“I know Bombers”


by the Rev. Dr Gary Mason

East Belfast Methodist Mission

gary mason


shankill bombing

On the 23rd October 1993 I stood outside the Mater hospital on the Crumlin Road in Belfast with my arms around Alan McBride whose wife Sharon had just been murdered by an IRA bomber in the Shankill bombing. His words still echo in my mind, “She’s gone, she’s gone.” I had gotten to know Alan and Sharon while doing theology at QUB and one of my ministerial placements was at their home church as I trained to be an ordained minister. I had read the scripture reading at their wedding a few years earlier to that fateful October day. That evening of the 23rd October I was at the bedside of Wilma McKee a few hours before she died another victim of the Shankill IRA bomber, Wilma just 38 years of age had been relieved by the news she was clear of cancer just 24 hours before her untimely death. As I left the side hospital room I met her family clinging to any sort of hope I could offer them in a catastrophic situation, I can still close my eyes and see the raw pain on their faces in that hospital corridor. I got home that evening late having been out all day comforting those caught up in that nightmare and I cried myself to sleep. I know better than most about bombers.

david ervine

I know the awful devastation that IRA bombers and indeed any bomber can visit on the lives of the innocent. I conducted the service of the most famous UVF bomber turned peacemaker and loyalist politician David Ervine in January 2007. We became good friends.

Almost by accident I got caught up in the furore that has surrounded the visit of the Brighton bomber Patrick Magee to the East Belfast Mission’s Skainos site on Thursday evening past. The event was not organised by East Belfast Mission, Skainos or I, but by another group the 4 Corners Festival, a Christian festival held to promote Christian unity across the city of Belfast.

I felt however that the event painful as it was to some should go ahead, peacemaking is incredibly risky. Those who protested outside East Belfast Mission may or may not have sat at the bedsides of those dying from bomb injuries or sat at the bedside of the late David Ervine as he breathed his last breath, the bomber turned peacemaker. I know better than most about bombers.

In a sentence if you ask me why Patrick Magee was allowed on the premises of East Belfast Mission in the loyalist heartland of East Belfast, it is simple I do not want anymore Patrick Magee’s.

I know bombers; I know firsthand the pain they can inflict and as a follower of Jesus Christ if a controversial dialogue stops anyone else ever planting a bomb on this island I am going to dialogue and take risks for peace.

the queen

To those protestors outside the Mission this may seem strange, but most of you were quite young, you have I hope an amazing future ahead of you free I hope from bombers. I do not want to be visiting you as a clergy person in a bloodied bed or conducting your funeral in a few years time, the victim of a dissident bomber. The site you stood on to protest was the site where the British secretary of State Dr. John Reid met the Loyalist Commission in July 2002, to pave a way forward for loyalists to embrace the peace process. It was the site where the late David Ervine was buried from in January 2007 and also the site from where the UVF and the RHC did their decommissioning statement in June 2009. It was the site where Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh came in March 2008 to commend the work of the loyalist East Belfast community.

patrick Magee

I also hope that it may be the site that took a risk in listening to an IRA bomber who maybe just maybe will speak into the lives of young Republicans who may want to be dissident bombers and ask them to think about another way. You never know to those outside protesting last night, maybe this event just saved your lives from a future dissident Republican bomber.

I hope so, because as a Christian minister who has spent 27 years working in the inner city of Belfast never more than 200 metres from an interface, through some of the most savage acts of this conflict, I want your young life’s to be free from bombers. The words of dialogue however difficult are never as loud or as damaging as the bombs that have bloodied this place for decades.

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22 Responses to “I know Bombers”

  1. ken says:

    Thanks, Gary. Good piece of work. God bless


  2. Barry says:

    Thank You Gary for your powerful and prophetic witness.

  3. David Boal says:

    I would just like to say that is due to you Gary and others being prepared to offer the hand of peace to people of different outlooks to yourself that enables us to move to a more peaceful future. I would also like to add (apologies if I mis quote). Those who forget to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

  4. Avila Kilmurray says:

    A very appropriate response. It is all too easy to condemn but very difficult to seek to understand, remember and change. As you say, peacebuilding is never easy.

  5. Stephen Cooper says:

    I think a more pertinent issue is the fact that Patrick Magee still refuses to condemn the IRA’s campaign.
    Until terrorists like him repent, there will always be difficulty accepting the immoral stance and denial of the murderous past which he and his colleagues were directly involved in.
    The future should be one with the people responsible for the dark days of genocide left behind and shunned by the electorate, but unfortunately, the lessons from the past show the next generation that violence pays and is rewarded with seats in government and a continuous flow of concessions to prevent further violence.
    Until that fundamental is addressed and corrected, the perpetual cycle of violence and threat of same will continue unabated whilst the law abiding majority are sedated with the propaganda from all and sundry that unless they accept, they will be to blame for any escalation of disorder and somehow labelled as extreme or against peace.
    It is regrettable that Magee and others of his ilk are this side of a prison cell, and I find it offensive that he cannot bring himself to at the very least apologise for his murderous deliberate actions.

    • Harold Good says:

      Thanks Gary
      The wording of your timely statement stands in stark contrast to
      the expletives showered upon us as we made our way into Skainos
      on Thursday night. It surely deserves a wider readership !
      Belfast Tele, Newsletter and Irish News take note !
      Well done and thank you.
      Harold Good

      • Andrew Gowdy says:

        Gary this is such an important and timely statement. I only hope that people will reflect and move forward more progressively.

        • Stephen Cooper says:

          Or, even better, insist on justice for the many victims, and punishment for the perpetrators, rather than weak claptrap aimed at excusing the most heinous of crimes against humanity.
          That would be a worthy legacy for the next generation.

  6. Basil McCrea says:

    Soft, eloquent, but powerful Gary Mason’s words resonate. Those that aspire to lead must find away to communicate with those that will not listen, that cannot be reasoned with, that lack the ability to create a future. Gary conveys the human tragedy that many suffered but that I cannot fully understand because it did not happen to me. I can empathise but I can do more. We can all do more. We must all speak out against those whose actions will drag us back to hell and not just those who were on the streets. Those that oppose any form of engagement must also be challenged, for they have no strategy other than venting their own outrage. It takes courage to speak out against the bully boys but righteous indignation provides no solution.

    • Andrew Gowdy says:

      Basil I think that Gary’s words are so powerful and insightful. You are right we as a society must move forward in a more progressive manner and it is up to all of us to rightly condemn the appalling behaviour witness at Skanios. This centre that has been rightly praised for being a positive development within lower East Belfast. Well done for raising the profile of this and giving an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our responsibility to create a better society to ensure that our past mistakes are not repeated.

  7. Peter Mercer says:

    Well done Gary for having the courage to allow this to take place at Skainos. “Methodists are the friends of all and the enemies of none” should not be empty words. As for the statement that Patrick Magee has not apologised for the IRA campaign, those who crucified Jesus did not apologise to him and yet he said, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

    • Stephen Cooper says:

      So are you seriously suggesting that bomber magee and the provo leadership were not cognisant of exactly what they were doing?

      Your inappropriate analogy is apt to your immoral position and perhaps you might spare a thought for the likes of the victims of magee’s meticulously planned dastardly deed, like Lord Tebbit who has honourably looked after his wife after her being severely injured by the cowards that magee and the joint first minister refuse to condemn.

  8. jim costello says:

    While I want people all over this land to get on with each other, I can’t see howPatrick Magee can persuade young republicans from getting involved with dissedents when he still stands over the killings he committed. This man has shown no remorse for his acts.

  9. Michael High says:

    I’ve felt the pressure wave from a couple of large bombs in my time. I wasn’t close enough to either to be personally affected, but close enough to know that I don’t want to feel the air being sucked out of my lungs again.

    Until that event at the Skainos centre, I’d never met a bomber, or at least not to my knowledge. I’ve met at least one murderer, to my knowledge, and I have to recognise that the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-22 puts me in the same league as those who have murdered.

    Before hearing Jo Berry and Pat Magee, I would have been very quick to bang in my criticism of some of the comments on this blog made in response to Garry’s article. Thursday showed me the transformative power of listening.

    I’ve not been affected personally by any paramilitaries or protestors (My deepest gratitude to the PSNI for keeping me safe on Thursday). Consequently I was not listening out for any apology or condemnation from Pat Magee. What I did hear was that Pat stated without any equivocation that the current campaign by the dissident republicans is unjustified and unacceptable. I also clearly heard him say that he could not stand over all the actions of the republicans of his generation. That puts him, to my mind anyway, in the good company of the Prime Minister who apologised for some of the past actions of the British State. As I recall it, I’ve even heard Her Majesty the Queen speaking of things which we wished had never happened. As for his actions in placing the Brighton bomb, I heard Pat Magee say that he now deeply regrets many of the consequences of his actions.

    Now by contrast to Pat Magee, I’ve lead a quiet and, many would say, privileged life. I also know that ‘repentance’, like ‘forgiveness’, is a technical and religious term that has an immeasurably broad definition. I heard Pat Magee say that he continues to have a large ‘closet’ of memories of his actions that he continuously reviews and reflects upon. I can only conclude that Pat knows far more about repentance than I do. Has he made peace with his maker yet? I don’t know. However from what I heard, he does not exhibit the stiff necked, hard hearted attitude of many who think they’ve got personal repentance sorted.

    I was surprised by what I heard, and more especially by what I didn’t hear about forgiveness. Like many in the audience with a faith tradition, I was looking out for some magnanimous words on forgiveness. They either weren’t there or I just missed them. On Jo’s part, forgiveness seems to be something in the past that was necessary, but was private and not conditional upon the remorse of the perpetrator. What I did hear her speak of was the pain inflicted on her by criticism of her actions, which have been interpreted as forgiveness. Lord Tebbit was cited as accusing her of betraying her father, who was killed by the Brighton bomb. My mother-in-law, like Gordon Wilson many years later, was subject to much media attention for making a public statement of forgiveness towards the IRA murderers of her loved one. This has all made me wonder whether we prefer ‘our’ victims not to forgive because it gives us a hold over our idealogical opponents. We justify our condemnation because ‘they’ have not shown remorse. After all, I didn’t like hearing the PM apologise for the events of Bloody Sunday, but in my heart of hearts I knew that it was the right thing to say.

    The point of all this rambling on my part is that listening to others helps me better understand not only ‘them’ but also myself. Listening hurts no one and may heal many. Protesting against those who listened hurt four police officers.

  10. Geordie Abbs says:

    Gary I welcome your comments and I salute your peace building ethos. I fear however that we have failed to connect with the generation who never knew the troubles, and that we have not fully recognised that the future is in their hands. While the combatants of our generation delivered peace, it is the Facebook people as one commentator called them who hold the power to maintain it.

  11. alanna north says:

    Thank you for doing what you do Gary. People like you will help bring peace. We all need forgiveness and understanding in our hearts to be able to move on.

    What people forget is we are all the same. We love northern ireland and want to be happy….violence is not the way to achieve that! Its talking to one another that leads to understading that will lead to peace. People are not being asked to forget what has happened but use it to move on to a better future for all.

    Thank you gary for doing what you do and keep going

  12. paul gallagher says:

    There was a packed house at the Skainos centre last week for the Four Corners event, which featured Patrick Magee and Jo Berry talking about their experiences after the Brighton Bomb in 1984. There may have been even more there but for the ‘protest’ that was taking place at the front doors. There were many different people from all backgrounds in the audience and this came to the fore during the Q&A session afterwards.
    One woman, Mary Brady, stood up holding a picture of her husband. She told the audience that her husband, Patrick Brady, was killed ‘in retaliation’ for the 1984 bombing. It brought to me the tit for tat, cycle of vengeful violence that has traumatised our community for years. Killing after killing after killing.
    Thankfully, to some degree this has ceased. There are still families out there who are suffering and will continue to suffer until violence is seen as having no place in our society and in our body politic.
    Another speaker that night was Jim Wilson who is well known in East Belfast and makes frequent appearances on the Nolan Show. He had said that he came along on the night to confront Patrick Magee and all that he represents. He came to challenge the Republican justification for ‘the war’. He did this in the face of a very vocal, aggressive and antagonistic crowd of masked and abusive protesters who had gathered outside the event.
    Looking back on his question and observations, I feel that he may have had other motives than just confrontation. I feel like many others who were there that night that he had come to listen. He had come to hear the other story. He had come to pose himself questions. Not just about how the IRA decided that violent armed struggle could be justified but how could loyalists justify their armed actions. The dialogue between Jim Wilson and Patrick Magee was one of both men looking in the mirror and seeing each other. Wilson asked Magee to justify the war, Magee responded that he could see no other way at the time. The same questions could have been asked of both men and both would have given the same answers. Jim Wilson stated that there was no justification for the IRA campaign but I think that he failed to recognise that this could be true of the loyalist justifications for their war.
    Nevertheless, they were there in the same room, together. They may not agree with each other on their political identity but they were talking. They had entered into dialogue. They were in a room in East Belfast talking about the past, present and future.
    I was there too. That is the purpose of the Four Corners Festival. To bring people from across the four corners of our city to the other corner. To places they have never visited before. To take them out of their comfort zone and to meet new people. To open our city up. To hear the difficult conversations and to ask the hard questions. I felt good that I had been welcomed into the safe place that was the Skainos centre. The same could not be said of the perimeter.
    When my girlfriend and I left the building we met Mary Brady. She was attempting to get back to her car. It was parked beside what was now the scene of a riot. We took her in my car past this scene. Riot police on one side of the Newtownards Road and a screaming torrent of abuse and missiles on the other side. When Mary got out of the car there was questioning and suspicion of who were were and whether we had been in the Skainos Centre but we were able to evade and make our escape back to the relative safety of the West.
    This will not put me off visiting all parts of my city to engage in reconciliation and peacebuilding and I hope that others will do the same. Furthermore, I hope that those who are engaged in peacebuilding and dialogue in their ‘own’ parts of Belfast are undeterred by those who would try to silence them with fireworks, bricks, kicks, intimidation and abuse.

  13. John Howcorft says:

    a beautifal testimony dedicated to building peace

  14. Brendan Mackin says:

    Gary ,an appropriate Response at a difficult time .Dialogue ,knowledge and acceptance of difference are the fundamentals of peace and a maturing society .Those of us who are engaged in the on going process of peace-building just have to accept the
    opinions of those who disagree and find ways to engage with them,even if we disagree with their response and or tactics.

  15. Glenn Bradley says:

    A great witness Gary that reminded me (yes the non Christian me) of the gospel accounts of Jesus and the actual directions & leadership example he gave for all future followers.

    Keep the faith chum.

  16. George Howard says:

    I am moved by each word I have read in this blog. I can not even imagine the journey you are on, though I have been praying from afar for almost 35 years. You are each an answer to those prayers as you struggle for healing and peace in your own way. May you continue to listen to one another seeking ways forward towards healing, even if takes generations to complete. Your daily steps, regardless of their size, are a witness to the world.

  17. Liam Harron says:

    Thanks for sharing this with me Gary. I have posted it on “REAL” and intend to publish it as a PRE article.

    Love and God Bless, Liam

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