her into a pub, which was being used to treat the injured.
“The look of shock on everybody’s face when they saw me and that’s when it actually hit me, there’s something wrong, this is not a dream, then when he sat me down in a chair, I couldn’t get up I just went into shock”.
Una’s facial injuries meant she had to start wearing a face mask. She spent many years having surgery.
“I was admitted to the Ulster Hospital under the care of a plastic surgeon. They did numerous operations to repair my face as best they could”.
Una reflects on the cognitive behavioural therapy she received.
“I’m able to control my emotions a bit better now and think about things rationally, so I would say without it I would be a completely different person”
She still has to make regular trips to the hospital for her treatment.
“It’s part of my life now, if I didn’t have the hospital appointments I don’t know what I would do, I find it comforting which people find strange. To me going to the hospital for a procedure doesn’t faze me anymore because I’m so used to it, and everybody at the hospital are so lovely”
Una is conscious of the impact the bomb and her injuries had on her family.
“They have really had nothing, their life was severely affected by it, my brothers and sisters have been put to the back burner for so long because my mummy and daddy had to take me to the hospital”
In recent years Una has done work with the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund and has worked with the Christian charity group Habitat for Humanity, who build simple, decent, affordable housing in different parts of the world.
Una remains positive and determined to deal with her injuries and get on with her life.
“It has made me a wee bit more confident, I really don’t care what people think of me, it’s probably made me a bit more outspoken, I’m more determined to succeed, because my view is if I don’t do well in my life, then whoever is responsible for the Troubles in Northern Ireland have won. They’ve already succeeded in taking so many years of my life already. Nobody is going to stop me doing what I want with my life”
“I just look forward to the future. To be honest, when I was fourteen and the bomb happened, I didn’t genuinely think I would do well in a job. I basically thought the bomb was my life. The bomb isn’t my life, it is a part of my past. I’m now starting to move on, it’s no longer the sole focus, which personally is the way I want it to be”.