My heart goes out to all those affected by this moment of madness

Candles are lit outside the French Embassy in London, following the death of at least 84 people, including several children, after a terrorist drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. 
Picture: Hannah McKay/PA Wire
Candles are lit outside the French Embassy in London, following the death of at least 84 people, including several children, after a terrorist drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. Picture: Hannah McKay/PA Wire
An illustration of how the Sinah Lane development could look if a planning pplication is passed. Picture: Barratt Homes

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The French Riviera, and Nice in particular, has so many recent happy memories for me.

I was part of Northern Ireland’s GAWA (Green and White Army, for those not in the know) who descended on France’s south coast for the start of my wee country’s Euro 2016 campaign last month.

I spent four fantastic days in the city, soaking up the atmosphere generated by my fellow countrymen as they celebrated their first major championships in 30 years.

Nice was awash with Ulstermen who packed out the bars, filled the many restaurants, took over the Promenade des Anglais, serenaded the locals, and claimed the best spots on the seemingly never-ending beach that wows visitors on their arrival.

My adopted city for those few days also, unforgettably, stretched out the hand of friendship to that short-lived Northern Irish invasion.

This charming holiday destination appeared to collectively beam with delight as potential threats of terrorism surrounding the football were seemingly put to one side.

Our hosts proved accommodating, tolerant of the many antics that took place, up for the craic, and, most significantly of all, relaxed as their streets were taken over.

They also proved sympathetic and sensitive after a Northern Ireland fan fatally fell from the promenade on to rocks during his stay.

At the time, you sensed such a tragedy was out of character for a city that has in all probability produced more happy memories than bad ones for those lucky enough to have visited it.

However, the terrible events of last night (Thursday) will have changed that persona for ever.

I was horrified and saddened when I inadvertently switched on the news shortly after word of this latest shocking incident to hit France started to filter through.

I couldn’t believe what was being reported and struggled to accept that terror had been brought to a city that for whatever silly, romantic reasons now holds a special place in my heart.

I joyfully walked that promenade where tragedy struck on countless occasions when I was there - both day and night.

And I can’t help but wonder about those ordinary people I came across whose daily routine took in that magnificent seafront.

Families, dog walkers, joggers, street performers and cleaners were just some of those you would dump into or have to dodge as you took in the sights, with hotel after hotel lining the other side of the seafront.

What has happened to them? Were they caught up in the incident as thousands celebrated Bastille Day on the Mediterranean coast?

Has their world been turned upside down, when less than a month ago, when I was there, all seemed calm and idyllic?

My heart goes out to all those affected by this moment of madness, and I know all my fellow countrymen who made their way to Nice, too, will be devastated by these awful events.

The Northern Ireland fans were awarded the Medal of the City of Paris for their ‘exemplary behaviour’ during Euro 2016.

For a country whose reputation across the globe often goes before it, such recognition means so much.

However, it wouldn’t have been possible without the people of France and Nice, in particular.

That’s where the journey began. That’s where the party started. That’s where we as a country were accepted and welcomed as Northern Ireland made its way back onto the international championship stage.

Put simply, it was a case of ‘Nice to see you, to see you Nice!’

Thank you, Nice. Our thoughts are with you at this time.