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Omagh reaches out to Manchester

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Omagh reaches out to Manchester thumbnailStudents from Sacred Heart College, Omagh, about to board the ferry at Holyhead yesterday (Tuesday) as they returned safely from their trip to Manchester.

A TERRORIST attack in Manchester on Monday night has sent shockwaves around Omagh and the wider area stoking up memories of a similar tragedy in the town 19 years ago.

Locals have turned the thought of terror to one of hope and compassion and have already begun reaching out to offer victims support and solidarity in this most difficult time.

Meanwhile it has emerged that a Strabane woman and her teenage daughter are today coming to terms with the terror attack.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, said her daughter had attended the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena with a group of friends when the blast occurred. Both were reunited and are safe and well, despite enduring a terrifying experience at the hands of cold-hearted terrorists.

At the time of going to press police had confirmed that at least 22 people were killed in the explosion. Some of them are children. Officers said a further 59 people were injured amid reports of at least one explosion that hit the venue shortly after the concert finished. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, confirmed the incident was a terrorist attack as she addressed cameras outside Downing Street yesterday. Police and security services believe they have identified the bomber, but no name has yet been announced, she said.

There was anxiety locally, too, as a group of 48 schoolchildren and teachers from the Sacred Heart College in Omagh were in Manchester for a school trip. They had attended the Manchester United v Crystal Palace match on Sunday. Shortly after the explosion the school posted on Facebook that their party was nowhere near the scene of the explosion and all were well.

A further post appeared on Tuesday as they boarded a ferry at Holyhead and added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those caught up in the Manchester tragedy."

Another local connection, Brian McNamee, from Sixmilecross, is just back from Manchester after completing four years at the Northern College of Music. He spent most of yesterday, (Tuesday), connecting with colleagues and students who had attended the concert.

The assistant musical director with Omagh Community Choir said he was very sad watching events unfold on television and regarded the city as having a very happy blend of ethnic cultures from all over the world.

"After finishing college I stayed in Manchester teaching music at a few colleges there and I know several of my students and friends were at the concert. Thankfully I've been in touch with most of them. I've also been in touch with the schools and they've had no reports of anyone missing. They are all devastated. I'm sitting here on tender hooks hoping to hear no bad news."

He revealed the police had carried out a controlled explosion not far from where he lived in their follow-up operations.

"What happened was completely unrepresentative of the Manchester I know and live in. When you see the size and situation it brings a lot of Omagh back," he said.

The effect of the Manchester bomb is also being felt here in Tyrone.

Omagh Support and Self Help group, which was established in the wake of the terrible atrocity that visited the town almost two decades ago, has reacted to the event.

Its spokesman, Michael Gallagher, said like everyone else, Monday's night's events had evoked feelings that ranged from shock to anger. Mr Gallagher lost his won, Aiden, in the Omagh bomb horror of 1998 which claimed the lives of 29 and unborn twins.

"You have all the terrible emotions you get when you hear people have died, particularly young people in a most brutal way."

He added their thoughts and prayers went out to the families and those who were in hospital recovering.

"It just sets you back when you know the long journey those families will have to go down. It seems nearly impossible to stop maniacs who want to do this, waste their own lives and the lives and futures of young people. It could not have been a softer target, people out to enjoy themselves and now their whole world has been turned upside down." he said.

He added 11 young people, 11 mothers and all the other age groups across the community, from grandmother to unborn children all died in Omagh.

"We know the traumatic experience that is going to cause in their families, their communities and their wider circles. It takes terror into every aspect of people's lives"

Mr Gallagher said the Omagh group would, in due course of time, reach out to those involved in Manchester to offer support.

"Of course we will assist in any way we can," he said.

Michael's daughter, Cat Wilkinson, who is also involved with the group, said a television programme they had done with presenter Aled Jones, called 'Going Back Giving Back' which featured survivors of the Omagh bombing was due to be broadcast on BBC 1 tomorrow, Thursday, at 9.15pm, had been pulled as a result of what had happened.

"The show was pulled today (Tuesday) because of the impact of the terror attack. They've decided to pull the series because it's all about loss as a mark of respect to the families.

She added the Omagh group was currently working with one of the victims of the Tunisian attack of nearly two years ago, a 15-year-old girl and stressed their work with her had shown them how important it was to deal with the effects of such an incident on young people in particular.

"People only think about those injured and the bereaved but they don't think about the young children that were there, the witnesses, many of whom carry a thing called 'survivors guilt' which is fear and anxiety they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. The important part now is to get them support, counselling and professional services they need," she said.

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