Volume 4 Number 2
A Father's Love
01 February 1991
Gordon Wilson and his daughter Marie, a 20-year-old nurse, were buried under six feet of rubble when the IRA bombed a Remembrance Day gathering in the Northern Irish town of Enniskillen in 1987. Marie was one of 11 who died in the blast.
Marie A story from Enniskillen
by Gordon Wilson
with Alf McCreary Marshall Pickering, UK.
Gordon Wilson and his daughter Marie, a 20-year-old nurse, were buried under six feet of rubble when the IRA bombed a Remembrance Day gathering in the Northern Irish town of Enniskillen in 1987. Marie was one of 11 who died in the blast. Many others were injured and the full horror of the event reverberated around the world.
But it was Gordon Wilson's account of the tragedy, reported by a local TV crew who knew the family, which, even more than the event itself, riveted the attention of the world.
Alf McCreary, an award-winning Belfast journalist who has helped Wilson in writing this book, describes being transfixed by ,one of the most heart-rending, vivid and yet magnificent interviews I had ever heard'. Wilson told the TV crew how he and his daughter held hands under the rubble as her life ebbed away. Her last words to her father were, `Daddy, I love you very much.'
Wilson continued that, though he had lost his daughter, `I bear no ill will.... Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back.... She's in Heaven, and we'll meet again.... I know there has to be a plan.... It's part of a greater plan and God is good.'
Some wondered if Wilson was suffering from shock when he gave this interview. How could he say such things? At the same time, his remarks provoked an overwhelming response. The Queen paid tribute to him in her Christmas Day broadcast while BBC radio listeners voted him Man of the Year.
The book is as much about the family's handling of the tragedy and its aftermath as it is a tribute to Marie herself. It makes it clear that his remarks were the outpouring of a deeply devout man of God. Marie, the warm-hearted, fun-loving girl, the apple of her father's eye, was gone. But he holds onto his belief that they will meet again. And, anyway, revenge can serve no useful purpose. To think that it could just isn't in Gordon Wilson's make-up. Forgiveness is so much greater.
More important, his remarks struck a chord across Northern Ireland's religious divide. A life-long Methodist, Wilson felt he should attend a Roman Catholic service of memorial for the Enniskillen victims. His church minister offered to accompany him. When they arrived at the church, they were ushered to the front. Wilson noticed that the congregation was standing and applauding. He looked to see if the Cardinal was arriving, only to realize that the applause was for them. `I was totally flabbergasted. I could not believe my eyes or ears.' It was an appropriate tribute to a man whose only desire was `to be a friend to all, and an enemy of none'.
Several such incidents point to another side of life in Northern Ireland every bit as real as the bombings and killings. As Wilson repeatedly says himself, the rest of the world may not always realize that the vast majority in the province simply want to get on with living their daily lives in peace and harmony. And while the politicians work for solutions to `the troubles',the Gordon Wilsons of life, and countless unsung heroes like him, break the chains of hate and bring healing.
Understandably, Wilson is wary of being regarded as the voice of Enniskillen. After all, other families suffered as much as his. Nor has he been tempted to use the publicity surrounding him to launch a peace initiative. For peace cannot be engineered, it can only be born in a thousand, a million human hearts. At the same time heartening initiatives have followed the tragedy - such as the annual bursaries sponsored by both the British and Canadian governments which allow young Catholics and Protestants together to visit communities in other countries. Known as `the spirit of Enniskillen' these visits have had a profound effect on the thinking of the young people involved. They go a long way to demonstrating Gordon Wilson's belief that out of great evil an even greater good can follow.
The Anglican Bishop of Clogher, Brian Hannon, has said that Enniskillen `could be a turning point in the history of the troubles'. Three years on and the bombs are still going off. Yet his prophecy may still be proved right if, as a result of the spirit of Enniskillen, those who are tempted to the methods of the armalite and the semtex decisively choose to reject them. They will be the ones to prove that Marie Wilson did not die in vain.
Gordon Wilson's story is profoundly moving. Any father who knows what it is to love a daughter will find it difficult to read it without tears. To this day, he and his wife Joan still pray for the bombers, in the belief that the perpetrators will, one day, have to come to terms with their consciences - and with their Maker. As Wilson concludes his story, for him `the bottom line is love'.