Wednesday, August 17, 2022

MURDERED BUS DRIVER’S DAUGHTER SAYS DEATH FEELS LIKE YESTERDAY

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THE daughter of a bus driver murdered by the IRA on Bloody Friday said 50 years on, it still ‘feels like yesterday’. Lynda Van Cylenburg, 65, originally from Raffrey but now living in London, lost her father, Jackie Gibson, when she was just 15. Jackie was a bus driver at Ballygowan bus station and well known in church circles in the village and as a great choral singer. His funeral was the biggest that residents remember ever seeing there.

The father-of-five was murdered after he drove to work in Belfast’s Oxford Street the fateful day of July 21, 1972 unaware that the IRA had planted bombs all over the city. Nineteen bombs exploded across the city in the space of just 60 minutes, killing nine people and injuring over 130. Mr Gibson, 45, had been querying who had left a parked car near to the station, with his manager and two soldiers. Witnesses at the time recall seeing them lean on the car before Jackie entered the office to pay in his takings. Seconds later, the bomb detonated killing six people – Jackie, the soldiers and three others, while many others were injured. Lynda can still recall the horror of the day.

She and her siblings returned from a Girls’ Brigade and Boys’ Brigade trip to the Isle of Man, momentarily seeing their father in his bus not realising that it would be for the last time. “We had just pulled into Belfast Docks and my uncle had come to collect me and my sister Hiliary in one car and the boys went in another,” she said. “I remember we drove past my father, he was driving the bus, wearing a pink shirt. He must have recognised the church cars and he waved to us, he was smiling, that was the last time we saw him alive.” Lynda recalls the disbelief as the family waited anxiously for news: “We all remember different things,” she said.

“We all remember he was wearing a pink shirt. My youngest brother remembers us all screaming. “I remember watching the BBC News and we kept saying ‘no, he will be fine, he will be there helping someone’ then my mother was told that he was killed. “My oldest brother had gone to another bus driver’s house to see if anyone knew anything. They already knew but they didn’t want to tell my brother and then have him drive home in distress. It was just awful. “We lost our childhood after that. It was completely taken from us.” Jackie’s wife Moreen, who was 43 when she was widowed, was left to single-handedly rear Robert, Hiliary, Lynda, Stephen and Dot. But she did a remarkable job of holding the family together through the trauma.

“She really was the best mother you could ask for. It must have been so hard for her but she kept her focus on her children,” said Lynda. “She kept us all together and we are all still very close to this day. She was really tremendous. I just don’t know how she did it but she did.” The family joined together last Thursday to attend the unveiling of a plaque in honour of their father. To mark 50 years to the day of the bombing, staff and former colleagues at Ballygowan bus station unveiled a memorial plaque in honour of Jackie. It was a day that really touched the heart of his family. Lynda said: “It was a really beautiful day and so respectful to daddy and to us. They really went above and beyond to accommodate us, it was honestly really something. “The drivers had done all this themselves. Some of them wouldn’t have known daddy but they really made it such a special day.” The oldest sibling, Robert (69), gave a speech at the unveiling which was followed by a prayer. “It was so emotional, I cried all the way through it,” said Lynda. “It was very emotional because it still feels like yesterday. “And as a family we would like to thank everyone at Ballygowan bus station for such a wonderful day and for paying their respects the way they did. “But we are still together as siblings and remain very very close and we thank God for that.”

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