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Breaking the cycle

Richard Moore (right) with Charles Inness.

Richard Moore was ten years old and on his way home from school  in Derry on Thursday 4 May 1972 when his life changed forever.

As Richard ran past an army lookout post, located at the edge of his school’s playground, British Soldier Charles Inness fired a rubber bullet from ten feet away, blinding Richard for life.

But Richard’s story is one of forgiveness and compassion.

Despite losing his sight in such a traumatic way, Richard returned to his old school, went on to university, successfully ran his own business, and became an accomplished musician.

Richard doesn’t harbour any bitterness towards the man who shot him.

In January 2006, Richard met Charles for the first time, and the two men have become close friends.

This Friday Richard and Charles will be in conversation with Peter Taylor OBE at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

The event will be the latest from Troubles, Tragedy & Trauma which was established in 2016.

TTT aims to highlight legacy issues with regards to the troubles in Northern Ireland, encourage reconciliation and promote positive mental wellbeing for those affected by the troubles.

Richard told The Irish World: “I’ve forgiven Charles unconditionally.

“I would consider Charles a friend now and I know he thinks the same about me but when you go to an event like this, you still revisit the whole story, the thing that brought us together and also the journey that I’ve had personally through reconciliation and what it’s meant for me.

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“The fact that I didn’t possess any anger, forgave the soldier led me to have a reasonably content and happy life.

“But on the other hand, I do respect that other people struggle to do that. And just because they can’t doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them, or they’re not good people. They are.

“I kind of do this in the hope that it helps somebody maybe overcome a challenge that they’re having, and maybe helps them negotiate around something that maybe is holding that person back from moving on.

“This is very much a personal journey and a personal story. I’m not saying that every victim in the conflict should do this or should be expected to do this.

“I think me and Charles are an example of how it is possible to reconcile, and it is possible to see things in a different way.

“We can never change the past but we certainly can learn from the past.

“For me in life it was important that I didn’t perpetuate the potential anger, hurt that could have come out of my story, could have come out of what happened to me, to my children.

“In Northern Ireland we have this sort of cycle of hand me down prejudice and anger.

“Somebody somewhere has got to break that cycle.

“And I believe my parents broke that cycle with me.

“Any notions of forgiveness I have come from them really.

“Mammy’s brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.

“And then I was blinded three months later. All at the hands of the British Army.

“There was trauma but there was never anger in it.

“I just think that was one of the greatest gifts that they give me really.

“Because they didn’t have anger, so I didn’t.

“That’s why I am happy to meet Charles.

“Sometimes good people can do bad things.

“I think Charles is basically a good person.

“Northern Ireland is full of that. Right across the spectrum, people are caught up with violence and they’ve done bad things. But are they all bad people? I don’t think so.

“And that’s hard to see. It’s hard to see depending on the end of the barrel, or the ball that you were on.”

Richard says he learned forgiveness from his parents but they did struggle.

“My mammy was never diagnosed or anything but I think had a nervous breakdown.

“My daddy died six years after I was shot. Mammy would have always said that she thinks the stress of me being blinded contributed to his death: The stress that he was feeling and the worry that he constantly had about me.

“It was very difficult for them. It really was.”

The family were further hurt by statements that Richard was rioting or throwing stones and that is why the bullet was shot.

“Despite their best efforts to avoid the Troubles, the Troubles landed on their doorstep.

“There was an article in a newspaper and I remember it because it nearly broke my mother’s heart when she read it in our kitchen.

“It said, ‘The woman whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose son was blinded should really look at herself. She should have been looking after our family’.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, I was in a school playground’.

“My parents were loving, caring people.

“They were devout Catholics were the mass every day

“It’s one thing your son being blinded. It’s another thing when they’re blinded by an act of violence and then  you’re being told, more or less, that I deserved it.

“I was in a school playground. I was running home. It was not a public throughfare. It was an enclosed area.

“I’m sure there was a feeling of helplessness and injustice that it happened to them, to their son. And that’s all compounded by the day-to-day things that happen: Watching me trying to grope my way around the house, tripping over, walking into a door and banging my head. Them looking out the window, all my friends are playing football and I’m just standing there. It must have ripped the heart out of them. I have no doubt.

“That’s the day to day living with an incident with this.

“There is the headline and the story and all that.

“Day to day they could see me struggling with blindness and trying to live a life and they must have wondered what the future looked like for me.

“For me, I suppose I was in the moment really. As a 10-year-old boy, you don’t have all that nervous thought process adults have.

“You’re not dealing with blindness with an adult head.

“What was important to me was I couldn’t play football. I couldn’t go out to do the normal things I used to do.

“I had to navigate ways around that.

“If there was a football match in the street, I loved football, they let me take the penalty just to involve me a little bit.

“And I just ended up being content with that.

“To some degree I was very lucky to have the friends I had and the teachers I had.

Richard Moore with school children in Ethiopia in 2017.

“There was a point in time when you just completely had to deal with the practical challenges of blindness.

“But when I reflect back on it as an adult, I can say things like I was focusing on my ability and not my disability.

“I dealt with the things I could do and forgot about the things that I couldn’t do.
“A 10-year-old boy doesn’t think like that. I just got on with it.

“But that’s what I  was doing looking back.

“I just had the personal strength and enormous support from the family and friends that limited the negative impact of blindness for me.

“I don’t ever remember feeling angry or hatred towards the soldier or anything like that.

“The whole family weren’t like that.

“Some of my brothers were very angry. And still are angry.

“They wouldn’t meet Charles for example.

“They would say to me, ‘Richard fair play to you for doing what you’re doing, but we couldn’t do it’.

“The fact that I forgive Charles and that me and him are friendly in no way justifies what happened.

“What happened that day was unjustified. In David Cameron’s terminology ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’.

“I wasn’t throwing stones. I wasn’t a rioter. There was no riot.

“If there was a young fella throwing stones at your front door or your car, you don’t have the right to pull out a rifle and blind them.

“A fully trained protected soldier inside an army look out there to protect me- A soldier firing a rubber bullet in that scenario is wrong.

“I’ve told Charles that.

“I have a choice to make. Am I going to go through life with that as my mantra, ‘You’re wrong, unjustified. You shouldn’t have shot me’.

“I acknowledge that and I’m totally right to say it but I’ve decided to move on. And I’m aware that other victims don’t think that that’s right.

“They need justice, and they are perfectly correct and right to ask for that.

“I don’t need that.

“And that’s what allows me and Charles to meet and at the end of the day I’m happy with the path I’ve taken.

“Reconciliation is a process.

“It’s never going to give me back my eyesight.

Mural of Richard Moore with the Dalai Lama, unveiled in Derry in 2021.

“It’s never going to take away the hurt it’s caused to me and my family but it means we can say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna let it divide us for the rest of our lives in a negative sense. Let’s move on’.

“That’s really what I think the event is about.”

Asked about the proposed amnesty that would protect British soldiers from facing any repercussions for their actions before 1998, Richard says: “I don’t think there should be an amnesty. I think the law’s the law.

“It’s wrong to just say, ‘We’re drawing a line under this and  from this point on, nobody’s guilty’.

“You’re expected to behave a certain way under certain conditions when you wear a uniform.

“If you don’t act within those conditions, then they meet the uniform should be meaningless and should not be an armour against the wrong you’ve committed.

“The reason I say that is because a lot of these government is proposing is to protect the military and I think that that’s wrong.

“If you have committed a crime, you should be dealt with adequately.

“It should have never been proposed.”

Richard’s international organisation Children in Crossfire is now going for over 25 years and does work in countries such as Ethipia and Tanzania.

“All of that has happened not because of me, not even because of Children in Crossfire but because of all those people that basically showed me what real love and compassion is.

“And I genuinely mean that, that’s why I’m so proud of what Children in Crossfire is doing.

“Out of conflict, out of trauma, out of all that has happened, there is something really good.

“Children in Crossfire is so important to me because it stands for so many things.

“It stands for the fact that you can survive something terrible, there is life after the incident, you can contribute in a positive way.

“You can forgive. You can live your life without hatred and anger.

“You can use that experience to change the lives of other people.

“There’s so many things, for me that I’m just so privileged to be part of. I’m not recommending anyone goes out and gets blinded or anything.

“You’re dealt certain cards.”

Richard Moore and Charles Inness are in conversation with Peter Taylor OBE from 7.30pm this Friday at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

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