Bitterness will not heal the wounds

Beth McGrath, daughter and sister to two victims of the Shankill Road bombing talks about how their loss has affected her and gives her views vis a vis the IRA statement.

Although pragmatic and measured, her belief is that bitterness is not the answer and will not help move the peace process on nor ease her own personal grief. FRom someone who has experienced violence and loss so directlt these words are rather inspiring and brave.

By Noreen Erskine
BBC News website

As the IRA says it is giving up the armed campaign, BBC News talks to a woman who lost her father and sister in the Shankill Road bombing.

Beth McGrath plans to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary next month with a trip to Prague.

Beth McGrath says bitterness does not aid the healing process

It will be a happy journey – unlike the painful one she has had to make over the past 12 years.

In 1993, an IRA bomb left in her father’s fish shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast exploded during a sunny autumn afternoon.

Beth’s father, John Frizell, and her younger sister, Sharon McBride, were among nine Protestants killed.

Thomas Begley, one of two IRA men who brought the bomb into the shop, also died when the building collapsed into a pile of rubble.

The IRA’s announcement that it has ended its armed campaign after more than 30 years of violence has been heralded as “a step of unparalleled magnitude” by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Beth, 44, from north Belfast, is more sceptical.

I would only be hindering my growth… if I allowed myself to be bitter or enraged

Beth McGrath

“I have heard words like unprecedented and historic being used about this statement.

“But there have been other statements in the past, and then there have been compromises and other clauses put in, so I am slightly cautious.

“I think there’s a lot of fine tuning needed.

“The IRA are still very adamant that their aims remain the same,” she said.

During the Northern Ireland Troubles, the IRA murdered about 1,800 civilians and members of the security forces.

Mother-of-four Beth works for Wave, a cross-community organisation set up in 1991 to support victims of the violence in Northern Ireland, and is acutely aware of the ongoing suffering of many victims’ families.

‘Small fish’

She is unsure about the outcome of the IRA’s declaration.

“It’s now been 11 years since the beginning of the IRA’s so-called ceasefire in 1994, and 12 years from when my dad and my sister were killed.

“I’m thinking about the parallels between the healing of the country and my healing process,” she said.

Nine Protestants were killed in the blast at Frizell’s fish shop

“For me, my healing will continue at my own pace.

“Statements like this won’t really affect that in any great way, but I’d like to think it might help make this a better place for people in general if we can find a way to put differences aside and move forward in an active way.”

Neither the contents nor the timing of the long-awaited statement surprised her.

“In the aftermath of the London bombing and events worldwide, I think people are fed up hearing about the Northern Ireland story.

“We are small fish now, very small fish. The statement is just words, and only time will tell its exact importance,” she said.

‘Different perspective’

Beth is also philosophical about the latest release from jail of Sean Kelly, one of the two IRA men who carried out the 1993 Shankill Road bombing.

Although given nine life sentences, he was freed early under the Good Friday Agreement in July 2000.

The victims included Beth’s sister Sharon, pictured with husband Alan

He was returned to prison in June after security information indicated he had become re-involved in terrorism, but was released again on Wednesday night, ahead of the IRA statement.

“I don’t allow myself to get angry or emotionally involved about his release because if the authorities decide it’s going to happen, it will,” she said.

“I would only be hindering my growth and my healing process, my life and that of my children if I allowed myself to be bitter or enraged.

“If you go through a trauma, you deal with life afterwards from a different perspective.”

  • Jo

    This is exactly what I have been saying elsewhere: although there is no “right” way to react to and deal with terrible loss, one just feels that bitterness and hatred is another victory for those who caused the loss.
    We can’t all be Gordon Wilsons, but this lady seems to have grasped the destructive power and ultimate pointlessness of bitterness and lust for revenge.

  • levee

    I agree Jo. However, at this time, I think people need to remember that there have been atrocities on both sides.

    What use are apologies? Even if they are received, their sincerity will be questioned.

    People in Northern Ireland must draw a line in the sand and leave the past behind if history is to stop repeating itself.

    It’s reassuring to see people like Beth living and growing after all that’s happened. I wish there were more like her, less like Kelly.

  • Jo


    This place would be better in that case for sure. Elsewhere I have seen mothers write that they would rather be the mother of a victim that the mother of the person who did the murder. I dont think the Kelly family can be exactly proud.

  • bertie

    Granting an amnesty for murderers will tear open wounds and gouge deeper into many still gaping.

  • bertie

    “I think people need to remember that there have been atrocities on both sides.”

    That depends on how you define the sides. For me Adams, Maginnis, Irvive, Mc Micheal, etc are all on the same side. By definition, those that commmit, inlcuding plan, attrocities are all on the one side.

  • Jo

    The amnesty, as you see it, is now 5 years old and many have accepted it as the price that has had to be paid. Not everything is palatable about this process but its better than what went before.

    Many, not necessarily your good self, still hark after outright war against terrorism and want them all to die violent deaths. Thats unrealistic, vengeful and would of necessity mean many many more deaths than those actively involved. Surely we have learned that from our troubled times?

  • bertie

    Jo you do not get peace by giving away its fundamental building blocks.

    “many have accepted it as the price that has had to be paid. “

    that is not to their credit.

    I do and will hark after an outright war against terrorism and no I don’t want them to die violent deaths, but I would prefer that to an amnesty. In the same way that I am opposed to the death penalty but would prefer an unrepentant murder to be executed than free.

    Justice is not vengance. I have never advocated the latter.

    We seem to have forgotten the leasons that appeasing terrorism does not work.

  • Jo


    It does rather depend on how you guage if a process is working.

    Not having a constant series of foul murders day in day out, does appear to suggest that encouraging violent people to throw their energies into politics rather than killing, is in some sense at least “better” if, as you would say, highly distasteful.

  • Jo

    Actually, and this is what I meant to type – I find it distasteful too.

  • bertie

    No Jo, distasteful doesn’t bother me, wrong does. Appeasing terrorism fuels it. governments should be defending the rights of victims to justice not making a present of them to the murderers.

    We are encouragiung people to throw their energies into politics for as long as they can get what they want and when they have sucked that dry, they can return to terrorism, in the full knowledge that if they murder enough they will be given more and then they can start again offering to give up again and so get more concessions, in the proven knowledge that many people including the government will swallow it.

  • Jo

    Bertie, well we should be confident that the current generation will not make the return to terrorism, and equally, it behoves us all to ensure that there is nothing in our society which makes any future generation (and one which is possibly less bound by relgion-based morality than at present) consider the option of violence under any circumstances.

  • bertie

    “we should be confident that the current generation will not make the return to terrorism”

    I am not.

    “it behoves us all to ensure that there is nothing in our society which makes any future generation (and one which is possibly less bound by relgion-based morality than at present) consider the option of violence under any circumstances”

    This is precisely why we should not appease terrorism. This makes it much more likely that people in the future will take this option. There are three main factors in becoming a terrorist.
    1) soemthing you want to acheive – nothing inherently wrong in this although it depends on the detail of the thing to be acheived.

    2) absence of the moral block that would rule out terrorism as an option

    3) the beleive that it will work.

    We have very much shored up 3.

    Either the IRA are a threat or they are not.

    If they are not then why have an amnesty? Surely it cannot be the “price of peace” if the IRA is not a threat?

  • Jo

    I enjoyed your contribution on miscarriages of justice etc, in “another place” as they say. 🙂

    Would that I could come up with a formula to ensure that no-one would ever use terrorism again, but given that so much of history is in fact a history of violence (the USA and Parliamentary demoracy in the UK both having been created by a war of independence and a Civil War respectively), its hard to argue that smaller causes shouldn’t go down this path when such issues have mobilised people on a massive scale to kill over the centuries. I heard a RSF spokesperson yesterday talking of the “inevitable” resistance to Britain in Ireland but he wasnt pressed on why it was inevitable that this shouild always take a violent form SF are as supportive of unification as they always weree – the hope being that they will no longer support or be involved in violence to bring that end about.