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Heroes - Gordon and Joan Wilson

David Lonsdale recently discovered the website, and noticed that we had asked our readers for heroes. He has nominated Gordon Wilson, and has sent us a brief synopsis of Wilson’s life. Gordon Wilson is a hero in our book, and so was his wife, Joan.

Gordon Wilson held his daughter's hand as they lay trapped beneath a mountain of rubble. It was 1987, and he and Marie had been standing watching a peaceful Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, when a terrorist bomb went off. The rescuers dug them out of the rubble and rushed them to hospital. But, by the end of the day, Marie who had been a nurse, and nine other people were dead.

A few hours after the bombing, when interviewed by 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."

The loss of Marie shattered Gordon Wilson and his wife Joan, but, they were anxious that bitterness and hatred should not rip apart the small town of Enniskillen. Before the bomb, Protestants and Catholics in Enniskillen had lived side by side, and the Wilsons wanted it to stay that way.

After his television interview, Gordon Wilson received many letters from people across Britain and the rest of the world. Many supported him, but many others criticised him. Though he had said that terrorists should be punished for their crimes, people accused him of excusing them.

Throughout the rest of his life, Gordon Wilson worked hard to bring about reconciliation. Although a resident of Northern Ireland, he was invited to become a member of Seanad Éireann in 1993, on the nomination of the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds.

Gordon Wilson came face to face with the people who had planned the Enniskillen bombing. They apologized for killing Marie. But when Gordon asked them to stop bombing and shooting, they refused.

Gordon Wilson died a few years ago. After his death, many people in Northern Ireland carried on his work. Today, in Northern Ireland, the bombings and shootings have stopped thanks to the work of people like Gordon and Joan Wilson.


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