A survivor of the PIRA’s La Mon atrocity 43 years ago has given a vivid and heart-rending account of the terrorist attack that left 12 people dead and 30 injured.
Billy McDowell and his wife, Lilly, were attending an Irish Collie Club Dinner when the incendiary bomb exploded.
Billy is supporting the Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) and ‘News Letter’ campaign to get the Victims’ Payment Scheme introduced without further delay.
After the explosion, Billy said there was absolute panic as people tried to escape from the building that was engulfed in flames.
“I was swept outside by the escaping guests and realised that Lilly was still inside,” he said.
“The building was an inferno and no one would let me back in to search for Lilly. Sometime later, Joe Paxton appeared, carrying Lilly in his arms.
“She was almost naked and had horrific injuries, having been badly burnt. Someone wrapped a curtain round her and a stranger offered to take us to the Ulster Hospital as the ambulances had not arrived yet.”
Billy had a four-week stay in hospital where he had skin grafts for burns to my face, legs, arms and thigh.
Lilly was more severely injured.
Billy recalls: “Initially, it was uncertain if she would survive due to her burns and smoke inhalation. It was weeks before our children could visit.
“I could often hear her cry out in the next ward when getting the dressings changed or re-living the nightmare.”
Their youngest son was nine and he regularly cared for his mother when Billy was working shifts in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
“This included changing medical dressings, applying ointment to burns and helping her into a two-piece, skin-tight suit especially designed for the treatment of severe burns.”
Lilly’s nightmares never left her and my son would often find her believing she was back in that burning room, crying and upset.
“In 2013, Lilly passed away but she believed that the Lord saved her that night and it was her faith that helped her through. I believe she was right.”
Decades after the La Mon atrocity, Billy is scathing of the role of politicians as victims continue to wait for payments.
“I think it’s disgusting the way we have been kicked around with the politicians. One tells you one thing, and another tells you another.
“I’m just as bitter now as I was 43 years ago….
“Lilly, being the Christian, she had a different view on it than I have, but I had no time for the politicians because of the way they treated us.”
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