Forthspring Inter Community Group

60’s Stories

Naked Sectarianism

It was one of those after school clubs and there was a peace conference at Corrymeela and we went, some girls from the lower sixth went to this conference and it was great as we were meeting youngpeople who were the same age as ourselves from all over Northern Ireland and from catholic andprotestant backgrounds. It was a nice place to meet people as well. We were all young and idealistic and some of us thought, “Right, rather than let this be just a one off, why don’t we conti nue to have contact with each other? “ Because it’s good to do that and to show that we’re not so different in thingsthat we care about like music and films and the grand debates and what it’s all about. We didn’t seem that different in what we were concerned about.

So anyway, we established this organisation called Contact and that first Christmas after we always used to have a school dance for the sixth form and we wanted to invite some of the catholic boys’ schools along to the school dance and the head teacher said she would have to think about it and discuss it with the board of governors. The decision was that the board and she didn’t feel it was appropriate and it could lead to people getting themselves into dangerous situations. Well, at the time I wouldn’t have understood what it would have been like to ask the school to take a policy decision on such a thing. I just felt it was pure prejudice and why should the school decide who we could meet andwe could meet people outside of school and nobody could stop us and what message did it send out?
That we were only allowed to meet Protestants? But I can see now that it wasn’t black and white like that for the adults involved but as a 17 year old, it struck me as naked sectarianism.

Irish History

Well, a great thing about the school we were at, the Girl’s Model, was that we had a history teacher who taught us Irish history. Now this was a girls’ Protestant state school the head teacher had to sit inwith the classes because we were being taught about Sinn Fein – the original Sinn Fein – and we were given an overview of the history of Ireland in terms of British imperialism and what hadhappened in other places too. But we were also given a deep sense of the complications of it, in thatthe plantations of the Elizabethan times – people had been living here for four or five hundred years which is a hell of a long time. It’s not as if you’ve just blown in, so you’d have roots. I was imbued with a great sense of the complications of Northern Ireland and the six counties – that wasn’t something simple. And I remember then when I went and studied history at university level, thinking, my god, there’s a lot of comparisons with what happened in Spain which was an equally complicated…

Now I realize the teachers were taking risks that would have – and I’m sure my head teacher must have and I didn’t realise – but now I realise she must have had one hell of a hard time with the board of governors.

When the trouble really broke out, I was going in to the lower sixth and my English teacher –  she was living on the Limestone Road –  and she was yawning and apologising that she hadn’t had any sleep because of the gunfire all night.

I loved the 60’s

I loved the 60s. I loved the dancing – not Irish dancing but the jive! The dances were mixed. I remember these two boys from the Shankill, we called them ‘the Billy’s’ because we weren’t sure of their names. After a dance one night they tried to kiss my friend and me. We were so innocent! I was 17 and had never been kissed. My friend stopped them and said we weren’t like that and we didn’t see them again after that. That was ok but you would never bring a Protestant home to meet the family – we all knew that much! It was a big deal to inter-marry. It broke up families.

Moved Out

They came to the house with baseball bats. Then the army came down and said you would have tomove out. My Mummy left the house that she had been brought up in, it broke her heart. And then we had nowhere to go. We got a house in Highfield. This man came round and said there are houses in Highfield that Catholics had moved out of and we could move in temporary. So we got one of those. But it was awful. All we had was the clothes we stood in and what we could lift, because anything we left in the house they took out and burnt it. The people who lived beside us who we thought were our friends, there was two of them with the baseball bats. We lost all our school books, our photographs. But it was worse for our Mummy. She had lost her home, everything that she had put in to it.

God Save the Queen

My husband and I moved into an all Protestant Street in the 1960s. The day we moved in, our neighbours put a radio in the window and played God Save the Queen. We didn’t own a radio so I walked down to a shop and explained the story so I could borrow one. The next day I played the Soldier Song out our window. She never bothered us again and we got on real well after that.

On the Wrong Side of the Road

I lived in Morris Street, facing Woodvale Avenue. When the Whiterock Parade came up the Springfield we all sat on this one big step with ourcrisps and watched the parade. But when the Troubles started the armywas there and they blocked us in. They would not let us out to see the parade because they thought we were Catholics. My Daddy went to the soldiers to say these kids always watch the bands here and they told my Daddy if he wouldn’t move away they would arrest him. That was the end of the parades and the 11th night for us. And as the Troubles got worse at night we were sleeping in the church hall at Springfield Methodist. There was a lot of trouble on the road, rioting, and we moved to be safe. My Daddy put the ward robes in front of the windows and stayed in the house.

We were in the church. Everybody was sleeping there, Catholics and Protestants. There was one guy in particular. He put his car in behind the gates. As we were leaving for school in the morning he threw a bucket of water round us. He slept in the hall with us that night and the next morning he soaked us. We had to get the bus to Glencairn School on the Springfield Road, it brought us up round the West Circular. He told us, that pathway is green white and gold, don’t be walking on it. We didn’t understand. We didn’t know anything different.

Room to Rhyme

In 1968 he had toured Northern Ireland with Michael Longley and myself in a programme of songs and poems entitled Room to Rhyme. The title comes from the first verse of a mummers play demanding, “Room, room, my gallant boys,/Give us room torhyme,” and the impulse and  extravagance suggested by this invocation remained alive in him to the very end.
Seamus Heaney, Obituary of David Hammond, Guardian 28th August 2008

It was just a wonderful evening of poetry and song and stories. And I didn’t realise, as I was only sixteen years old, that I was in a room where there was greatness because you had Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Davy Hammond singing folk songs. They were all about the themes of life, love and death. And as a teenager, my goodness, these are more important than anything else that was going on. This must have been, perhaps, ’68 – it was before the Troubles, that last autumn before the Troubles. Just listening to the poetry and the lyrics and – Michael Longley was so protestant in his outlook and Seamus Heaney came from a more catholic/nationalist/rural perspective. And then the folk songs, well, it just appealed to me in my youthfulness – you know there were all these commonalities and all these universal things that affected us all, and they were bigger than politics, as faras I was concerned. The event took place in Orangefield Secondary school – a boy’s state secondary school – would something like that happen now?

The door was open and the house was dark
Wherefore I called his name, although I knew
The answer this time would be silence
The door was open and the house was dark‟  

in memory of David Hammond by Seamus Heaney.

The Time Before The Troubles

I grew up in a street named Bearnagh Drive. Bearnagh Drive is a very long street which runs from Koram Ring to the Glen Road. Situated half way up the street was my primary school which was called ‘Holy Child Primary School.’ I believe the school was once in the Guinness Book of records for being the largest primary school in Western Europe. I think at that time it had about 1400 pupils. The street itself hasn’t changed very much and the school is still there much the same as it was, except there were a lot of kids in the street in those days andwe all played together. Now it is much quieter.

Of course we were all Catholic kids and that was taken for granted. The Protestant community never really existed for us back then in Andersonstown and we never gave it a second thought. We never mixed with Protestant children because there weren’t any living near us for miles around. Much later I discovered there were some Protestant families living in the Andersonstown area back then but as the troubles went on they all moved away. I never really met any Protestants until I went to University.

I was born in November 1959 so I was ten when the present conflict stated in 1969. Growingup I remember watching reports of the Vietnam War on the T.V. news every night. Vietnam Iknew was too far away to affect me but exciting things were happening there and I used to look forward to tea and toast for supper in front of the T.V. news reports every night. As a young boy who enjoyed playing with toy soldiers, when I wasn’t pretending to be a soldier, I found war very exciting. In those days all the kids in the street had toy guns and some had soldier’s uniforms of various kinds. Later on there would be a lot of real guns in the street but we didn’t know that then. I was vaguely conscious that people got hurt and died in a war but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about the suffering that it involved. The helicopters and the guns and the battles fascinated me but the downside of that was I lived in Northern Ireland. I knew from the geography I had been taught at school that Northern Ireland was part of Ireland but ruled by Britain and situated on the north western edge of Europe. It was a pretty boring place as far as I could tell. In fact I couldn’t think of a more boring place to live in the world. I wondered why God had put me on this particular spot on Earth when I could have been born in so many other places which were far more exciting.

Sometimes a police car went down our street. That was about as exciting as things got before 1969. The police car looked a bit like the same police cars I saw on American T.V. shows but as kids we didn’t think very much about the police, who they were or who they represented. On T.V. the police were always the good guys and I suppose we must have thought the same thing applied here too. It was 1968 and I remember thinking nothing remotely exciting would ever happen here. We would never have a war like Vietnam. Northern Ireland would never be on the TV news. Little did I know then that in the summer of 1969 everything was about to change very quickly and our little place would be on the news pretty much every night for the next thirty years or so.

The Twelfth

My memories start with the 11th night. All the footpaths were painted. The wood was stored in yards till the 11th morning, some was already gathered at the end of the street and then everybody opened their back doors and the wood was taken out. Sometimes they stayed out all night. My mum had got the plastic out of Mackies to put over the hut that they built to keep them dry. And then my Ma was going to beat the brains out of my Da as she had left him the stuff for over the holidays and he had done a fry for all the fellas who had sat out.

On the 11th night we all sat on the footpath. We all had our tatty crisps and our juice. There was a counter taken out of one of the shops and put across the top of the street so no cars could get in. All the women were sat at their doors. Maybe someone brought out an accordion and somebody a flute and they would have played the music. All the kids had to go in and get their ma’s pot lids and the old woman at the top of the street did the Indians and all the kids marched round the bonfire. Every street had its bonfire. Old carpet was put up on windows to make sure the windows were not broke. At the end of the night the entrywas swept. The women swept the whole entry, they were out with torches. You went in and got washed. Your clothes all left out for the twelfth morning. You got up the twelfth morning, got your breakfast and your Ma would have made up a lot of sandwiches, filled the flasks. You took your portable seat and went away up the Lisburn Road by the Windsor church. They used to let out seats. You spent your day there. The bands went past. You went to a chippie waiting for the bands to come back. I used to sit and watch, waiting for my Da to come down with his collarette, because I knew once he came down he would take me by the hand to walk part of the road with him. I always remember that. You daren’t have broke those ranks, now you see the kids running through, you weren’t allowed. They would have broke your legs quicker than let you break the ranks. You came home. My Da would have had a bottle of wee Willie. Neighbours would have sat at the door talking. That was your Twelfth.

When I see the kids with their collarettes it tears the heart out of me yet, for that is the nextgeneration coming up.