‘It was the Devil’s work’ - Droppin’ Well bombing 30th Anniversary
RUTH Dickson was celebrating her 24th birthday on December 6, 1982 in the Droppin Well pub in Ballykelly when an explosion planted by the INLA killed her instantly.
BY NIALL DEENEY
Her mother, Virtue, can still remember every detail of that dark night when Ruth and 16 other young people were killed in the Droppin Well bombing.
Here, she tells the Sentinel of her memories from that night, her thoughts on how the dead and injured are commemorated in the local village every year, as well as how she and the rest of her family have struggled to cope with their loss in the past 30 years.
She said: “My second girl Ruth was in the bar at the time. Ruth was 24. It was her birthday that day. She didn’t know whether to go or not that day. She asked me, should I go or should I not? I said, sure why not, it’s your birthday. It must’ve been meant to be.
“I was in bed with my husband and I heard the sirens. Sorry, it was before that, before I went to bed that I heard the sirens. I heard the sirens in Limavady. It was for the Droppin’ Well, but I just went to my bed because you heard that so often.
“My son went to the door and it was his friend who came. I could hear them talking and he said to my son - there was bomb in the Droppin’ Well in Ballykelly, and I knew then that Ruth was out there.
“I still thought she was okay. I thought she would have ran to safety and hid or something. You know, you don’t think it’s going to happen to you, but it got worse and worse. People went out looking for her. They looked all night and couldn’t find her. We didn’t go, my husband and I. We stayed at home, praying.
“I was listening to the radio, and it was getting worse and worse. We didn’t get her all night and then it came to the morning. So, my son, he was 19 at the time, he went up again with one of the girls – she was a nurse. Two of them went up to the hospital. They had rang up hospitals to see if she was in it.
“They went up to the hospital, and they went in to the morgue, of course, and that’s where they found Ruth, lying on the floor. It was a terrible site. What met my son was shocking. I couldn’t even describe it too much. Terrible. That’s where they found her.
“He came down, I looked out the window at the car, and he wasn’t driving, she was driving and I knew then. When they came in, him and his father was crying and I wasn’t. I thought, why am I not crying. I just stood there. I cried plenty afterwards.
“Her wee boy of five had to be told. I thought, I can’t do it. It was her son. I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t go up and tell him that, with him lying in bed. I don’t know if it was my son or my husband went up to him. He said, does that mean I won’t see my mammy any more?
“I had three sons and two girls. Ruth was the second girl. Ruth would have been in her fifties now. Her son, Stephen, he would have been six that Boxing Day.
“It was terrible for everybody. We have never been the same since. It’s always there. It is sore on people. Dreadful. It was dreadful for everybody. I had to get out of my bed in the middle of the night, every night to cry. I wasn’t in this house then, but even when we moved over to this house I had to get out of bed to cry.
“It affected everybody terribly. I don’t want to tell you how much it affected everybody. There are things I don’t want to say. It affected the whole lot of us badly. You wouldn’t realise how badly it affected everybody.
“Her brother was very close to her. They were always very close together because they were around the one age. There was only a year of difference in them.
“If I didn’t still laugh at times now, I don’t know what I would do. You see, when Ruth was alive, I have the happiest memories of her.
“She had me laughing until I thought I was going to pass out altogether. She had a real funny side to her. I never seen a person as lively as her in all my life and she didn’t have a care about anything.
“She wasn’t even rich or anything but she didn’t have a care in the world. People would have loved the company of her – you would never have been lonely.
“Her son, we reared the wee boy up. Well she did at first, she was a good mother. I would help her with bathing him, but she helped me with my wee boy too. But I wasn’t the same as his mother. I could never be taking her place, I never could nor I never tried to.
“I was always the granny to him, but never the mother. I couldn’t be. I did what I could but I couldn’t be a mother to him.”
Asked for her thoughts on how the young people who lost their lives that night are remembered, and whether she and her family find it more difficult at the anniversaries, Virtue replied: “It is remembered in the correct way. I think it’s nice. I like the service out there. It is nice the way it is done.
“It is nice for all those people who have lost their sons and daughters. It is important that we don’t forget them. It is very nice.
“There are different people there. The Church of Ireland and the priest as well. I suppose all different people were killed. But it is a sad service too. I feel sorry for those people coming from England, who don’t know anybody here.
“I suppose you think more about it at the anniversaries. You do really think more about how things are and it brings it back to you. I remember at the funeral I wanted to see her in the coffin and the undertaker, he sat on the stairs beside me and begged me not to look into the coffin. Well I said I want to see her. I can’t stop you, he said, but she is not the wee girl that walked out the door.
“I remembered a strange thing she had said to me. She said whenever I die, make sure I have some make up on. I don’t want to be lying in the coffin with no make up on me.
“That girl my son was going with was a nurse and I had sent her up to put some make up on her, but she wasn’t able.
“I sent her up and said, make her nice. She came back down and said I couldn’t put her make-up on, she wasn’t able. She had make-up on her anyway because she was out celebrating her birthday.
“It is better to remember her the way she was I think.”
Virtue continued: “She died instantly because I was speaking to a girl who was there, who seen it. Colonel Bob Stewart was asking me.
“I was talking to him a couple of times but he had said to me, two times he asked me about Ruth. He was working down at the camp and this girl died in his arms and he wanted to know if it was Ruth. I didn’t know at the time but I found out later that it wasn’t her.
“A girl was able to tell me that Ruth was killed instantly.
“The doctor said to me, I had asked him was she suffering, the doctor was able to tell me she wouldn’t have known what was happening. She died very, very suddenly.
“That girl who was there was in a bad way after it. She wasn’t too bad, she was injured but she survived. She seen Ruth and she knew Ruth, she was a Limavady girl.
“She was up dancing. The wee boy at the door was able to say. She was up dancing all night.
“She was saying I am enjoying myself tonight. The band was playing ‘happy birthday’.
“It was the Devil’s work. That was the cause of it. There is no sin that the Devil can’t make people do if they let themselves be led that way. It is terrible but it is true. Isn’t it an awful thing for them to live with. I wouldn’t like to do that to anybody, I don’t care who they are or what they done. I wouldn’t like to kill anybody.”
She concluded: “It is thirty years, but it feels like three years to me. I remember every detail of that date.”
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