Enniskillen bomb a turning point on road to peace – minister

A minister only months into the job when the Enniskillen bomb exploded near his church has described the atrocity as a potential turning point on Northern Ireland’s road to peace.

Six of the eleven people killed on November 8, 1987 in the IRA’s infamous Remembrance Sunday attack were members of Reverend David Cupples’ congregation.

A 12th victim of the blast, who died years later having never woken from a coma, was also a member of Enniskillen Presbyterian Church.

Thirty five years on from the Poppy Day bombing, Rev Cupples, who is now approaching retirement, has reflected on the day.

“I became minister on the 1st of September 1987 and the bomb happened on the 8th of November 1987, my tenth Sunday,” he said.

“So I was just 30 years of age and scarcely knew very many members of the congregation.

“Though I did in fact know the six people who were killed on that day and those who were injured, and the seventh person who died some years later from his injuries.

“I had been in all their homes and had begun to get to know them. They were very much the centre of church life.”

He added: “Our church building is very close to the cenotaph so there is a long tradition of folk from the church going to the British Legion ceremony at the cenotaph and then coming for our service, which we delayed by half an hour.”

The bomb went off as people were gathering at the town’s war memorial for the ceremony.

The device was planted in library reading rooms close to the memorial and the walls of the building collapsed on top of those waiting for the annual remembrance event to begin.

Rev Cupples said it was only by chance he was not standing alongside those members of his congregation who died, saying he had been held up at the church making last-minute preparations for the service later that morning.

Enniskillen bombing 35th anniversary
Relatives of those killed lay a wreath during an act of remembrance to mark the 35th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I’ve often asked myself why was I not standing with my elders, the members of my congregation, the young people from the bible class who were all lined along the pavement right in front of those rooms,” he said.

“And the answer actually is that I was delayed. I was behind in my preparations for the Sunday morning service.

“So I was sitting in my study feverishly making last-minute preparations when I heard the bomb go off.

“And so if I’d been better prepared, one might say I probably would have been standing there with them, and therefore probably wouldn’t be standing here today.

“So, it’s one of life’s mysteries, but that’s why I wasn’t there.”

The minister said the bomb was an “overwhelming experience” for the town,

“There’s a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then,” he said.

Enniskillen bombing 35th anniversary
Rev David Cupples, minister of Enniskillen Presbyterian Church (Liam McBurney/PA)

“My first thoughts are for the families of those who died. Those families have all been on separate journeys.

“When you think of something like that happening and affecting so many different people, you know that there is never going to be one voice or one single way that people deal with that, and while they’re all united in their grief and in wanting to remember their loved ones, they’ve all gone on separate journeys.

“I think of them and pray and wonder where they’ve got to on their journey of dealing with this pain.”

Rev Cupples said a service in Enniskillen Presbyterian on the anniversary was organised to provide families with an opportunity to “take another step forward on the road to finding peace and inner healing”.

“On the broader canvas, I think it is the view of many that the Enniskillen bomb exposed maybe more than many other atrocities the futility of violence,” he said.

“And it may, when the history books are written, it may prove to have been a turning point on the road to some greater measure of peace and stability.”