Below is the official text of the talk of Richard Moore, Founder of Children in Crossfire, as delivered on Day 5 of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
Good afternoon everyone. First of all can I say how delighted I am to have the opportunity to speak here today. I’m going to share my personal story with you and because it is a personal story then what has worked for me, may not work for everyone.
My story begins in 1972 when I was a 10 year old boy in Derry, Northern Ireland. At the time, Derry was in the grip of a very violent war. The Creggan estate where I grew up was right in the centre of the troubles. Bloody Sunday happened in January 1972 and arguably the weeks and months that followed Bloody Sunday was around the most violent period in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict. Many people injured and maimed on Bloody Sunday were from my estate, so as you can imagine, it was a very volatile time. Rioting, shooting and bombings happened on a daily basis.
I went to Rosemount Primary School (P.S). Rosemount P.S and St Joseph’s Secondary school were both on the edge of the Creggan estate. Beside the schools was an RUC police barracks. Because of its location, it was a target for the IRA and a target for riots on a daily basis. As a result of that, the British Army were brought in to protect it, so around the police barracks there was, what I would describe as, semi-permanent military installations. One of these military installations faced up towards the Creggan estate in between my school, Rosemount P.S and St Joseph’s Secondary school. On 4th May 1972 I got out of school as normal and I ran up along the bottom of the school football pitch. I had to pass this army installation on my right hand side. As I ran past it, a British soldier from inside the hut fired a rubber bullet. It struck me here on the bridge of the nose; I lost this eye and was left completely blind in my left eye, so I am blind now just over 40 years.
What I remember that day was approaching the army installation and the next thing I remember, I woke up and I was laying on the school canteen table. My music teacher, Mr Giles Doherty, heard the bang; he ran up, found me lying at the bottom of the football pitch and carried me into the canteen. I remember him saying, ‘What’s your name son?’ and I told him my name was Richard Moore. He got a terrible shock because I was in his music class and he knew me very well but he was unable to identify me due to the extent of my injuries. My nose was completely flattened, my eyeballs were down at my cheekbones and my face was a bloody mess. The next thing I remember is I woke up in the ambulance. At that stage my daddy and my sister were beside me. I only lived 2 minutes’ walk from the school, so my daddy and my sister were on the scene very quickly. I knew I was in an ambulance because I could hear the siren and my daddy was holding my hand, saying ‘you’ll be ok Richard, you’ll be alright’. At one stage one of the ambulance personnel said to my daddy, ‘there’s a woman outside, she’s very upset will we let her in?’ My daddy replied ‘no it’s his mother don’t let her in’. The reason why he said that was because he didn’t want my mother seeing me in the state that I was in.
I don’t remember anything then for about 3 or 4 days. Initially they thought I was going to die from the injuries, and then they thought I might have brain damage and finally they told my parents that I would be blind for the rest of my life. When you consider the other options then blindness was considered a bonus. I spent about 2 weeks in hospital and all during that time I thought I couldn’t see because of the bandages on my eyes. After about a week I was moved from a private ward out into the general ward. I was a football fanatic, I loved playing football and I can remember when they moved me into the general ward there was a young boy in the bed opposite me and I can remember joking with him, ‘I can’t wait to get these bandages off my eyes, I’ll teach you how to play football’. That must have been very difficult for my parents and my brothers and sisters who kept a constant vigil around my bed. I come from a big family. There were 12 children; 9 boys and 3 girls and I was the second youngest and for them to hear me talking as if I was going to be able to see again must have been very difficult because they knew the real truth. They knew that I would never play football again.
After 2 weeks I was released from hospital and about a month after I was shot, my brother Noel took me for a walk up and down our back garden and on this particular day he said, ‘Richard, do you know what has happened to you?’ and I said ‘yes, I know I was shot’. He said, ‘do you know what damage was done?’ and I said, ‘no’. That’s when he told me that I lost my right eye and would never be able to see again with my left eye. I accepted it there and then I literally took it in my stride, until that night when I went to bed on my own and I cried for the one and only time I can remember about blindness. I cried because I realised for the first time that I was never going to actually see my parents again and to a 10 year old boy you don’t think about the bigger things in life. You don’t think about what you’re going to do about your education, how you’re going to cope or what about a job. All I felt was this enormous sense of loss, that I was never going to physically see my parent’s faces again and I cried myself to sleep. The next day I woke up, got out of bed and began to put the pieces of my life back together. I would always say that that day was the first day of the rest of my life as a blind person. I eventually returned to primary school and went onto St. Joseph’s secondary school were I did my O’ Levels and A’ levels and then eventually went to the University of Ulster where I got my degree in 1983. I got married in 1984 and I now have 2 children, Naoimh (pronounced Neev) and Enya. Naoimh is 23 and Enya is 20.
I have done a lot of things since I lost my eyesight; I was compensated by the British and with half the money I bought a house and with the other half I bought a pub. By the time I was 20 years of age I was the part owner of 2 pubs in the centre of Derry, so when I came out of university I went straight into running my own business. I also learnt how to play the guitar after I was shot and with my wife Rita, we set up the Long Tower Folk Group which sings in the Long Tower Chapel in Derry every Saturday night at 6 O’ Clock mass. I also played in bands which performed throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. I became of Director of Derry City Football Club and in fact the last time Derry were champions of Ireland I’m delighted to say I was a director.
The reason why I’m telling you all of that is not to be boastful or not for you to think that I’m a wonderful person. It’s because I could not have survived what happened to me if it were not for 4 things. Firstly I come from a good family; secondly I come from a good community and thirdly despite everything that happened to me and the difficulties that existed in Northern Ireland at the time, I still had choices and opportunities available to me, even as a blind person and throughout my self- employed life I became very conscious of children in other parts of the world who may have had their eyesight but didn’t have what I had. As a result of this I sold out my business in 1996 and set up Children in Crossfire.
Today Children in Crossfire supports projects in Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Gambia and we work with children under 8 years of age who suffer as a result of the injustice of poverty. Children every day who suffer the most horrendous abuses, who are denied the basic human rights that you and I have come to accept as normal in our lives; the right to an education, the right to food, the right to clean water and most of all the right to life itself.
I am not the only person that suffered as a result of my blindness. My parents suffered enormously. I can remember at night, just after I got out of hospital, lying in my bed, listening to my mother crying. My parents were very devout Catholics. They didn’t support violence and they went to mass every day. They did their best to keep us safe in a particularly difficult environment and despite their best efforts, the troubles found us. My father, he stood in the street and cried the day he came back from the hospital after they told him I would be blind for the rest of my life.
For me, I am a very happy and contented blind person. 99% of the time I never think about my eyesight, but there are times in my life when I have missed my eyesight. For example when my two daughters were born Naoimh and Enya, I was in the ward when they came into the world for the first time. I would have given anything to see them. When they opened their eyes for the first time, when they smiled for the first time, I missed all of that. I can remember when they made their First Holy Communions and Confirmations in St. Mary’s chapel where I made my First Holy Communion and Confirmation and they walked up the aisle in their beautiful dresses and everyone telling me how lovely they looked and I couldn’t see them. In those moments, I thought about the British Soldier who shot me and I wondered did he ever think about me, did he ever think about the legacy of violence.
Despite all of that, I never had a moment’s anger or a moment’s bitterness. If you think about anger and bitterness, it’s a self-destruct emotion. If I had have been angry, who would it have effected most? It would have been me, it would have destroyed me from the inside out and I genuinely believe that I couldn’t have done all the things that I have done with my life so far, if I had have been destroyed by anger. I never knew the soldiers name until 2005. The BBC made a documentary about my story and as part of that documentary they tracked down the soldier, 33 years after I was shot. His name is Charles and in January 2006 I flew to Scotland on my own and met Charles for the first time. To sit at a table in a hotel foyer, opposite the man who pulled the trigger and blinded me for life and caused all those hurts to me and my family and to like him was an incredible experience. Charles and I talked for four hours and three quarters and I have to be honest and say that it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I no longer saw a soldier, I saw a human being, a father, a grandfather.
I suppose I learnt two things about forgiveness that day; first of all forgiveness is first and foremost a gift to yourself. Forget about Charles, if he wants my forgiveness he has it but that’s not what’s important. What’s important for me, for my peace of mind and my happiness is that I forgive him. So first and foremost, forgiveness is a gift to yourself. The second thing is, forgiveness won’t change the past, but it will change the future and again what I mean by that is, the fact that I forgive Charles won’t give me back my eyesight and it won’t take away all those hurts that were caused to me and my family, but what it will do and has done in my case, is changed the future. And I genuinely believe that I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done if I had to carry the baggage of anger and hatred. There is no question, I am a victim of violence and I have no control over that but I am not a victim of anger and I do have control over that.
I often ask myself, how is it that a 10 year old boy from the Creggan estate in Derry was able to survive such a traumatic experience the way I have? I think I can’t ignore the fact that it was the power of prayer. Not my prayers but my parents prayers and I always say you can take away someone’s eyesight but you can’t take away their vision and my vision is the work that I’m doing through Children in Crossfire.
Thank-you very much for listening.