We all have a car crash in our lives. To date I have had one; it happened to be a bomb. I was a boy at the time, on a small boat in Ireland. Three of my family and a friend died in the explosion. One of the dead was my identical twin brother Nicholas Knatchbull. My parents and I were the only survivors.
Over a period of months I pieced together a daily routine without my twin. I was pleased to demonstrate to my parents that I was able to cope, but later I found that the bomb had left me with a legacy of mental and emotional wounds which refused to go away. I kept these to myself. After more than twenty years I finally decided to try to heal myself. By then I had come to two conclusions: first, I could not do this alone; second, I needed to return to the place of the murders and confront painful truths from which I had been shielded as a boy.
With a series of visits spanning a year I pitched myself back into an intensely frightening episode in my life. It was at times a horrible and painful process but through it I entered a new stage of healing. My symptoms started to fade and I found a sense of inner peace that I had lost the day Nicholas was killed. It was not simply his death which so devastated me. It was the suddenness of it; the violence of it; and my own inability subsequently to discover what had happened to him, or to make any sense of it, or to grieve for him.
By returning to Ireland and piecing together the story, I reconnected to feelings which I had briefly felt but which I had not been able to resolve as a child. This allowed me to undergo a vital process which had escaped me as a boy: the letting go of my continued emotional attachment to Nicholas. Put simply, I said goodbye.
Before setting out on the journey, I was frightened. My fear was that by returning and seeking the truth I might do more harm than good. Had I learned from someone else who had trodden a similar path I would perhaps have started my own journey earlier and found a more direct route. This has motivated me to share my story with others who have suffered trauma or grief. The book is an account of the path I took. I hope it will encourage others to find their own.
My story is a description not a prescription. I do not pretend to offer answers but I hope ‘the validity of the questions raised will be evident’. Where I cause harm or upset by what I have written or left unwritten, or by mistakes honestly made, I apologise.
There will no doubt be more difficulties for me to face in future; hopefully I will do so better prepared as a result of the journey and the subsequent healing which I describe in these pages. It is the healing that counts, and in this I think there are elements that are universal.
The bomb exploded in Ireland during the Troubles which killed over 3,500 people. By 2001 the killing had stopped and the political climate had changed enough for me to contemplate returning. I knew that by doing this I might arouse strong feelings in the area where the attack happened. Some would be pleased to see me back; some no doubt would resent me; for others I would simply be a reminder of a painful episode which had faded with the years. I therefore proceeded cautiously, and more often than not I found a warm welcome.
The bomb was the work of the Irish Republican Army, the island’s predominant paramilitary force. It is therefore inevitable that the IRA features heavily in the story, rather than other paramilitaries, the British Army or any of the other forces involved in the violence in Ireland. I recognise that as a picture of the Troubles, my account will be highly incomplete; but I did not return to Ireland to analyse the Troubles. I went to engage in a human process, not a political one. I went to understand my twin’s death. Gaining a basic understanding of the IRA was one of a series of necessary steps towards that.
Following the attack, the years rolled by and I became increasingly interested in the idea of moving on and putting the attack behind me. To do this I felt the need to forgive but I found myself with more questions than answers. Was I capable of forgiving? Whom should I forgive? What had they done? And how? And why? There was precious little information available so I decided to look for the answers myself. By revisiting Ireland I slowly became better informed, and as I re-evaluated my experiences I eventually found the path to being able to forgive.
Some people have been amazed at my desire to revisit the bombing or think in these terms. Some have questioned my motives or found my interest in the details mawkish. To them I can say only that no offence is intended. Some have worried I would open up old wounds. I have found the opposite to be true. Countless times I have been told by those who have agreed to meet and help me that old wounds have healed through the process. Some have mistaken my endeavour as a plea for sympathy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am deeply aware of my own good fortune in escaping the sort of prolonged misery that many have had to endure.
I welcome the new order in Northern Irish politics and I salute the achievements of its leaders in creating an increasingly peaceful province despite the evidence that implicates at least some of them in the murders of yesteryear. The future of Ireland depends on ‘a measured and sane approach to its bloody past’ and I hope the line I have taken in this book passes that test. Needless to say, the views I express are mine and mine alone.
While researching this book I came across this definition: ‘Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary, everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.’ To this I add a caveat: to deny self is unhealthy; to be unconcerned with self is the key. I am now as never before at liberty to be unconcerned with self, and therefore to be of use to others. What more could anyone want?