Gordon Wilson: I have lost my daughter.... I shall pray for those people every night.


On the 8th of November 1987, twenty years ago today, a crowd gathered in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland at a monument for the war dead, for a memorial service on Remembrance Day. A bomb planted by the Provisional IRA, meant to kill soldiers and policemen at the service, went off ten minutes early. Eleven people, all but one civilians, died in the explosion and under the rubble, and one man left in a coma died 13 years later without recovering consciousness. Sixty-three people were injured. The Provisional IRA was forced by its own horrified supporters to apologize, and the incident has come to be seen as a turning point in the Troubles. The IRA lost support around the world because of video footage of the bombing and its aftermath. This led indirectly to more tranquility in the region, which is relatively peaceful today.

The most famous story to emerge from the massacre was that of Marie Wilson, a twenty-year-old girl who had been standing near the monument with her father, Gordon Wilson. They were buried under bricks.

We were both thrown forward, rubble and stones and whatever in and around and over us and under us. I was aware of a pain in my right shoulder. I shouted to Marie was she all right and she said yes, she found my hand and said, "Is that your hand, dad?" Now remember we were under six foot of rubble. I said "Are you all right?" and she said yes, but she was shouting in between. Three of four times I asked her, and she always said yes, she was all right. When I asked her the fifth time, "Are you all right, Marie?" she said, "Daddy, I love you very much." Those were the last words she spoke to me. She still held my hand quite firmly and I kept shouting at her, "Marie, are you all right?" but there wasn't a reply. We were there about five minutes. Someone came and pulled me out. I said, "I'm all right but for God's sake my daughter is lying right beside me and I don't think she is too well." She's dead. She didn't die there. She died later. The hospital was magnificent, truly impressive, and our friends have been great, but I miss my daughter, and we shall miss her but I bear no ill will, I bear no grudge. She was a great wee lassie, she loved her profession. She was a pet and she's dead. She's in heaven, and we'll meet again.

Don't ask me please for a purpose. I don't have a purpose. I don't have an answer, but I know there has to be a plan. If I didn't think that, I would commit suicide. It's part of a greater plan, and God is good. And we shall meet again.

I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.
Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.*

Marie's father told the BBC that he forgave her killers and added: "I shall pray for those people tonight and every night."

"Gordon Wilson's quiet dignity had a profound effect on many people in Northern Ireland. He was later involved with initiatives to improve community relations in Enniskillen and eventually was appointed to the Senate in the Republic of Ireland. Gordon Wilson died on 27 June 1995 aged 68." --From the website of CAIN [Conflict Archive on the INternet], Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland (1968 to the present)

Conor Carson, a schoolboy at the time, wrote the poem below to commemorate Marie.   The red-paper poppy, an uncontroversial sign of respect for war dead in Britain (and Canada, Australia and New Zealand), is seen by some Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland as a symbol of British identity. Marie and the other victims at Enniskillen were Protestant.

* You can hear Gordon Wilson's 1987 BBC interview here.


Marie Wilson

Enniskillen, 8 November 1987

Under the statue
    of the Unknown Soldier
a man prepares
    a bomb. He is
an unknown soldier.

The patron saint of warriors
    is Michael.
Between the unknown soldiers
    is a wall.
It is the gable
    of St Michael's Hall.

This was Remembrance Sunday.
    Poppy Day.
They came to hear
    the bugles in the square.
They did not count
    the unknown soldiers there.

Today there were no sermons.
    Unknown soldiers
said later it had not
    gone off as planned.
Under the bricks
    she held her father's hand.

Today there was no Last Post.
    Her last words
were "Daddy, I love you."
    He said he would trust
God. But her poppy
lay in the dust.

The protector of unknown soldiers
    is Michael.
The father is at the grave.
    A bell peals.
The name Michael
    means "God heals."

                    --From the anthology A Rage for Order: Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles, ed. Frank Ormsby (1947- ) (pub. 1992)

John Montague: Unmarked faces fierce with grief


Falls Funeral

Unmarked faces
fierce with grief

a line of children
led by a small coffin

the young
mourning the young

a sight beyond tears
beyond pious belief

David's brethren
in the Land of Goliath

      --John Montague (1929- ), in Contemporary Irish Poetry (1988). This poem refers to the Troubles, and Falls Road in West Belfast.

Derick Thomson: When I stood at his grave, I merely wanted home



A tall thin man
with a short beard,
and a plane in his hand:
whenever I pass
a joiner's shop in the city,
and the scent of sawdust comes to my mind,
memories return of that place,
with the coffins,
the hammers and nails,
saws and chisels,
and my grandfather, bent,
planing shavings
from a thin, bare plank.

Before I knew what death was;
or had any notion, a glimmering
of the darkness, a whisper of the stillness.
And when I stood at his grave,
on a cold Spring day, not a thought
came to me of the coffins
he made for others:
I merely wanted home
where there would be talk, and tea, and warmth.


And in the other school also,
where the joiners of the mind were planing,
I never noticed the coffins,
though they were sitting all round me;
I did not recognise the English braid,
the Lowland varnish being applied to the wood,
I did not read the words on the brass,
I did not understand that my race was dying.
Until the cold wind of this Spring came
to plane the heart;
until I felt the nails piercing me,
and neither tea nor talk will heal the pain.

    --Derick Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais) (1921- ), Scottish Gaelic poet. Translated by the poet; in Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems [Nua-Bhardachd Glaidhlic]. He is lamenting not only his grandfather but the Gaelic language and Highlands culture of his childhood in the Outer Hebrides, which is vanishing under the overwhelming cultural pressure of English. The death of their ancient culture is a major theme among modern writers in Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

When a language dies, a world dies.


Duin' àrd, tana
's fiasag bheag air,
's locair 'na làimh:
gach uair theid mi seachad
air bùth-shaoirsneachd sa' bhaile,
's a thig gu mo chuimhne faileadh na min-sàibh,
thig gu mo chuimhne cuimhne an àit ud,
le na cisteachan-laighe,
na h- ùird 's na tairgean,
na saibh 's na sgeilbean,
is mo sheanair crom,
is sliseag bho shliseag ga locradh
bho'n bhòrd thana lom.

Mus robh fhios agam dè bh' arm bàs;
beachd, bloigh fios, boillsgeadh
de'n dorchadas, fathann de'n t-sàmhchair.
'S nuair a sheas mi aig uaigh,
là fuar Earraich, cha dainig smuain
thugam air na cisteachan-laighe
a rinn esan do chàch:
'sann a bha mi 'g iarraidh dhachaidh,
far am biodh còmhradh, is tea, is blàths.

Is anns an sgoil eile cuideachd,
san robh saoir na h-inntinn a' locradh,
cha tug mi 'n aire do na cisteachan-laighe,
ged a bha iad 'nan suidhe mun cuairt orm;
cha do dh' aithnich mi 'm brèid Beurla,
an liomh Gallda bha dol air an fhiodh,
cha do leugh mi na facail air a' phràis,
cha do thuig mi gu robh mo chinneadh a' dol bàs.
Gus an dainig gaoth fhuar an Earraich-sa
a locradh a' chridhe;
gus na dh' fhairich mi na tairgean a' dol tromham,
's cha shlànaich tea no còmhradh an cràdh.

Proust: Pain faster than electricity


The force that goes around the world the most times in a second is not electricity but pain.

    --Marcel Proust (1871-1922), À la recherche du temps perdu (Albertine Disparue) p 79
Thanks to Evocations de La Recherche du temps perdu

La force qui fait le plus de fois le tour de la terre en une seconde, ce n'est pas l'électricité, c'est la douleur.

Baudelaire: The dark gulf where my heart has fallen


Out of the depths I cry

I beg for your pity, You, the only one I love,
from the bottom of the dark gulf where my heart has fallen.
It is a drab universe with a leaden horizon,
where horror and blasphemy swim in the night.

A sun without heat floats over six months,
and the six other months night covers the earth;
it is a country more naked than the polar land;
--no animals, nor streams, nor green, nor woods.

Now there is no horror in the world that's worse
than the cold cruelty of this icy sun
and this immense night resembling the Chaos of old,

I envy the lot of the lowest beasts
who can dive into a stupid sleep,
while the skein of time slowly unwinds!

      --Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), from Spleen

De profundis clamavi

J'implore ta pitié, Toi, l'unique que j'aime,
du fond du gouffre obscur où mon coeur est tombé.
C'est un univers morne à l'horizon plombé,
où nagent dans la nuit l'horreur et le blasphème;

un soleil sans chaleur plane au-dessus six mois,
et les six autres mois la nuit couvre la terre;
c'est un pays plus nu que la terre polaire;
--ni bêtes, ni ruisseaux, ni verdure, ni bois.

Or il n'est pas d'horreur au monde qui surpasse
la froide cruauté de ce soleil de glace
et cette immense nuit semblable au vieux Chaos;

je jalouse le sort des plus vils animaux
qui peuvent se plonger dans un sommeil stupide,
tant l'écheveau du temps lentement se dévide!

Edna Saint Vincent Millay: I cannot but remember how she disliked the cold


I cannot but remember
when the year grows old --
October -- November --
how she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows
go down across the sky,
and turn from the window
with a little sharp sigh.

And often when the brown leaves
were brittle on the ground,
and the wind in the chimney
made a melancholy sound,

She had a look about her
that I wish I could forget --
the look of a scared thing
sitting in a net!

Oh, beautiful at nightfall
the soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,
and the warmth of fur,
and the boiling of the kettle
were beautiful to her!

I cannot but remember
when the year grows old --
October -- November --
how she disliked the cold!

     --Edna Saint Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

John Hall Wheelock: I have forgotten you, long long ago

Sleep on—I lie at heaven’s high oriels,Oriel_venice
Over the stars that murmur as they go
Lighting your lattice-window far below;
And every star some of the glory spells
Whereof I know.
I have forgotten you, long long ago;
Like the sweet, silver singing of thin bells
Vanished, or music fading faint and low.
Sleep on—I lie at heaven’s high oriels,
Who loved you so.

        --"Nirvana," John Hall Wheelock (1888-1978). From The Second Book of Modern Verse (1919)

Henri Nouwen: The friend who can be silent with us


When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

  --Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), Belgian priest, from Out of Solitude (1974)