On the 23rd of June, 1985, Air India flight 182, en route from Montreal to New Delhi, exploded in mid-air off the coast of West Cork. All souls on board were lost – 329 children, women and men, of whom 268 were Canadians. The bomb originated in Vancouver and was the work of Sikh extremists. The perpetrators have never been convicted, leaving the families of the victims, almost 30 years later, with no sense of justice and closure.
The Air India bombing is very much a living story still in Canada and especially in Vancouver, where the chief suspects live and where the trials of those suspects were held – trials that went horribly awry and which resulted in acquittals. I have seen heartbreaking interviews with family members – people who lost parents, brothers, sisters, children – speaking of their long search for the truth and their despair at the incompetence of the prosecution process. In one moving piece, a son said (I paraphrase from memory), “We have been let down by the government of Canada. We have been let down by the government of India. The only people who have never let us down are the people of West Cork in Ireland.”
Many West Cork people were involved in recovering the bodies and collecting what washed up on shore. They were intensely affected by the plight of the families and by their wish for a memorial – a place of focus where they could gather to remember their dear ones. The people of Cork purchased a site at Ahakista, on the rugged and remote Sheep’s Head Peninsula, and built that memorial. Every year on June 23rd they host a remembrance ceremony. It is a place of unearthly beauty and the memorial is heart-rending in its design. Oriented towards the wild coast, a large sundial marks the moment when the plane went down. Around the dial are these words:
And shadows fall
Let it pass by
Love reigns forever
Today, on a grey and mizzling day, Robert and I travelled here to remember those we have loved and lost, ensuring that Ahakista will remain for us an enduring place of peace and memory.