The Loss of Innocents
by Maria Faulconer
Photography by Jane McBee
This article first appeared in Springs Magazine, June 1999
Part I: Omagh Through the Eyes of the Children
Six-year-old Andrew grabs my hand and leads me through the wind-lashed streets of Omagh to the stone wall off Market Street, the site of Northern Ireland's worst bombing since The Troubles began in the late sixties.
There, amidst clusters of stuffed teddy bears and woolly lambs left by scores of grieving children, he engages me with earnest eyes. "I wish for every bomber to be arrested, every last one of them, and all their guns be broken because then we'd have peace in this land." Then, as almost an afterthought, he adds, "I would mush up the wee bullets to make new things like tractors and trailers."
Hope springs from tragedy, through the eyes of a child.
Barely one month after the bombing, I find myself in Omagh, interviewing children for a book I am writing. A friend and photographer, Jane McBee, is accompanying me. American friends cautioned us against traveling to Northern Ireland. "It's too dangerous," they said. "You shouldn't be going there." Irish friends were horrified that we would even consider photographing children by the bombsite. "You will traumatize them," some said.
Yet, it is Andrew's father, the head teacher at an integrated primary school in Omagh, who drives us downtown, who leads us to that barbed wire fence off Market Street. "The world must not forget what happened here," he says.
We want to make sure it doesn't.
Jagged tips of bombed-out buildings stand in stark relief against a cold, gray sky as Jane kneels to take Andrew's photograph. A car swerves toward us and a man rolls down his window, "Stop taking those f---photos," he screams.
My stomach lurches, and I reach for Andrew, but he doesn't flinch. "You'll see that here," says his father. "There is so much rage, so much helplessness."
Until the bombing, Omagh was a quiet, rural town without any incidents of violence. Townspeople still can't believe that it could happen in their city...
Part 2: Columbine
Barely eight months after the bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, tragedy struck again, this time at a suburban high school in Littleton, Colorado. When the shooting ended, fifteen people lay dead, among them the two teenaged gunmen. Kids shooting kids. Shortly after the tragedy, photographer Jane McBee and I traveled to Littleton to speak with children, again, looking for answers. What we found astounded us.
Although the situations were very different--the Irish bombing stemming from a long-standing ideological conflict, the American shooting a personal vendetta--the effects of that violence on the phyches of the children in both countries was startingly similar; shock that it could happen in their cities coupled with an attendant lost of personal safety. Not surprisingly then, the similarities between the American and the Irish children's wishes were extraordinary, leaving me to wonder: When will we listen to the voices of our children?
...One week after the Columbine shooting, Jane and I visit the memorial site at Robert Clement Park with a group of moms and their young children. A mile long paper chain in soft pastel colors, each line individually inscribed, stretches from tree to tree around the perimeter of the park...Thousands of memorials line the park and the adjacent student parking lot--mountains of flowers and balloons, candles and letters, many scrawled in crayon.
...The mountains are etched in gray as we wander back to our cars. A newscaster in a black suit adjusts his tie under the glare of a camera. Children's laughter echoes in a nearby park. A soccer team begins practice in the rain. A large banner drifts between two trees, signed by hundreds of children; in large black letters are the words, "Life goes on, but we must never forget."
"Loss of Innocents" placed second in the National Writer's Association Denver Chapter Non-Fiction Writing Contest, June 1999.