Enniskillen is the largest town in County Fermanagh, one of six counties within the province of Ulster that remained part, of the United Kingdom after the rest of Ireland began its journey to full independence when the Irish Free State was formed in 1921. But this division would leave a lasting legacy of bitterness among those nationalists who believed then and passionately continue to believe that their homeland should never have been partitioned. But the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland expressed equal conviction that remaining within the UK was essential, and set about molding a province that, sustained their pre-eminence at the expense of Ulster’s substantial Catholic minority.
This was the backdrop for ‘The Troubles’ – sectarian violence that erupted from 1969 after Catholics began agitating for improved civil rights and an end to Protestant discrimination – and marked the start of a 30-year armed struggle waged by the Provos (Provisional Irish Republican Army or IRA) against the status quo, as represented by Protestants and the ‘occupying’ British Army that swiftly arrived to try and keep the peace.
Two decades on the Provos (or elements thereof) planted a bomb in Enniskillen’s Reading Rooms, timed to go off on the morning of 1987’s Remembrance Sunday – the day set aside to commemorate soldiers (many of them Irish) who gave their lives in World War I. The blast was symbolically scheduled to attack the security forces in general and the British Army in particular. The violent explosion killed ten civilians, all Protestants, and one member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Another 63 people were injured. But the attack proved counterproductive. The world was horrified by the atrocity and Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, lost electoral support among Fermanagh’s Catholic population despite unconvincing denials that the IRAs Northern Command had sanctioned the bombing.
When: November 8 1987
Where: Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, UK
Death toll: 12 (11 at the time and one victim who died after being in a coma for 13 years).
You should know: To emphasize the IRA’s serious intention of creating mayhem on that Remembrance Sunday – and devalue its denial of ‘official’ involvement – a second and larger bomb was planted to devastate a wreath-laying ceremony at nearby Tullyhommon, attended by members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, spectators and a few uniformed representatives of the security forces. Mercifully, that one failed to explode.