In 1976 Marie lost an eye in a car bomb explosion set off by extremist Protestant guerrillas.

Seventeen years later her son Gavin died after being caught in the crossfire of an attack on a Catholic taxi driver's office.Marie is just one of thousands of people whose lives have been wrecked by the 30-year-long conflict in Northern Ireland and its bloody toll of shootings, bombings, punishment beatings and intimidation.

More than 3,200 people have been killed since decades of resentment between Catholics and Protestants boiled over into what the people of Northern Ireland call with deceptive simplicity "The Troubles."

But the wives, children and fathers of those still living a nightmare feel they are the forgotten voices in the peace talks between political parties entrenched in ideology and steeped in bitter history.

Myrtle's husband was shot dead in his home 23 years ago. Their 8-year-old daughter tried to save him as he lay bleeding on the floor.

"It destroyed my life and I am not the only one. There are thousands of us and our hurt never leaves us. But no one wants to listen. We feel that we are brushed under the carpet. Our voices don't seem to be important.

"It is the families of the victims who should be at that table talking," she said.

A 1997 study on the cost of the Troubles estimated that some 6,800 people in Northern Ireland have seen one of their immediate family killed in sectarian violence,

But the true cost is much higher as relatives are left to cope with the trauma. Children often turn to drugs, drop out of school or join one of the guerrilla groups in a cycle of violence.

Marriages break down, men drown their sorrows in drink and women take Prozac or Valium as they bring up children alone.

When the funerals are over, those left behind often find themselves locked in isolation and are forced to relive their nightmares with every bulletin bringing news of some fresh outrage.

Even as the politicians struggled to overcome their differences and reach a final settlement this week, a man was killed in Londonderry by republican guerrillas and a Belfast man was shot in the legs in a punishment shooting blamed on pro-British Loyalists.

"When they shot a policeman in my home town of Armagh recently, it brought it all back. My heart went and I ended up in hospital for three days," said Marie.

Progress on the long road to peace brings as much grief as relief.

"When they announced the cease-fires in 1994 all I could think of was that if they had done it two years earlier my husband would still be alive," said Betty.