Northern Ireland, home to the many famous from sporting hero Carl Frampton ad Olympian Paddy Barnes to television and film stars, Eamonn Holmes, Bear Grylls, Liam Neeson, Terry George and artist Joseph McWilliams who is most famous for his paintings of ‘The Troubles’.
Belfast has grown massively over the years now being a fragrant city of culture, opportunities and landscapes of outstanding natural beauty. The city widely famous across the world as the birthplace of the Titanic, the divide between peace walls protecting the catholic and protestant communities, and the conflict known as ‘The Troubles’.
The height of the troubles dominated all of Northern Ireland since the 1960’s and was meant to have ended in 1998 during the Good Friday Agreement.
Belfast and Londonderry still experiences rioting, maybe not to the extent of conflict during the troubles, but usually coming up to the 12th July of every year conflict continues with a series of riots across the cities many starting and ending in death.
I am thankful that I wasn’t born during the height of the troubles in the 60’s through to the 80’s with the stories I have heard and read, the many films based on the troubles and the documentaries I’ve been able to watch. I was born in 1989, so I missed a huge portion of the troubles, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t witnessed any terror, conflict or experienced trauma.
I lived off the Limestone Road known as Parkside situated 50 yards away from Tigers Bay in North Belfast. Parkside was a catholic neighbourhood and Tigers Bay was protestant. There was a huge divide and a lot of conflict between the two communities.
I personally would go to school having to walk past the area of conflict not known who you will face, what you will see and what may happen. You can say school was the safe place to be, but unfortunately I experienced bullying and at this time during my primary school education, I didn’t know were was safe for at home I had family problems experiencing domestic violence and abuse and as for the community, the troubles explains my level of security. I had no real safe place.
It was a terrifying time and still today it frightens me whilst reflecting back. Sometime I don’t need to reflect for the nightmares still haunt me daily. I never really understood the troubles as a young lad and only new the catholics didn’t like the protestants vine versa.
When the riots took place, no one knew when they would start. Sometimes it only took a couple of people, many times it was because of the police and British army, sometimes it was planned. These took place during the morning, afternoons and evening and even during the early hours. You would be in bed and the warning siren in the area would sound and you knew what was happening, the children feared and the adults fought. You’d listen to the shouting, the screams and police sirens, the revs of the army jeeps would curious to look out the bedroom window, but you’d watch burning cars, army jeeps lying on it’s side, police in their riot gear and the noise of pipe bombs, gun shots and shattered glass.
mornings you would wake up early for school and even once during Christmas Day we woke up as a family to notice the street covered in paint bombs, cars ruined, windows smashed and gravity up the walls. It was horrifying.
I remember one particular morning I woke up to shouting from outside my window, I pulled back the curtains and seen a masked man have a gun put to my neighbours head. Thankfully the gunman seen me look out watching in fear, but curious and he ran off without any shooting.
Another incident, another neighbour was badly attacked with hammers and hatchets during the early hours of the mourning yards from f=her front door. Thankfully she survived but was unrecognisable with her injuries and unfortunately she had a very long recovery.
More and more incidents was happening during the early hours, the electric of the neighbourhood would be cut off and the area would be attacked and by all means it wasn’t just the catholics who where the victims, the protestants were too. There as no party innocent.
One night my grandfather called during a little conflict in the area. He called down overnight and would sit for hours entertaining my siblings and I
and child in some ways you got excited and always wanted to take a sneaky look around the corner and watch what was going on. You counted your age daily in hope to hit the age where you can watch the troubles and take part. The troubles on the limestone happened often which involved stones, slates, bricks and glass bottles. Paint and blast bombs where often used and emergency services being the RUC who are now known as the PSNI where called and were in their riot uniforms joking shields and batons and the British Army doing the same and have been known to shoot at our community.
I have no anger against the police, British army or the Protestant community for they are just people like myself with different beliefs as as for the emergency services, they had a job to carry out with sometimes not accurately, but they where still their to try and stop the conflict and succeeded some days and other days not.
As a child and behind my mothers back, I would sneak and throw a stone or two to look tough, but in reality I was someone immature infant trying to be an immature adult. When not throwing stones, on days when it was quiet friends and I and other friendship groups would have collected stones and slates in box and kept them hid until the next riot. Glass bottles where recycled but not in the way she should be, they where collected to through and to make petrol bombs.
When the rioting started, often a siren would sound out a loud whaling noise in the neighbours back garden which alerted our community and beyond that there is trouble and that we needed help. As a child cause we where aloud on the front scene, we worked behind the arena following instructions from the older ones to get the boxes of stones, the creates of glass bottles and on occasions we where given petrol to prepare to make petrol bombs. No matter the age, sex or what you knew or didn’ know, you always helped and it was just the stigma around the riots.
I have seen many things growing up in the area and i’ve been a a victim at that too.
The electrify would be cut in the early hours and our area would be attacked with stones, paint bombs and petrol bombs, putting through people’s windows of their home and writing slang on the walls of our homes and roads.
The flat we lived in was targeted just after midnight with petrol bombs in a horrific arson attack as my siblings and I slept and my mother and grandfather listening to music and having a chinwag over a cup of tea. I was in bed and was woke up with the sound of broken glass and the sudden smell of petrol and smoke. I was still at primary school age in the 90’s and I remember my mum and grandfather grabbing us out of bed and evacuated out of the building and moved up the street in a near by neighbours house as emergency services was called and tackled the blaze.
We where left homeless for a large number of months and had to live from one hostel to another until our flat was renovated and safe to move back in. I remember for months on end, the rioting continued but my fears of the same thing happening again I was wetting the bed often and sleeping with my shoes on even though the police ensured us of our safety by watching our home for a short while.
I remember the day my mum collected me from school and we had to go to the supermarket for our shopping, so we cut through the park passing our flat on the way so mum told me to put my school bag behind the door of the flat, but me being a child I left it on the step outside. On our return from supermarket the street was cordoned off with police, fire brigade, the British army and the bombsquad after our neighbour who lived below us seen the school bag that I had left on the doorstep he thought it was suspicious. The street was evacuated and as police explained the circumstances of a suspicious bag. I told my mum with the officer present that it might be my school bag so I had to identify the bag and what was in the bag. Turned out it was a false alarm and all my fault. I got a good hard slap from my mother.
We moved up the street from the flat to a house and the troubles still continued with one morning I woke up and looked out my bedroom window which overlooked our entryway to see a man wearing a balaclava point a gun at a neighbours head. Somehow the man with the gun looked up to my window and seen me and ran and thankfully didn’t shoot.
I worked in the local shop that was run by Indians who where very friendly and became the communities closest friends through loyalty, love and trust. I use to clean the shop and stack shelves and dispose of the rubbish. I remember the time rioting has occurred as I was stacking the shelves and seen the owner run to the front of the shop and pulled the shutters done and locked us in. I think that was probably my worst event with not being at home. It was terrifying!
Even on Christmas morning rioting still occurred which was pretty sad for the community as Christmas is to be special.
I was struck with a baton from a police officer once as I walked along the limestone, but when I seen the police I ran and I don’t know why, I was scared but a jeep pulled in front of me and one of the officers hit my thigh with his baton for no reason, bar they where horrible people. I wasn’t even a teenager and I was victimised by people who are meant to be a protection and still to this day I don’t know why they did it and I never told my parents.
The troubles where bizarre all over Northern Ireland with what I heard from the news, but it was traumatic enough where I lived and there never seemed to be a break. I’ve seen someone giving permission for his lorry to be set alight and pushed towards the police, army and the opposite community. I seen adult throwing glass bottles still full with alcohol and even in the park that sat at the bottom of my street, a park that was divided between catholic and protestant with a peace wall. Then it made no sense, but a lot of sense and looking back now it’s just ridiculous how two communities reacted to one another. Alexander park, a place that should be a safe place for children became another rioting spot with gunshots being fired at a group of adults and some children with one of them being me and a friend. Only for the adult who was a neighbour of mine grabbing me and my friend to the ground, I might not have been here today to write about my experiences.
Sometimes even your own community turned on you with one man known as billy batman, a neighbour who put a knife to my throat and threatened if I ever look at him again that he will rip my voice box out of my throat. I was eleven years old.
The area became horrible and residents lost interest in their home with many putting barriers up on their windows and kids becoming distant. The local community houses opened up to try and keep kids of the streets and supplied us with activities and days out to our beaches in the summer and cinema in the winter.
The area began to change and the troubles started to become less frequent and cameras where erected to monitor the behaviour of the two communities.
Things changed and my family moved out of Belfast and moved to a beautiful seaside village in County Down, something my mother should have done long before our actual move away.
Parkside still exists with new developments, houses, flats and even the peace wall with the local park is open during daylight. Tigers bay also still stands and I’m sure things have changed for them and all and even a boxing legend Carl Frampton comes from the opposite community and a great supporter we have all become.
The only thing I don’t like about the Protestant community is their bonfires on 11th July and not because of their beliefs, but for the damage it does to our beautiful world and their surrounding areas when they light their bonfires, some looking like masterpieces, but everyone to their own.
There is political groups here and there and to be honest, i’m not interested in politics. I never was and i’m sure I will never take an interest either.
Despite all the hardship, the trauma, the worry and fears I have no anger towards any protestant and even saying it on here I don’t like. I don’t care if you are catholic or protestant, muslim or Indian, we are all one, we are all only human and despite we aren’t perfect, but does perfection or normality even exists?
We hope for world peace!