By Leona O’Neill
A powerful exhibition focusing on Northern Ireland’s Troubles which is being described as a ‘kaleidoscope of heartache and resilience’ will open in Omagh on Friday.
‘200 Words and One Picture’, which has been designed by North-West News Group, explores the profound impact of the Troubles on individual lives and features victims of the violence, paramilitaries and ordinary people living through our troubled times.
Among others it features Richard Moore, who was blinded by a soldier’s rubber bullet as a child, James Greer, a former UDA man on realising the madness that he got sucked into. John Adair talks about growing up at the height of the Troubles in Strabane and Emmet Doyle talks about the night Lyra McKee was murdered on the streets of Creggan.
Organised by Towards Understanding and Healing in Derry, the exhibition now features contributions from over 50 people that according to exhibition organiser, Eamonn Baker is a ‘kaleidoscope of heartache and resilience’.
“This process has been deeply moving,” he says. “I have been privileged to hear sometimes heartbreaking stories from people from widely diverse community backgrounds. We are very grateful to all our contributors, young and old, who have bravely shared their stories.”
One participant, former UDA man James Greer, spoke of his ‘epiphany’ speaking to a fellow loyalist prisoner.
“I wasn’t long in before I met ‘Sammy’ – not his real name,” he says. “He told me the story of what got him arrested. He had shot dead a Catholic shopkeeper, then his wife and had only missed out narrowly on shooting their young daughter, who had somehow managed to dodge his bullets.
“He was gloating and frustrated that he had not killed the child. I think he expected a pat on the back from me, or maybe he just needed to talk, to confide… In my gut I was horrified. To the UDA men around me I went on looking the part. In my own mind I was realising the craziness I was part of. I call that conversation my ‘epiphany’. If this was what being in the UDA mean, I wanted out.”
Sylvia Porter, sister of 32-year-old part-time UDR man Olven Kilpatrick who was murdered by the IRA at his shoe shop in Castlederg in 1990, spoke about her brother’s killing.
“I just remember it coming on the news,” she says. “It was like an ordinary death. You just got up the next day after the burial and got on. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t cry for years, never cried. I took it that bad. After Olwen was buried, my whole body just closed down. I was on top of an open fire and I didn’t feel the heat. I was shivering. It must have been the shock. My whole body from top to toe came out in a rash, it was the trauma. I was in shock for years. Every morning I woke, he was in my head, every morning.”
The exhibition opens in Strule Arts Centre in Omagh on Friday, January 10 at 7pm. There will be an opportunity to meet some of the contributors and hear their stories then and also at 11am on Tuesday, January 14. The exhibition runs until Saturday, January 25. Admission is free.