The mother of a young soldier murdered by republicans 10 years ago today in Co Antrim says she is so touched that NI still commemorates him with such fondness.
Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were gunned down by two masked Real IRA gunmen outside Massereene Barracks in Antrim on March 7 2009.
The Royal Engineers were only hours from flying to Afghanistan and had gone to collect pizzas from a delivery man at the entrance to their barracks when they were shot.
The soldiers were the first to be murdered in Northern Ireland since Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was killed by an IRA sniper in south Armagh in 1997.
Lurgan republican Colin Duffy was found not guilty of the murders and Magheraflet man Brian Shivers was initially convicted but later had the finding quashed.
Patrick’s mother Geraldine, who is based in London, said she is surprised at the level of fondness for her son in Antrim. She is coming to visit to attend a number of commemorative events to mark 10 years since the loss of her son.
“I have mixed feelings about coming back to Northern Ireland,” she said.
“It is the place Patrick was murdered so it is not an easy place to go to. But it is also the place where he is very well remembered.”
She is taken aback by how well he is remembered in NI.
“We are surprised and touched that people remember him and Mark so well, they are not forgotten. And they are more than remembered; certainly in Antrim, although people never met them, I get the feeling there is a kind of fondness for them in some way, they have kind of adopted them.”
Although wreaths are laid for Patrick each year in London, there is “a lot more heart in it” in Northern Ireland.
Geraldine named him Patrick with respect to her Irish heritage. Her Protestant father was from a Co Antrim village while her Catholic mother was from Kerry. “They were always people who always wanted peace in any situation – they would never go for war.”
She notes that her life growing up was very much in the midst of “difference”. “We lived in Haringate in London for years, probably one of the most diverse places in Europe.”
As an athiest the tragedy saw her rediscover “hope” through her Catholic faith. Although she holds no bitterness she has has not forgiven the killers.
“It is not something you can summon up. I think it is a kind of grace that may come in time. I hope it does.”
But she is convinced that the people who carried out the killings have also inflicted huge damage on themselves.
“It is going to have an impact on you whether you are aware of it or not. It will have a negative impact whether they can see that or not. But others will probably see it in them.”
Although he died 10 years ago Patrick is still very much part of their family.
“Although he is not with us anymore he hasn’t gone from our minds and our hearts, he is still with us. He is still part of our family. I think about him every day. We talk about him a lot. You don’t stop loving someone just because they die”.
A private memorial service will take place today at the location where the soldiers were gunned down.
The location, Massereene Barracks on the Randalstown Road, Antrim, has since been taken over by Randox Laboratories.
To mark the 10th anniversary, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council will unveil a memorial bench and plant a tree at a private service where the two men died.
This will be followed at 11am by a public service of remembrance at the war memorial in Market Square in Antrim, where a stone has been erected in memory of the two soldiers.
Wreaths will be also laid by the mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, the Royal British Legion, the Army and the Azimkar family, among others.
A special dinner will also take place afterwards, which will host Ms Ferguson.
Then on Monday Ms Ferguson will address the European Day for Victims of Terrorism event at Stormont, which starts at 10.30am.
Host, TUV leader Jim Allister, said: “Every year since the Madrid bombings in 2004 across Europe 11th March has been dedicated as Memorial Day to the victims of terrorist attacks.”
Anyone wishing to attend should email firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday, he said.