Readers recall awful day bombers targeted town

Banbridge Bomb.
Banbridge Bomb.

LAST Thursday marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist bomb which devastated the heart of Banbridge on August 1, 1998.

Fifteen years ago the town became caught up in one of the most tragic times in Northern Ireland’s history, plunging to one of the lowest depths in our bloody history a fortnight later with the Omagh bomb which killed 33 people.

While casualties were somehow kept to a minimum in Banbridge - police were given a mere 20 minute warning to evacuate everyone - the cost of the damage caused ran into millions of pounds as the commercial heart of the town was ripped to shreds.

It took days for some businesses to re-open, for some it took months and even years to return to their original premises. Some, however, never returned.

But the true spirit of the people Banbridge was to win through in the end as they rallied together to put the town back together piece by piece to send a clear message to the Real IRA bombers - that terrorism would never win.

To mark the 15th anniversary, the Leader asked readers to reveal their personal memories of that day; where they were in the town and what they were doing on the unforgettable date of August 1, 1998. Here are a selection of comments:

Stuart Magill: I was at the back of Supervalu at the time the bomb went off, a noise I’ll never forget. The town has been rebuilt into one of the most beautiful main streets in the country.

Alison Logue: I was on Kenlis Street. An almighty bang followed by loads of smoke. I was heavily pregnant at the time. First time I’ve ever witnessed anything like it in my life....and the last I HOPE. Then town recovered well. Looks better than it ever did.

Philip Mackey: I lived out in Katesbridge at the time and I remember hearing the explosion and thinking it was closer to the house than it actually was. I drove into the town that night and I was amazed that nobody had been killed.

Anne Campbell: I came out of McCracken’s chemist half a hour before the bomb went off.

Ryan Evans: I was in Newry playing for Glenavon reserves in a friendly and just remember driving back into town via old Newry Road and could see smoke and police everywhere.

Elaine Moody: I was working in Windsor Bakery, Bridge Street. The worst bit was not knowing that my co-workers in the top Windsor Bakery were all ok. Thankfully and amazingly they were by the grace of God.

Holly Louise Mitchell: I was in Banbridge when it went off. I was six-years-old and can remember it like it was yesterday! Luckily we just moved out of range from the explosion but some weren’t as lucky.

William McCahon: I was working in Wellies (Woolworths) on the day. I remember evacuating the customers out of the shop. We had had a few bomb scares in the recent weeks but this one felt different. We were in the back car park when it went off. Bits of the car landed not too far from were we had all gathered. The very next day all the staff met in the back car park at 6am determined to get our store up and running ASAP. We worked 14-16 hour shifts every day that week and had most of the shop open by Thursday if I recall correctly. We were undefeated and two weeks later, after Omagh, we trully realised how lucky we were.

Sarah Molloy-Preedy: I had been at Sprucefield shopping with my aunt. I arrived back in town to find my dad’s pharmacy demolished. I will never forget being on Commercial Road seeing the firefighter spraying water from above and jumping out of the car to try and find out what had happened to my mum and dad. One of my worst moments until I found them, thankfully they got out.

Ryan Smith: I was eight at the time and remember getting collected from the old swimming pool. We were coming home to our new house that we hadn’t yet settled into and I just remember hearing the bang and a mushroom cloud of smoke.

Ellen Wilson: I was in the Downshire Hotel with my sisters. I will never forget it.

Christina Sinton Gorman: We were over from the States for a wedding the day before. Banbridge is my husband’s home. I had been there for almost a month and was three-plus weeks away from the due date of our first child. It was such a gorgeous day we were spending it in town. We (my husband and sister - her first trip to NI) were in Houstons doing some final shopping for the baby when the police came in and cleared the store. Our car was parked across the street, we drove home up the Ballygowan Road, walked in the door and within three mins there was a loud bang. The whole house shook. My dad and brother-in-law were also in town and it was near an hour before we heard they were okay. As people arrived to the house, we spent the afternoon contacting family and friends, making sure everyone was accounted for. I remember most people were concerned that I would go into labour early, but we did get on our flight the next day - that was one of the most difficult times we had to say goodbye. Our son arrived 17 days later. We travel back to Banbridge every year with our two sons. It has been wonderful to watch the town rebuild, flourish, and it is our second home. Our son turns 15 in a couple of weeks... where has the time gone?

Anita Savage: I was walking towards Supervalu with my one-year-old son in his buggy when a lady touched my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t go any further. There’s a bomb.’ I turned to tell my mum who had stopped to talk to a friend. When I turned to thank the lady she had gone; no sign of her. We headed down towards Iceland where I had parked my car when there was a massive bang. The bomb had gone off. If that lady hadn’t stopped me we would have been beside it. When I told my mum about it she said she hadn’t seen anyone. I never saw her before or since. I do believe she was my Guardian angel that day. I will always be grateful to that lady. Whoever she is she saved us on that awful day. I will never forget it. God bless her and keep our town safe.

Paul Wilkinson: I was with Stuart Magill and a few other mates at the back of Supervalu. We were heading to get ice-cream when we where redirected down the back of Supervalu. Then the bomb went off. Two weeks’ later the same terrorist organisation carried out the Omagh bombing. How easily Banbridge could have been Omagh.

Serina McFadden: I was actually away with the St John Ambulance Banbridge Cadets with other divisions from the Down area, and also from Dublin, when we were all told what happened. I was concerned in case my family were caught up in it and also for my granda who lived in Anderson’s Court. Thankfully no-one was hurt; my sister and cousin who had been up the town at the time got to my grandad’s just in good time.

Sarah Molloy-Preedy: The town was used to bomb scares. I remember a previous one when we went from the pharmacy into Donaghy’s Shoes. Peter pulled down the shutters and we waited it out. I remember my dad saying this was different. When he got the call to evacuate he went to the front of the shop, the car was parked right outside. He said he saw the car was down at the back and it was obvious there was something heavy in it. He made his staff run. Thankfully they all got out safe. I remember going to see the site the next day. Such senseless destruction. But the people of Banbridge were amazing. In the days that followed, dad started making plans to reopen. One of his older patients came to him on the street. She was in tears and give dad an envelope containing money. She had drawn out her savings to help him out. He never forgot the town’s kindness until the day he died.

Carly Mcclimonds: I was working in the top Windsor Bakery out the back. I remember the noise and some staff being pushed into the wall with the force. Very scary, thankfully no one was hurt.

Hayley Russell: I was at a pipe band contest in Portrush with many Banbridge people. I just remember everyone on phones when the news came through. Everyone was worried for family at home. Then two weeks later we were at the World Pipe Band Championships when Omagh was hit. We had a band member whose wife was caught up in it. Unfortunately the wife of a friend from another band was killed that day. He was told over the phone. Sad days.