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‘It could have been us’

Thursday, 24 August 2017

‘It could have been us’ thumbnail Edel Halligan and her son Oisin on Las Ramblas shortly before the terrorist attack on the popular tourist area in Barcelona.

AN Armagh woman and her teenage son pose for a photograph amid thousands of tourists on a sunny Spanish street - mere moments before scenes of unimaginable carnage and bloodshed.

Edel Halligan had been holidaying with her son Oisin in Barcelona on Thursday afternoon, when the tranquility was shattered by a barbaric terrorist attack in the Catalan capital.

At least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a van, driven at high speed, ploughed into care-free crowds of visitors as they wandered along the pedestrianised avenue popular with tourists.

Edel and Oisin had just a short time earlier posed for this photograph on Las Ramblas promenade where the atrocity happened, and captured the happiness of the occasion.

And yet it was a happiness that was all too short lived.

The mother-of-two spoke to the Ulster Gazette and described the panic of a city which went into lockdown following the attack which happened "on the doorstep of our hotel".

She told too of the frantic journey across the city as they made their way back to the airport, leaving behind a city under siege.

Edel, a community nurse from Abbey Park, described how she and 16-year-old Oisin - who is awaiting his GCSE results on Thursday - had been enjoying the last of their quiet family holiday, when the horror unfolded.

"We were having some ice-cream before we left for the airport when we heard a lot of sirens and my son had said 'I wonder what's going on?'", recalled Edel.

"At the start, we didn't think too much and then we heard people talking and mentioning Las Ramblas and an accident and then we heard a terror attack mentioned.

"When they said it was a terror attack, people seemed a lot more afraid and the atmosphere really changed." "There was just so much panic. Streets were cordoned off and people didn't really know what was happening.

"We had passed through Las Ramblas just half an hour before the attack and it was just the normal busy street - it was hot and people were out eating and drinking.

"There were people just like us out enjoying their holiday or day out. It just seems so surreal. It could have been us! "Our hotel was just off Las Ramblas, so we were in that area every day. It was right on our hotel's doorstep, so you had to pass through it.

"The street itself was cordoned off, so we had to find an alternative route and no-one could tell us how to get back.

"Taxis wouldn't stop and we couldn't get back to our hotel.

"Nobody knew anything and couldn't tell us where to go, so we were a bit lost and felt so helpless.

"We just wandered around until we eventually found our hotel, but we didn't know where we were going.

"We just wanted to get back to the hotel to feel safe. I just feel so relieved as we are the lucky ones." After returning to their hotel, Edel and Oisin - who had been in the city from Tuesday, having also spent two days in Salou - collected their luggage and headed straight to the airport.

"The taxi driver told us on the way to the airport the city was locked down," Edel said.

"A lot of people were very relieved to be at the airport. We went through security straightaway and that was the only place where I felt safe.

"But when we got through security, someone started to scream as if they were being attacked and that again changed the atmosphere.

"We had a fantastic holiday, but it had a horrible ending.

"We are very relieved to be back home. Coming through the Troubles, I was used to that, but you very quickly come away from it.

"I wasn't as frightened during the Troubles as I was in Las Ramblas, but that was because we were so far from home.

"It wouldn't stop me from going back to Barcelona though, as it is a fabulous city." For Edel's family back home in Armagh, it was an anxious wait until they got confirmation that both were safe.

"My partner who is a security consultant was giving me advice over the phone on how to stay safe when faced with a terrorist attack, whilst my son innocently advised us to go into a toilet and put a blanket over our heads.

"Lots of people started to get in touch and were phoning and messaging to make sure we were OK, so we were reassuring people and trying to get to the airport to get home," Edel added.

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