Caught in the Crossfire
I was very young. Back then you were always out, you played street games. Where we lived in Clonard, off the Kashmir Road, there would have been trouble in the area. The army would always be driving round. I must have been making my down Bantry Street on my home. There was a lot of entries then and people were running up and down the entries. There was shots. I have it in my head that my Mummy or Daddy was at the door waving me in. I ended up getting hit by a stone. A soldier had threw a stone and I got hit with it. I had the loveliest bruise and it was in the shape of an H. It was a big black man, I had never seen a black man before, who threw the stone. I don’t know if it was your parents trying to make light of things but there was a lot of carry on from my Daddy. ‘I will take you down the Springfield Road barracks and we will show them’. And I’m saying ‘No, you cant, they will see my knickers’. The bruise was right on my hip and I would have had to lift my skirt to show them. Everybody was looking at the bruise and my Daddy was keeping me going saying ‘ I will take you down, come on, we will go down now’. It’s not there now but we would have gone past the Springfield Road barracks every day coming home from school.
I don’t remember any fear around it. I think the most shocking thing was this black man because I had never seen this before. It was the early 70’s. There is something in my memory, it might have been a day of an IRA parade. It could have been an Easter Sunday parade. They used to parade from Kashmir down to Leoville street. I remember them all in their berries and glasses and jumpers. You went to watch. You went with the crowd.
There was no transport. Buses stopped at a certain time and you could not get out much. So round theare as people started having their own community entertainment like Clonard Hall. It was very good on a Tuesday night. Gerry Miller, remember? And we had a band and had great nights in it. Even at the beginning, when they were friendly with the army, they had them in at the concerts. You were afraid at night to go downtown. It was like a ghost town. There was nobody about. You would have went into town to go to the pictures but then we went on weekend bus runs. We went to Bunratty Castle, theRosses Hotel up in Donegal. And then at Christmas we had an annual bus run to Dublin. It was very good.
I’m a wee girl
I lived on the Shore Road. I had 4 sisters and 2 brothers and mommy and daddy in a 2 bedroom bungalow. They were pulling them down so we moved to Ballymurphy. When we lived on the Shore Road it was always a mixed community, so we never really felt any different. We went to Ballymurphy and it was still the same – never really thought anything of it. It wasn’t really a republican family. My father came from Monaghan but outside of that – that was as much Republican we really knew, which would be none whatsoever.
When the Troubles started it was a big shock in a sense because we didn’t really understand it. I remember being fascinated by all these names you never heard before like ‘internment’. I remember being petrified of Paisley, he was supposed to be saying to send all the Catholics down to the South of Ireland to live. What struck me more was when the people were burnt out in ’69 of the Lower Falls and they were brought up to St. Tomas’ school me and my friends would go down and help the children and play with them and that. It was like we were on our Summer holidays – you didn’t see the seriousness in it or the bad end of it. There wasn’t as much press, you had TV but you were kids, you never watched the news or anything. You didn’t really understand although I had older brothers and sisters. When internment came it brought it into reality and as I say with my mommy being killed. It’s just that fear that you had when all those people were being shot.
I remember one day coming up Ballymurphy Road and it was the evening, it was dark, it was about 6o’clock, and this voice from the entry calling me up. I realised it was the English voice and I was panicked and shouted ‘I’m a wee girl, I’m a wee girl’ and he said ‘it doesn’t matter come up’. This neighbour come up and said ‘what are you playing at, isn’t it bad enough you killed that girl’s mother without annoying her’. I felt like saying ‘shut up mister, don’t be telling them my mommy’s dead’, because then they’d be thinking she’s a bad one and I’m a bad one and panic freaked me out. He give off that much and he refused to let me go up the entry and he put me on up the street. I lived in fear of them coming to knock the door because they said my mommy was an IRA woman but she was a completely innocent woman. If they thought she was a gun woman they might think I was helping her. You’re so young, you’re only 14 and you’re thinking this is so terrible. In those times it was so frightening. You’re lying in bed and you’d seen the flash in the window and you knew the bomb was coming next and shooting and army banging in doors. It just was so frightening and your mommy wasn’t there and your mommy was your saviour and your mommy kept you safe and you lost all that. Even going to the dentist I was terrified because she wasn’t there.
I married in 75 and had a child in 75. When you look back you were having a child of your own and you’re only a child. I turned 18 in June and was married in august. We lived at home for a year and then got a place of your own. I always think you turned into an old woman overnight. It was so frightening. You were responsible for this child when your husband went to work and you were petrified he wasn’t coming back.
I hurt my leg. Down in the Clonard area there was lots of wood with thebarricades. I was young, maybe eight. We took a plank of wood off the
barricade to make a seesaw. Somebody shouted ‘here’s the Brits’ and everybody dropped the plank of wood but I didn’t. By the time I dropped
the plank of wood it had lifted a lump out of my leg. I remember going
down to my granny’s to get the first aid done. I remember being slagged. They were taking the micky out of me. ‘If you had of got the bit of skin we could have sewed it on’. ‘Will we go back up and look for it’.
Things like that. In my granny’s house the neighbours would be in and
out all the time, she was very close to the women in the street. They were all first aiders. I remember being there one time when they were all there as a group, sitting in the wee parlour, all piled in, looking at these demonstrations of bandaging.
The army would arrive about five thirty, six in the morning when they were doing a house search. They wouldn’t have left until nine thirty, ten.
You got the day off school because you couldn’t get dressed when they
were there. The police accompanied the army, the house would have been surrounded, everybody in the street knew. It was like a badge of honour, your house being searched. I would have went in to school the next day and said ‘I wasn’t in yesterday, Miss, cause I got raided’. Thinking, look, aren’t I so important.
This was the early 70’s, feelings were very strong. We were raided quite a bit with boys in the house. The first thing drew your attention was an almighty banging on the door. One way or the other they are getting in, you are not going to stop them. So many soldiers were put round the perimeter of the house with their guns so nobody could get out of the house. The first thing they always asked ‘Who’s the head of the household’ which is always your Daddy. He would have been told to get all of the family in to the living room. We would all have been called in to the living room in our pyjamas, our nightwear, whatever and if you everhad a dog, we always had a mongrel, the dogs would go bananas at the soldiers. The dog would be barking, we would be sitting along the sofa. The police came in with a piece of paper which gave them the power to do the search. So many soldiers would have been brought in to the house and the police would have searched the soldiers. All the guns were put in a big canvas bags on the floor in front of the soldiers and those guns had to stay there whilst they conducted the search. My Daddy would have accompanied the army around the house, room by room, the house was searched. Sometimes they dug up the garden. What I used to hate is, I used to get it in to my head, that they were all touching my underwear. It really bothered me. In a way it felt like you were getting robbed. Nothing was ever found in the house. There was never a subsequent arrest. One time there was a small room between other bedrooms. My Daddy had decided to make home brew and all the bottles were in this spare bedroom as nobody was sleeping in it. The army had put all their guns down and were just starting to conduct the search. The soldiers were half way up the stairs when at six o’clock in the morning these beer bottles decided to explode. I remember the big scrambling match down as they thought they were being ambushed. When I remember their faces I can laugh at it but they weren’t at all pleased.
When I was working I transferred down from the Royal to the Tech by the Black Man. I had gone back and got a few qualifications and got a job down in the School of Chiropractors. There was a girl there I knew from years ago – we worked together in a nurses home on Brunswick Street, she was a Protestant girl but I always kept in touch with her. I was talking to her about how I started baking Christmas cakes and she goes ‘Ach, bake us one’ and I says well ‘alright’. At the time she was working at Queen Street Police Station as a cleaner. I said to her, I’ll give you a shout when it’s ready and you can come around and get it. Coming up the day before Christmas Eve I phoned her and said, ‘I have your Christmas cake here’ which I had in a biscuit tin and wrapped up in Christmas paper for her.
When I stopped work there was no sign of her, so I went round to the police station with this tin and said, I want to go in and see her and they let me into the police station. I was sitting in the hall and they were calling her name over the intercom and there was no sign of her coming. One of the police women came and said, ‘I think she went out to get messages, a few wee things she needs for Christmas. Can I help you?’ And I said – I have a Christmas cake here for her and she says that’s alright give it to me. She took it off me, bought it in and set it on her desk. I walked out then and what hit me was there was so much security on and when I came in to Castle Street and I just thought to myself – that could have been a bomb. Nobody checked it, nobody asked what’s in it – I said it was a Christmas cake and they took my word for it. That was in the 70s.
Living in London
I was overwhelmed by not having to look behind me. It seemed like a whole new world. It wasn’t just the Troubles, it was the whole thing. There were no restrictions, there was freedom. Maybe sometimes you took that a bit far, but it was a long way from Belfast where you had to watch all the time, be careful where you went and your family, especially your mother, feared for you. It was a different way of life altogether.
We made the petrol bombs. We hide them in the house and outside in the manholes. This day I looked outside. There was heavy rain, the whole street was flooded. The petrol bombs were floating down Derry Street. I said let them go. My husband said, ‘you couldn’t let them go’. He sent me out to collect them and he stood at the door with a milk crate to put them back in again. Then someone squealed on us and they raided the house. They even searched the child’s pram. All they got was tyres. They had the cheek to come back and buy the tyres. That was the police for you, they didn’t do their job very well. They didn’t find the petrol bombs, they were well away. We were wired off that they were coming.
Signs and Symbols
The section that actually calculated the wages on a weekly basis was right beside where I sat and they had ‘page 3’ images all over the walls and there were young women working in the department too and I objected to this and felt that it was dreadful – anybody visiting personnel had to walk past this and what impression was it creating? That didn’t change immediately and I was called all kinds of things, like I was a “prude” or “frigid” or whatever they felt was wrong with me – they supposed I would close down all the art museums. It did change, a few years later.
But there were rules about signs and symbols. You weren’t allowed to display sectarian signs and symbols in the office place which I thought was very good. So, you couldn’t have flags being displayed.
In those days it was very much about fairness and neutrality, that if people came to us in genuine distress, they would be dealt with by a set of policies that applied to everybody – you know, that there were proper procedures that hadn’t been there when it had been the councils that had been in charge of housing. The other thing is, don’t forget, housing was the hot issue that led to people taking to the streets in the first place because it was so outrageously unfair what was happening. There was an awareness of that. When we would do inductions with new staff that would be one of the things we would say. You know, we were very proud that we had a selection scheme that people from the rest of the UK would come to us to talk and find out about because they hadn’t got it as well thought out as us – how you awarded houses when there was always a greater demand than there was a supply. And people would come and visit the Housing Executive from all over Europe because they were impressed with how we were dealing with accommodating difference.
Springfield Road Bomb
My brother was in the bath, the bathroom window came in on him in the bath. Itwould have beenearly enough in the evening. There wasn’t a lot of hot water, I musthave been in first because I was the girl and he was the boy. We were always put inour pyjamas about six o’clock at night and in bed for seven. As young children thatwas just the way my parents did it. It must have been early in the evening becausethe baths were going on. I remember someone coming to the door and their facewas covered in blood. Then the army would have turned up. In those early stages,the army would have known first names, they were calling my Mummy by her firstname. My impression was we went back and forth to my Mummy’s mates all nightlong, they lived on the far side of the road from us. The street was evacuated and weall crowded in to their house. Every time there was a bomb scare that is what we did.It seemed like it went on all night but all night is a long time for a child.
The Morning of Internment
On the morning of internment a neighbour knocked our door and told us about the arrests so my husband went on the run. My Dad called that morning and asked me if my uncle and his family could come and stay with me for a while, because they were on an interface and didn’t feel safe with the rioting. I said of course they could come, and I told him my husband was away and I hadn’t had any sleep, We had just found out I was expecting again. My Dad took the baby over to my Mummy’s to let me get a sleep, he said he’d tell her the good news about the baby and he would see me later over at their house. That was the last time I ever saw my Daddy alive, he never even told my Mum about the baby. Later that day my Mum came to my house to tell me my Dad had gone to help my uncle and family move to my house and he hadn’t been seen since. Because of all the arrests we started calling round the army barracks to ask if he had been arrested.
During the day there was sporadic shooting, and we heard rumours that my Dad was one of the injured. We went back to the army barracks. They sang “where’s your papa gone” out of the sanger at us but didn’t give us any information, we eventually got a lift to the morgue and there we identified my father’s body. He had multiple gunshot wounds, witnesses later told us that he was shot in the legs and was crying out for help and trying to crawl to cover when there was another burst of shooting and he was shot in the back.
We buried my dad from my house, my mother was in a terrible state. A few months later my husband was arrested and interned, I was helping both our mothers and pregnant, with a toddler and visiting the Kesh. When our second son was born my husband couldn’t get compassionate leave. 48 hours after the birth the baby started to decline. He passed away in my arms, my husband arrived a few hours too late to see his son alive, he couldn’t bear to look at him, we buried him with my father. I was not given a death certificate and didn’t know why he’d died.
I was laughing because I was watching Ronan and Martin’s Laugh In, it must have been a Sunday night. It was hilarious and we were all sitting doubled up laughing while the credits were running and they interrupted the end of the programme to make the announcement that there had been three soldiers killed over Ligoniel. And I remember the older others telling me, as I was an awful giggler as a younger person, they were sort of telling me shut up, you know “shut up till we hear this” and they, being sort of caught up in this laughter and finding it hard just to stop laughing, and that’s what it was… the three soldiers. It was the strangest sensation going from being doubled up in two laughing at something to hearing the horrific news… and two of them were brothers, two brothers and a friend. So I can remember that as clearly as it was yesterday, though it was over forty years ago is it?
I was working in the hospital when the Abercorn bomb went off. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was a terrible thing. They give us tweezers to sit and pull bits of wood out of people. There was this fella sat in a wheelchair and he said ‘I’m alright there’s people worse than me’. When I went into work on the Monday and went and asked him what about – the whole time I was sitting there he had a bit of wood in his chest. I think he was in shock or something. He had sat there all those hours in the wheelchair. When you think about all the people who lost their legs, and their lives. There was two wee sisters, one was out shopping for her wedding. She lost her legs. I don’t know if she got married because you only see her for that time. She was from the country somewhere.
It was in the 70s I think. Yeah, about 72. My sister told me that they were selling caravans in Millfield. She said a couple of people from North Belfast had bought them and they’re great and she said you could get one for all your kids to take them out of the Trouble. I said, Theresa, I have absolutely no money, where would I get the money for a caravan? I knew nothing about caravans anyway, I’d never been in one, never been on a holiday in a caravan. We went down anyway to Millfield and we seen this caravan and we went inside. It was great, it was very old fashioned, gasmantles and coal fire. The guy says there was two bedrooms. You opened the door and there were two wee bunks in one of the bedrooms and the other one was a double room and there was a man sleeping in it. I said, Jesus does he come with the caravan? I don’t know who he was but he must’ve been a gypsy anyway. I thought the caravan was great and I said to the man how much is it? He says we do it for £1,000. Well that was like a million pound to me.
I went up home and I said to her that would be great for the kids, you know how you get all enthusiastic and it would be fabulous and all, but where would I get it? I was only in the credit union, but you had to have 13 weeks to get a loan. I had £13 in the credit union (and they would usually only double your money). But as the Troubles were on and people were worried about their kids anyway, I went around and says to the man, “I could buy a caravan and I could take my kids away and take them out of the Troubles” cause I had at that time 7 wee boys and a wee girl. I said “I’ll take them somewhere”, didn’t know where I was going to take them like, but anyway. The long of the short of it was they gave me the money, which I couldn’t believe. I went down the next day with Theresa, I never even told my husband, and got the caravan. Then he got home from work and I says, “Geordie I bought a caravan”. He says ‘what, where are you going to put it?’ I said Jesus I don’t know where to put it, where would you put it? He said he worked with a fella who had a placedown in County Louth at Giles Key. I had never heard of Giles Key, you might as well of said to me the United States of America. I said “OK you get on the phone to him”, everybody was running about like madmen, trying to get me somewhere to go.
Eventually Tommy said his sister lived down there and they knew the people who owned the caravan site. The caravan was still down at Millfield at this point and went I went down the gypsy man said “right we’ll take you down to Giles Key”. I was on my own and I had to climb up the steps of this big, big van. I didn’t even know where I was going. They took me down to Giles Key. When they turned in the man who owned the caravan park said no no no, you’re not getting into this caravan park. Once he seen the gypsies he thought I was a gypsy too. He says you’re not getting into this caravan park. I was crying. He says it’s alright, we’ll get you somewhere. They turned the big van out of the park and they brought me into the beach and they sat it down on the beach and unloaded it, and they just left me on the beach. I was sitting crying right on the sandy beach. I didn’t know if the tide was going to come in and wash me away or not. It turned out OK on the beach for a while because eventually my husband came down with the kids and everyone thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I had arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger because all I done was brushs and out. The whole day you were brushing sand, the kids were jumping in from the beach. I ended up having to wash the dishes in the sea, because there was no running water, every time I needed a new dish I had to wash it in the sea. It was a terrible time when it came to peeling potatoes because there was that many of them. There was 33 came one time, my other sister came down with her kids. There were public toilets up a bit. I couldn’t peel them without running water (an old fear from the Famine). My sister used to come up with me and we’d be in the toilets and we’d lock the front door of the toilets and peel the potatoes in the running water. We had to go down to the well for water, there was a wee well up the hill. The kids absolutely loved it. I was down on the beach for 6 months until it came to the end of summer holidays. They lit fires outside and you’d get a bag of coal. My husband was brilliant at telling ghost stories. I never was a girl guide so I had no clue what to do. The farmer, at the end of the day, he said to me, he would take me up the hill. Well, my God, you would’ve thought I went to the Malone Road, just brought up the hill. Still no running water and no facilities but we stayed there for years. The kids would’ve went over to the farm and stacked all the hay stacks and done different things. One day a big ship came into the harbour and the kids used to go over on a dingy. My kids knew everybody and your man took them over on the dingy. I went over one day, you had to climb up on a roof ladder to get into this ship. Little did I know, it was the Marita Anne, it was a gun running ship. It wasn’t a nice ship. It was really to keep them safe. It was terrible at the times. Even when they were going to school, they used to go to the Christian brothers down beside the Sinn Fein office there. Every day, there was gun battles coming up and down. Here’s me, I have to get these ones away somewhere. I’ve always been lucky. I used to get lifts from there when I had to go to work on a Saturday. I left my kids there for 6 weeks. There was no badness, everybody seemed to be good.
Do You Know What He Is?
Sammy married my chum. His family were real staunch Catholics. That’s the way his father and mother was, everything had to go through the chapel. When he started to go with my chum his Mother never knew. But someone went and told her that her son was going with a Protestant. This Saturday me and my chum were minding her granny. The door knocked. I opened the door and there was this priest standing. I shouted in the door, ‘Irene, there is a priest here looking for you’. She came out to the door and he said, ‘Are you Eileen Campbell’ and she said yes, and he said, do you go with a parishioner of mine, Billy. And she said, that is right. And he said his mother wants to know that if you get married are you going to convert to our faith. And she said no.
The two kept seeing each other and they got engaged. His mother did everything to try and stop it. But they got married in the City Hall. They had two children and they moved up in to the Glencairn and nobody in the Glencairn knew what he was. Irene was a wee girl that would talk to anybody, everybody was her friend. Billy had started a band and bought them uniforms and instruments and one evening Irene happened to say ‘Isnt it a terrible thing that it took a Roman Catholic to start up an Orangeband’. She didn’t mean it to cause offense but it must have fell on sore ears. A couple of weeks later there house was robbed and all the money belonging to the band was taken and a notice put up on her door ‘All taigs out’. They moved across to a Catholic neighbourhood. He was the type of fella that mixed in with anybody. It has always stuck with me, why did they do that to Billy, he started up a football club and all for the kids. The church and his Mother did everything to stop him, they sent nuns and all to Irene, but you can’t stop love.
The day I got out of the hospital there was another gun battle on our street. I had to climb out of the taxi on my hands and knees to get into the house after my operation. A soldier was shot that day. It was a wee kitchen house and we got a wee folding out bed and I lay there. A couple nights after there was a hijacking of an ice cream van. Somebody opened the door and handed me a big box of ice lolly pops and set them in the bed for the kids. Half of them were thrown out because you didn’t have a fridge-freezer then, but I was still lying there recovering.
My husband was interned for 4 years, so I had to find work. I got a job over in Dee Street in an all-Protestant firm. It was a great place to work. They let me bring my son in and I’d just sit him in the windowsill – he was 3 years old at the time. Once my husband was out I stopped working there but they said I could come back anytime. They wrote me a lovely letter when I left, I still have it.
My great aunt lived in Cupar Street. When I went over they would have minded me when my parents were at work. They had a big radio with a handle on it, like a big box with thick knobs. My great uncle would have sat each night listening to it. You would have heard the police messages ‘Going up the Shankill Road, such and such…there is a stand off there’. If you heard someone’s name mentioned you would have run to their house to warn them. I used to love sitting listening to it. Then the CB’s started to come out, Citizen Band. My sister in law was on them and I got a lend of one and I was hooked. It was like Facebook. Whatever you were saying other people listened in. I was talking to people from Taughmonagh, Donegall Road, all across the city and then I met my husband through it. I went to a party and I met him in person. He already knew me. I was Hotlips, that was my handle.
I remember the security check in town. The soldiers would tell you to open your coat. My friend and I were strong from drink and we refused. We were taken to the barracks on Royal Avenue and when wewere released at 6 the next morning. My husband was down waiting for me with his arms crossed. He was furious.
You went on with your business
I remember one day walking down Leeson Street and kids were rioting and throwing stones at the army. I wasn’t even married at the time; this was 1972 or 73 maybe. Next thing this nail bomb came over the roofs of the houses. Me and my friend run and we got into this house in time. We were just shaking and we couldn’t believe we had just escaped getting blown up. You went on with your business. Me and my friend went round and had a cup of tea and you just went on with it.
A Bottle of Sherry
My cousin worked at a garage and one of the pumps wasn’t working. There was a car at one pump filling up and there was a car at the pump that was empty. She went out of the garage to tell the ones at the pump that’s empty, you have to wait for the man – when they pulled out a gun and shot the fella that was filling his car. He never died, he got shot somewhere about the face. They drove away and the ambulance came and they had to give statements and all. She didn’t get home until very late that night. She went in to work the next day about 12 o’clock the people who done the shooting came back and shot her dead.
The thing about it was she used to wait on me and my husband going out, a Wednesday was our night out. I never had drink in the house but I won a bottle of sherry. I just happened this day to move stuff and the bottle of sherry was half empty. My own wee girl was 12 atthe time and I said to her ‘have you been drinking that? ‘ ‘No’ so she told me that when we went out my cousins come in and have wee sips of that. And I thought, I’ll say to her for drinking. The Wednesday night before she was shot we were going up the street and she was coming down with her chum. And I stood and let out a big yell. She knew by the way I shouted her name that she done something, and she run. When she died I was telling her mommy ‘if she was alive now, you’d give her a bottle and say drink it’. It was a wee thing like that – I was going to shout at her for that bu tif she was alive you’d say ‘here, take a drink’. I sat with her until she died, me and her daddy and her aunt. She just lay there until she had no blood left.
There was a sense of community. Everybody joined together. It was brilliant. It brought everybody out of their houses. The men were out and they had built a cooker with bricks and a grill. Somebody would have come out with a pot of tatties, somebody else with stuff to make stew and the whole street got it. And the men couldn’t go to work. Or you would have seen some of the men putting their suits on by the way that they were going in to the town, then changing in to their boiler suits in Mackies to do their days work. We got followed one night going in to town. I used to clean in the town. It was our own ones following us. We were told not to come back out again the next night to work until everything was all over. They brought the soldiers in to man the electricity. You had to get your stuff all done at a certain time before the lights went off. The milk lorry came straight from the farm. You took your milk bottle down to St Matthews Church. It was exciting. You were getting ready to go to bed and you heard the bin lids going. My Dad ran to get his tin hat to go out. I remember sitting on a wee stool in the outside toilet and my mother on the toilet, a candle burning, listening to the peelers radio. ‘Away and go and tell your da quick, there is a squad away up Disraeli Street’.