Gordon Wilson (peace campaigner)
Gordon Wilson with his wife Joan
25 September 1925|
Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, Ireland
|Died||27 June 1995
Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
|Occupation||draper, peace campaigner, politician|
|Known for||forgiving IRA bombers and opposing Loyalist revenge|
Gordon Wilson (25 September 1927 — 27 June 1995) was an Irish draper in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, who became known as a peace campaigner during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. On 8 November 1987 a bomb planted by the Provisional IRA exploded during Enniskillen's Remembrance Day parade injuring Wilson and fatally injuring his daughter, Marie, a nurse. The bomb was planted in a nearby building and nobody knew if it was timed or detonated. An emotional television interview he gave to the BBC only hours after the bombing brought him to national and international prominence as he described his last conversation with his dying daughter as they both lay buried in rubble.
Wilson's response to the bombing, "I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge", was reported worldwide becoming among the most-remembered quotations from The Troubles. Whereas many IRA attacks in Northern Ireland usually resulted in reprisals by loyalists, Wilson's calls for forgiveness and reconciliation came to be called the Spirit of Enniskillen.
As a peace campaigner, Wilson held many meetings with members of Sinn Féin. He also met once with representatives of the Provisional IRA. Wilson sought to understand the reasons for the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen. He also held talks with loyalist paramilitaries in an attempt to persuade them to abandon violence.
Excerpt of BBC interview with Gordon Wilson
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The Remembrance Day bombing (also known as the Enniskillen bombing or Poppy Day massacre ) killed 11 people and injured 64. The last victim died after lying in a coma for 13 years. The Provisional IRA planted a bomb in the town's reading rooms behind the town's war memorial. The device exploded during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony held to honour those who had served in the British Armed Forces.
Wilson and his daughter, Marie, were buried in rubble when the 40 lb bomb exploded. Unable to move, he held her hand and comforted her as she lay dying, her last words were, "Daddy, I love you very much". Five minutes later rescuers pulled Wilson and his daughter out from under the collapsed building. Marie never regained consciousness and died later in hospital.
The BBC would later describe the bombing as a turning point in the Troubles because the attack shook the IRA "to its core". Pivotal to the change in attitude towards this sort of attack was Wilson's reaction to the death of his daughter. The 60-year-old draper publicly forgave those who had planted the bomb and said he would pray for them. He also begged that no-one took revenge for Marie's death and pleaded with loyalists not to do so.
William Ury wrote in his 1999 book The Third Side:
In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: "She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.' Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say." To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, "But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She's dead. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night." As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, "No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact."
He contacted senior members of the IRA following the bombings which killed two boys in Warrington, England in 1993. Despite begging them to stop, the IRA issued a statement offering "sincerest condolences and apologies" for his daughter's death. Wilson said his efforts had been "quite pointless"; he also noted that some Protestants never forgave him for meeting the IRA.
Spirit Of Enniskillen Trust
In 1989 Wilson helped launch a community outreach programme entitled the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust which helps young people in Northern Ireland participate in international undertakings. The Trust gives Spirit of Enniskillen Bursaries to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland. "The idea was to encourage young people aged between 16 and 19 from Northern Ireland to travel outside the Province and to use their experience to help build community bridges at home".
The Spirit Of Enniskillen Trust works to support young people from both Catholic and Protestant communities to lead dialogue, learning and working towards a shared society. It also supports a sequence of inter-linked projects working with young people in their schools, communities and other divided regions internationally. The Trust facilitates background leadership training, mentoring and resource support for school pupils, young volunteer facilitators, parents and teachers. All Trust learning activities are led by experienced and committed young volunteers.
William Gordon Wilson was born in the town of Manorhamilton in County Leitrim in the Irish Free State on 25 September 1927, a few years after the partition of Ireland. His parents, George Wilson and Henrietta Conn married in 1926. Wilson was the eldest of four children, had a happy childhood in a strongly Methodist household, with his three sisters Joan, Wilma and Dorothy. Educated at Wesley College, Dublin, Wilson was a man of strong Christian faith and attended Enniskillen Methodist Church. He spent most of his adult life running the family drapery in High Street, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.
- "Interviewing Gordon Wilson was nearest I’d ever get to being in presence of a saint". Belfast Telegraph. 05/10/2008. Retrieved 01/07/11.
- Mary Harney (2001). "Dail Remarks by Mary Harney, T.D., Tánaiste and Leader of the Progressive Democrats in Response to the Recent Terrorist Attacks on the United States". DETE press release. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- McDonald, Henry (2006-04-23). "Gadaffi sued by 160 victims of IRA". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- "Educational Television Programmes for lectures, training seminars and exhibitions". BBC Active. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
- "Age of Terror" (Television Documentary). BBC. 2008-03-25. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- "Gordon Wilson, 67, Campaigner For Peace in Northern Ireland". New York Times. June 28, 1995. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- The Spirit Of Enniskillen Trust
- McCreary, op. cit, p. 120
- McCreary, Alf (1996). Gordon Wilson, An Ordinary Hero. Marshall Pickering. p. 1.
- "Obituary: Gordon Wilson". The Independent. 1995-06-28. Retrieved 14/09/13.
- The day I lost my daughter - Gordon Wilson's wife, Joan, mother of the youngest victim of the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, recalls the day of the IRA attack (Episode 2: 10 Days of Terror is broadcast on April 2008 on BBC Two).
- The Spirit Of Enniskillen Trust