Following the funeral of Eilidh MacLeod and the serious injury of Laura MacIntyre in the Manchester attack, the editor of the Barra Voice newspaper, Eoin MacNeil has told how the horror of recent events has brought the grieving island community closer.
“Living on Barra can sometimes feel like staying on the edge of the world. Come to the luxurious sandy beaches on our Atlantic west coast, look out to sea and there is nothing to see for thousands of miles - the next stop is literally Canada. That isolation can sometimes make you feel immune from the world’s problems. But the shattering events at the Manchester Arena changed all that, plunging us into a swirl of numbness and incomprehension.
“The ferry to Barra from the Scottish mainland takes almost 5 hours but our remoteness should not be mistaken for insularity. We deliberately look outwards, not just welcoming thousands of tourists at this time of year, but ourselves heading off to experience the richness of the wider world. Our forefathers fought in faraway wars in the Royal Navy and sailed faraway oceans in the Merchant Navy. Eilidh and Laura were following in that tradition, in their own small way, taking tentative steps into the world beyond their shores.
“That Eilidh never returned and Laura was badly injured is a profound shock that has convulsed our island. The deaths of other members of this community have of course shocked Barra, but tragic as they were, they were usually in the context of the lives we live, the risks we take - fishing accidents where crew members have drowned, car crashes in which young drivers have died. This however is something else. To have travelled from the peace and tranquility of the Hebrides and be confronted with the warped, lonely world of a suicide bomber has been deeply disturbing for our close-knit community. These girls were known by most, if not all, of our 1100 residents. They went to our secondary school, worshipped in our churches, volunteered in our community, enhanced our way of life.
“The bombing has made us confront evil and we have responded, as Manchester has responded, by displaying the characteristics the bomber clearly resented. We have come together, prayed together, supported each other and most importantly provided as much comfort and love as possible to the 2 families whose every waking minute is consumed with this tragedy.
“In turn, we have been supported magnificently. We’ve received messages of love and support from America, all parts of Europe, Canada and Australia and villages, towns and cities from every corner of United Kingdom. The bomber’s action may have inflicted the horrors of the city on our island but rarely have we felt as though we’re such an integral part of a global, supportive community.
“Our shock at being caught up in a terrorist attack has stopped our natural rhythms for several days - ceilidhs have been cancelled and parties postponed, while we have laughed a little less and spoken more softly. But like Manchester, we will recover - the resilience and community needed to live on a rock in the Atlantic has been evident for all in recent days and we will help each other and both families to rebuild. We are determined that one day we will return to our west coast, look out to sea, and sense once more the peace that comes with feeling we are living at the edge of the world.”
Mr MacNeil’s comments featured on the Manchester Evening News.