[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The night fire fell from the sky published today on the website of the Scottish Catholic Observer:]
The 30th anniversary has put the catastrophe at the forefront of the media once again as witnesses and families relive the horror. One survivor who was there at the epicentre in Sherwood Crescent had, at the time of the disaster, recently been appointed parish priest of the town’s Holy Trinity Church.
Just as the previously sleepy town suddenly found itself on the centre of the world’s stage, Canon Patrick Keegans, then Fr Keegans, soon became one of the most recognisable faces of the tragedy.
As darkness descended, and the shortest day of the year gave way to the longest night, no one could have known how just how long the night would be and the devastation it would bring. (...)
“I was upstairs when it happened and the whole house shook so much I thought I would die there,” Canon Keegans said.
“My mother, who was downstairs, was protected by the fridge freezer. At that point I thought it was a fighter plane that had come down.”
Opening the front door, there was only the sound of the crackling of fire to break the momentary eerie silence before the emergency services would descend, only the light of the flames illuminating the darkness which the street had been plunged into as power failed.
“The whole street was gone, it was just debris everywhere,” Canon Keegans said.
“I made an effort to get further in and I think that was symbolic. I needed to try to do something.
“With another man, I was able to carry a woman out but that was as much as we could do in Sherwood Crescent.”
As the local priest, he was soon sought out and, although in the first days he was as shocked and tearful as anyone else, his capacity for pastoral support saw him become an essential part of the grieving and healing in the wake of the atrocity.
“It was simple in some ways because I had the plus factor of living there, of being in Sherwood Crescent at the time, and they could see the sadness in my eyes. And that’s a sorrow that lasts to this day,” he said. (...)
A public life he had never sought or wanted would soon begin. It was his conviction that the families needed to know the truth to begin to heal and his belief in Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s innocence drove him forward.
Megrahi, an alleged Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in 2001 of carrying out the bombing.
However, some remain convinced of his innocence. Canon Keegans joined the Justice for Megrahi campaign, which ended his close friendships with many of the victims families.
“I was their blue-eyed boy and then suddenly I was the traitor,” he said.
“To a large extent the relationships went but I’m still close to some of them. I couldn’t just sit back when I believed in his innocence, so my conscience is clear.”
Canon Keegans was spared the survivor guilt which often plagues those who escape death in terrible circumstances.
“I never felt guilty, only grateful to be alive and grateful my mother was alive. I did wish that I had been taken instead of the children, all of whom I knew. (...)