CO-CREATION: ‘The Derry Llama’, Educating The Heart

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  • “…Richard has met two Popes. He had an audience with Pope Benedict last year in Rome. He has visited Malawi and sung with the people around a campfire. Best of all, though, is his friendship with the Dalai Lama, a man who considers Richard his friend but also his hero. In the forward of Richard’s book, his holiness writes, “While I talk about forgiveness, Richard Moore lives it.”

I met the soldier who blinded me — but he never apologised

Richard Moore: ‘I was knocked on a journey that is still happening’ Photo by Ronan Lang

Richard Moore and Dalai Lama mural to feature on Joanna Lumley's TV show - The Irish News
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On May 4, 1972, Richard Moore was walking home from Rosemount Primary School in Derry. He was passing an army base and a soldier fired a rubber bullet. It hit Richard on the forehead from a range of 10 feet.

“Everything went blank,” says Richard. “I was blind. I was 10 years old.”

That year was a terrible time in Derry. Richard’s uncle had been shot on Bloody Sunday. There was constant violence in the neighbourhood, so Richard’s family was already under huge pressure.

“My accident broke them,” he says.

The whole family gave Richard enormous support, but there was a sadness in the house.

“There was a cold atmosphere. It was like a wake without a body in the house. My mother was extremely depressed. She was crying constantly. There was this sense that things were not right. It was tough on all my siblings.

“I think,” says Richard, “that my parents were waiting for me to snap or flip. They were waiting for my blindness to register with me, but that never came. I began to grow and cope with my blindness, and then they began to cope with it.”

Richard is an extraordinary man. Now 47, he works for Children of Crossfire, a charity he founded himself to help vulnerable children around the world. He was clearly an extraordinary boy.

Before the incident, he played football for his primary school. He loved cycling. And he wasn’t going to let his blindness stop him doing any of that.

He forgave the soldier who blinded him | Michael Henderson
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“They were my eyes,” he says. “I followed their voices.”

There were times, though, that they let him down. Once his ‘helper’ became distracted on a pier, and Richard fell off; another friend led him straight down a manhole. Richard handled all this with humour.

He says that it was the support from his friends, and from neighbours that got him through; but it’s clear that it’s his ‘can do’ attitude that has saved him.

That, and his spirit of forgiveness. How come he never felt angry; never wanted revenge?

“I got that from my parents,” he says. “I never heard them say an angry word, not once. I’ve seen my mother emotional, but my father hid his hurts. He protected me.”

His parents were deeply religious. Yet when Richard’s sister fell in love with a boy from the British Army, something that was dangerous, they never stood in her way.

“They supported her. They realised they could not choose partners for their children and she loved him. They were very forward thinking.”

It was expected that Richard would attend a school for the blind. But he couldn’t bear the thought of living away from his family, and his father, in particular, felt it would not be beneficial. So he arranged for Richard to learn typing, and eased the way for him to cope at secondary school. And he did, gaining two ‘A’ Levels and a place in college.

Derry man blinded by rubber bullet immortalised in song - The Irish News
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Life wasn’t easy. Richard describes the sense of disorientation.

“Imagine,” he says, “that you’re blindfolded at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. The wind is howling and you are spun round four or five times. You have to decide which way to walk.” No wonder, then, that in such situations he suffered from panic attacks.

But he doesn’t dwell on all that. He talks of his music. He learned the guitar, became proficient, and played in bands and helped found a folk group. It was how he gained confidence and status with his friends. And it was how he met his wife, Rita, who is a singer.

“Some of my greatest friends, still, are in the music industry,” he says. “The people I go on holiday with, and the people I socialise with at weekends, are all people who were involved with the folk group.”

Richard’s blindness has, he says, afforded him great privilege. As a boy he went to America to see a surgeon who might have saved his sight. That he couldn’t didn’t phase Richard. He loved the family he stayed with, the snow and tobogganing. And the chance to meet Senator Edward Kennedy.

Our Founder - Children in Crossfire
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Richard has met two Popes. He had an audience with Pope Benedict last year in Rome. He has visited Malawi and sung with the people around a campfire. Best of all, though, is his friendship with the Dalai Lama, a man who considers Richard his friend but also his hero. In the forward of Richard’s book, his holiness writes, “While I talk about forgiveness, Richard Moore lives it.”

The two met, first, when the Dalai Lama visited Derry in 2000.

“Meeting him was incredible,” says Richard, who was in the audience that day. “He articulated everything that I felt about forgiveness. I said to him, ‘you are talking about forgiveness in exactly the way I feel it. You are contextualising everything I feel’.”

They met again when the Dalai Lama returned a few years later, and again in 2007.

“He came from India to Derry because I asked him to,” says Richard. “It was the 10th anniversary of the Children of Crossfire and he came, and he called me his hero. He held my hand for two days and it was unreal. I will never be able to express quite how that felt.”

In 2005 Hotshot films began a TV documentary on Richard’s life. And they discovered the name of the soldier who had shot that rubber bullet. Richard wrote to the soldier. He received a reply, and on January 14, 2006, he flew to Edinburgh to meet the soldier, Charles.

The two talked all afternoon over tea. And Charles explained that he’d shot the bullet to get stone throwers to ‘bugger off.’ He said he regretted that the bullet caused damage. But he didn’t say ‘sorry’. Surely that was a disappointment?

“It would be nice for him to say it. And it would be good in the wider context. Because I go into schools and talk in chapels and I am often asked, ‘did he say he was sorry?’ And I have to say no. People are disappointed in that.

“He hasn’t said sorry but I reckon he is. We have discussed sorry. I think he has said it in his own way. I can’t get hung up on words. And I don’t think it would make any difference about how I feel.

“Meeting him helped me appreciate what forgiveness actually means to me. I felt a sense of euphoria. I sat opposite him and that 33-year gap just closed. I said, ‘I forgive you and I have always forgiven you. I have no hatred towards you.’ I felt that was seismic. I was sharing that emotion with the person I needed to share it with.

“Whether he wanted that forgiveness was not relevant. If he wanted it, he had it. It was wonderful to sit with this guy who had caused so much hurt; who had blinded me for life and share a cup of tea and a chat. I am so grateful for that.

“When I was knocked with a rubber bullet, I was knocked on a journey that is still happening. It has taken me to places and given me wonderful experiences so I can’t say blindness is a terrible thing. If I had to give up all these things to get my eyesight back tomorrow, I would not want it back. Some things are bigger than eyesight.”

Can I Give Him My Eyes? by Richard Moore is published by Hachette Books Ireland at €12.99

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