Forthspring Inter Community Group

80’s Stories

Searching

You got stopped at the gates going in to the town and on the buses. My aunt camehome from England for a holiday. I took her down to Castle Court. We were driving down round the back. I think it was the day after it opened. I was driving and I seen this fella I used to work with. I thought, what is he doing here. He says ‘Can you open your boot and your bonnet?’ I says ‘what are you doing here, Jimmy?’ He says ‘Security’. Jimmy was a bit of a slice less than a loaf. So I say to him ‘Do you know what a bomb looks like? Here he was ‘No, I’m just looking’. I opened my bonnet and my boot and then he shouts over ‘Bomb!’ My aunt turned colours, I turned colours. And all these guns turned round and the police came over. Here he was to the policeman, ‘I’m only codding’. He was sacked soon after that.

The following week I took the Aunt down again. There was a bomb scare. They wouldn’t let me get my car out. I had to send her home in a taxi. I had to wait four hours to get back in to my car. It was a nightmare.

Working in the Royal

We used to come up the road in a gang, you would say, when I worked in the Royal. It felt safer.

One night I said, “Can I get home early? I need to get home.” And the boss said, “Certainly. You go.” She let me go and a bomb went off at Springfield Road Barracks. It went off just as I had got to my own house. The next night I went in she said, “Do you know something?” and I said, “What?” and she replied, “My heart was in my mouth last night.” I asked why and she replied, “If I had been caught on letting you leave early” to which I replied, “never mind that I could have been blown to bits!” We laughed that night about that. But that was the sort of thing you did laugh about. That was the risk you took – if I had have waited ten or fifteen minutes I could have been caught up in that. I‟ve had lucky escapes. I think that applies to everybody. People come and say to you “Wait ’till you hear what happened to me; I was nearly shot” or, “I was nearly blew up” or, “I was hurt.” But you don’t have that fear now; that fear’s gone.

We all worked in different parts of the Royal but they used to open the gate at 9:00 and let us all out. We used to meet up and stand at 8:55 and then anyone who worked round here – we all walked up together. I was always the last to leave because the rest all live further down. I used to walk up cut through one of the streets and come up the back. I never ever walked the front of the Springfield Road. We all walked up. Honestly, it was like pensioner’s convention; all hobbling up the road. And then a girl who worked in the Royal moved up beside me, which was better for me because then I had company the whole way up. Many a night she and I ran that road. If we had have heard a noise it was like fire coming out of our heels. But thank God it’s all away now. It’s all gone. 

Black Taxis

Our transport was mostly black taxis. You would have six people shoved in the taxis, some of whom might have had children with them on their knees. It was uncomfortable enough as it was getting down the road. Plus the taxis weren’t even second hand, they were real big hand me downs from England. They were brought over from England maybe after they had done twenty years’ service. They were falling apart before we even got them. But it was the way we could get down the town or wherever.

If the army or the police were doing searches we had to stand by the side of the road whilst they took the taxi asunder. You would have been waiting ages. Some of the drivers would have waved in an empty taxi coming down the road to take their load. Others would have tried to say ‘Ah, it won’t be long now’ as they had taken you on three miles of a five mile journey. They have lost all their money. It wasn’t in their interest to lose their load and all their fares. When the tourists came in the eighties the drivers knew what routes to take. They knew the road to take where there would be an army presence to instigate a stop and search and the Americans in the back seat would love that.

Carolyn

I was a little older than Carolyn. I think she was eleven when she was murdered. It seemed to impact more seriously on me than the hunger strikers did, don’t know why, maybe because she was young. We all went to see her in the coffin. I remember the house was empty. The furniture had been taken out because crowds came to visit her. At that time there was a lot of kids getting hit with plastic bullets.

You had Julie Livingstone. Every time you turned on the TV there was another child getting hit by a plastic bullet. You didn’t always take what was going on seriously. My opinion and my parents opinion would have been different. They could see the seriousness of it all. It hit me hard because she was a child, it could have been me and because I knew her. She was only going across the street to get milk or something. You were saying to yourself ‘I walk across that street every day to do the exact same thing’. It could have been me.

It was the first funeral for me. I had been to see people in a coffin before but it was the first time I had seen anything like that before. There were crowds, you were nearly queuing up, it was like queuing up for a fairground ride.

I remember my mummy bringing stuff to the house although my mummy wouldn’t have necessarily knew them.

Day Release

Well I was working part time supposedly teaching Liberal Studies which was a real challenge of a job because the rest of the instructors in the technical trades had told them that the Liberal Studies period was really their break. So you had this tremendous challenge to try and grab people’s attention when they really thought they could play cards or whatever: that was their entitlement.

But anyway, during the hunger strikes there were various protests and it was generally young menthat would have been teaching and the majority of the Catholic students would have been at government training centres and if there was a protest march concerning the hunger strike, they wouldn’t come to class and they would be marked absent. And there was a DUP rally called at the City Hall and I can’t even remember what it was about but all the day-release apprentices from the shipyard disappeared and I marked them absent, you know, as I had done with the others students who hadn’t turned up for class. The next week, when I came into the college I was given a register and told to complete it from the beginning of term and mark the day-release apprentices as present.

The Big Smoke

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John
Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara’s so good
As to write these words down.
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England
Kilkelly, Peter Jones

I was young, 18, but I had already lost a lot of very close friends – and all young lads. One was killed by the army, one was killed in a sectarian attack, one was killed in the streets by being out and involved or maybe not involved in the rioting – those things happened. I wasn’t feeling I was able to cope with this. And there was an urge to see the world, that would have prompted me to go anyway, like a lot of young people. So the two things together made it a sort of no brainer. We went to Camden Town and we were told about a priest who would help you out. I can’t even remember his name. For a day or two we were sleeping in a park. The priest got us a job and he also got us accommodation – they went together. I was working in a pub. One of my big memories of that time was the landlord saying, “Look, you know, we’ve got you a job, we’ve got you accommodation – you’re going to have to get your hair cut.” I was devastated by this. I had hair down to my waist and after that, every time I walk past that barber – and it’s still there – just beside Hammersmith Tube station, I think of that and I remember the guy made fun of me; he called me a girl and said, “You shouldn’t be in here; you should be going to the girls.”

My two friends went back after about a month. I said I was going to give it another six months if it didn’t workout. I never actually went back to Belfast after that to live. I found my place in England. This idea of neither here nor there, I felt very much there. And in some ways I maybe lost a bit of here in the process. You know, I did experience racism, particularly during times of tension, like bombing campaigns. I always think that English people, particularly Londoners, in general, are very tolerant people. I know it doesn’t look like that sometimes, but to me that was my experience. And also to others as well; not just me, but to other people who came in. I will say I did feel like an immigrant. Being away from your family is not easy and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a song that was based on letters found in an attic in America. They were letters from someone’s relatives, letters from home. The letters set out all the things that happened at home that you would expect, like the births, weddings, fall-outs – all of that – and he’s reading it through letters. Always the letters ended, you know: when are you coming back? It’s been a long time, we want to see you, but he never did go back. In some ways I felt a wee bit, not as extreme as that, but I felt a wee bit like that. So you did feel a bit out of it.

When my father took ill I wasn’t there to help him, like the rest of them did. But my brother said to me, “look, you know, your Da was an immigrant, you’re an immigrant and your Da would have done exactly the same as you.” Because that’s what he did do in a sense – life was here and that was it, you don’t beat yourself up about it – that’s the way it is.

The Unions

I think the union did have some restraining role, but I didn’t think they had a big enough active role in calming situations and encouraging harmony. I think it came from the men themselves, who realised they had to get to work and had to earn a living. I can’t remember influence, officially, from the unions. The unions might have done more but it was difficult. A lot of the unions were unbalanced in the membership. So, they had to be very careful too, they had to walk within the lines.

Where we were working there was a fairly balanced workforce, which was unusual. I remember one occasion when we were called out by a Loyalist grouping who had called for a bit of a strike and a lot of our lads went out on strike and they were bantering. We thought if we weren’t going to go out before when we were called by other sides, we weren’t going to go out because it was the UDA, we weren’t going to support that. Some of them went down the street, but there was never any ill will or feeling; it was a bantering match, “Hey you eejits, what are you going out there for”, you know. But, as I say, we had that relationship at least among the squads where I worked in – I never had any worries or fears from those people about going to work. In fact, coming out on many a winter’s morning up on Mallusk or the hills, if your car wouldn’t start, everybody pitched in to help everyone else to get their  cars going.

The biggest problem was getting to work and sometimes getting home. Sometimes if you were finishing at eleven, the lads would come in and say, “Lads, you needn’t try to get through Belfast tonight”, its completely blocked with roadblocks. There wasa back road over the hills by a place near Dundrod. Anyway, there was a village and a wee school; there was a particular route – the shortest way, and you would have ended up right up way over the hill and down in the back of Hannahstown. You had to drive on down there and go drop the lads off and ended up way at the bottom of the Springfield Road, so it could be 1 o’clock in the morning before you got home at night.

Bomb Scares

I worked in Dorothy Perkins in Castle Court. All the shops would have put a yellow card up to letthe staff know there was the possibility of an incendiary device in the shop. You would have had togo through the clothes to check there were no devices. They would have put the devices in the pocket of a coat or trousers. They used the card rather than alarm the customers. Sniffer dogs used to walk around Castle Court. I worked as well in City Cabs. It was mixed, ours went everywhere. There was always bomb scares on the Friday. All round the town. That was just normal. You just had to explain to people when they phoned for a taxi what was going on. You were used to all that then.

Hunger Strikes

It was nearly like excitement, I’m ashamed to say. I was sixteen at the time. It was the in thing to do. Bobby Sands was the first to die. Everybody came out over the hunger strikers. Everybody came out, nobody stayed in their house.

We were walking round, my aunt and all. Because I was sixteen I couldn’t get a proper cap for my tooth, I had a temporary one. It was a wee bit of a tooth and a matchstick wentup in to the gum. On the way round we were talking that much and carrying on, the cap flew out. We all got down to look for the tooth, it was right in the front, you couldn’t be seen without it, you would be scundered. I had to spend the rest of the time holding it in. My aunt gave me a bit of chewing gum to stick it in.

We all went round and queued up to see the body. I can still see his face in the coffin. There was an armed guard at the top and the bottom of the coffin,masked of course. I can see his face in the coffin, the gauntness of it, the sunken cheeks, it really was like a skeleton with skin on it.

That night or that weekend there was a lot of rioting. There were burnt out cars on our road. A plastic bullet came through a window in our house and landed in my baby brother’s cot.

The funeral came up. I never seen so many people in my life. The service was broadcast on loudspeakers. It was serious. Walking round to see the coffin, the journey round was a bit of a carry on but once you seen the coffin it did impact on you.

You began to question things more, wanted to know what was happening. My young brother was arrested, the army said he was in a photograph taken during rioting. He was interrogated but then released. It was a case of mistaken identity.

Travelling Home

Sandra worked in the hospital and when the gates went up at the bottom of Workman’s Avenue – they were closed, I think at suppertime. She was talking to me one day and saying that to get home she had to go all the way into town because the gates were closed. So she had to get the bus down into town and then a bus up the Shankill Road. So it put an hour on her working day really. Whereas if she’d been able to go through the gate, you know, ten minutes it would have taken to walk up the road here. And I happened to say to her that I knew Paddy and May who lived in the house beside Forthspring and I took her round one night and introduced her to them. Their house was both sides of the peace line, so they had an entrance that took you out into Workman Avenue, so they said to Sandra, “Certainly, no problem”, so she used to walk up, if the gate was locked, wrapped Paddy and May’s door and they took her through the house, and through the back door and out into Workman Avenue. It’s a bit like Forthspring itself; you know the front of it is on one side of the peace line and the back of it on the other. It literally straddles the peace line.

A Big Inconvenience

It’s funny how it changes. By the time Iwas 18 or 19 it was a nuisance. You were fed up with it. I worked in a supermarket. You were always getting put out for bombscares. We were all in the warehouse and you used to look around and say ‘why can’t we all go outside with customers in the car park. If a bomb goes off we are dead.’ You know what I really hated? We had to put all their shopping back on the shelves, big trolley loads full of the week’s shopping. The customers got feed up and went home. I remember one time there was death threat came through that any Catholics who worked in the place was going to be shot. Now the manager, funnily enough, was a Catholic despite were the supermarket was based. He ignored the threat so we all had to ignore it. The novelty of the Troubles wore off. You had battled down to the city centre to do your Christmas shopping; you had been searched that many times, your bags and belongings, going in and out of shops. You had maybe spent ages picking something and you were queuing up to pay for it, then there is a bomb scare announced and everybody is out. You had just wasted your entire night. By the time I had got to eighteen or nineteen it was a big inconvenience for me.

A Foot in Both Camps

I came from the Shankill and was married and living in the Falls, and the Troubles put me in an awful awkward position. It was very good before the Troubles; everything was going quite well but when we got into these Troubles I realised it was an awkward because, as I say, I had a foot in both camps.

But it became that I had a place in neither because the troubles brought about this idea you had to be identified with one side or the other, otherwise you were a traitor to your own kind. So that left me in a sort of a limbo. Although, to be quite honest I didn’t sense it at the time it was just occasions when you would have a group of people and have joined a company, you sensed that their conversation changed because you were not one of them – you hadn’t had a loyalist/protestant soccer background or Gaelic hurling background.

This is another thing I remember – I remember one time whenever I was talking about playing forthe Boy’s Brigade, lads would stand around saying, “there’s a lad from Andersonstown playing for the Boy’s Brigade – how does that come about?” So that’s when I learned just to watch what I said in company. The lads would appreciate it if you’re working with them, helping one another out. They didn’t care who you were or what you were but there were situations when you had to be very careful who you were going to be identified with and that made it a bit awkward.

Barriers

You know, it was a quiet, mixed area – not hard line in anyway. But that summer itbecame hard line. And suddenly we were on the nationalist side of this fence.

We‟d just been on a lovely holiday to France. We had a really old Peugeot 504, I learned how to say cylinder head gasket in French which is not what everybody wants to learn on holiday ….so it was a holiday that was kind of tinged with some stress. And then the fan belt went on the way back which nearly ended with us missing our ferry across to Larne. But anyway, we were driving home at about 4 o’clock in the morning – “Great! We’re nearly home” – and we get in to the street and the church is normally in front of us – and it’s demolished. We’re thinking; “Do you think our house is still there?” do you know? The house was there but there was a big wall – well not a wall, it was fencing. Quite high fencing had been erected to separate the street and the new houses that had just been handed over were burnt, people had moved in but they’d been put out because I think there’d been an attempt to kind of mix – do a bit of shared housing and it hadn’t worked. 

The barrier is still there. You had a family called the Murphy’s who refused to move. It had been a terraced street and they refused to move, so the redeveloped houses; they all went. They were lovely new houses and they were demolished on that summer of ’87 and what remained was the Murphy’s  – now detached and the barrier wove ’round it. And there they were. 

Walking to Work

I remember walking up one winter morning – dark – walking up the Springfield Road and there was a car parked outside the Methodist church, or near the Methodist church, and I had to walk between this car and the wall and I thought to myself, “Gosh” and for a second or two I felt apprehensive. I thought to myself, “I could get shot here” and I suppose, if I had turned and ran, I could still have got shot, but by that time there was no way out. So I walked on into Mackie’s; it was okay.