Tales Around The Fireside

We lived in West Belfast.

My father worked in the Grosvenor Road area. One day he brought me into a street called Burnaby Street near Distillery Football Club. And he told me that he used to live there.

Back in 1921, it was evenly divided between Protestants and Catholics and my father (quoting his mother) said that there was sectarian rioting and a Protestant woman had shouted out that there would be no Catholics left in the street that night. And sure enough the Catholics were expelled for fear of their lives.

My father was a babe in arms at the time. My Uncle Jackie would have been about 11 years old. There may have been a boy “Wee Bobby” in between or as he died as a child, he was more likely already dead. My granny was already pregnant and Auntie Sheila was born in a room above a pub at Peters Hill in 1922…a gun battle was happening outside.

Shortly afterwards they moved to a house in the Broadway-Beechmount area of the Falls Road. Trauma over? Not quite …my Uncle Jackie would witness a totally innocent man, the caretaker of the Presbyterian Church at Broadway, shot dead by the IRA in a blatantly sectarian reprisal. Uncle Jackie never forgot it. And around the same time, a truck load of B Specials cruised the area, indiscriminately shooting into side-streets and Uncle Jackie pushed my father behind the wall opposite their home. Neither Uncle Jackie nor my father ever forgot it.

So the trauma was over …my grandparents lived in that house until their deaths almost forty years later (1959 and 1961) and my Auntie Sheila lived there until she left in 1983.

So the trauma was often recalled on Sunday night visits when the subject would come up. It was of course the early 1960s and this was the stuff of History…some forty years previously.

My mother…who came from Counnty Armagh was always frightened. I even recall two of our elderly neighbours telling similar stories… how as schoolgirls they carried guns and bullets “for the boys”. Scary enough for a 10 year old boy like myself to be simultaneously scared to death and relieved that this was 1962 or whatever and nothing like this could ever happen again.

Trauma over? No….ten years later and I cant get home from work because there is rioting near my own house. And I only make it as far as that same house in Broadway-Beechmount…now only Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie (her husband) live there…and I sleep on the couch.

Next morning, I am leaving for work and the British Paratrooper manhandles me across the street to a space between the Butchers Shop and the wall where Uncle Jackie shoved my father fifty years before…and they laugh at my Auntie Sheila tearfully berating them …”Dont touch that child ….I have every hair on his head counted”.

GOD love her. They are all dead. My parents. My Grandparents. Uncle Jackie and Auntie Mary. Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie.

Fireside Tales from forty years previously. And I have more Fireside Tales to tell my sons and grandchildren. So has Mrs Fitzjames Horse.

And now I am blogging about it.

I wont kid myself…it is NEVER over. NEVER.

By the way, Broadway Presbyterian Church closed in the 1980s and is now ….An Cultúrlann…the Irish Language Centre.

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9 Responses to Tales Around The Fireside

  1. Political tourist says:

    My family had a connection with Larne (don’t laugh) going way back, same stories, only thing was they knew everybody.
    And keeping your head down was pretty pointless.
    You might as well have walked round Larne carrying a giant picture of the Sacred Heart, everybody knew you anyway.
    And there was no help coming.
    Funnily enough the Catholic community has actually grown over the decades.

  2. My grandmother’s family fled Fermanagh, from Enniskillen, because they were “mixed” and there was no place for them in the new separatist zone of “Northern Ireland”. If there had been Facebook and Twitter, smartphones and the internet, around in the 1920s would Ireland have been partitioned? Would the “Troubles” of the 1960s and ’70s been allowed to go on for so long if the terror of British paratroopers was seen on YouTube and Vine?

    • Yes….the big difference is the Media (then) and Social Media (now).
      But look at USA….social media seems to used as a means for increasing tension and division….to me USA is more divided or at least SEEMS to be more divided than at anytime since 1970.
      Yes we can capture police brutality on cellphones but we can also use Facebook to spread division.

  3. benmadigan says:

    My father always claimed what really started everything off in NI were the TV pictures (RTE?) of civil rights marchers and UK MPs and supporters being batoned off the London/Derry streets . The Stormont administration was revealed in its brutal true colours and popular opinion was incensed at what was on their screens.

    • True.
      But in the mid-1960s ITVs flagship current affairs programme was “This Week” which was shown on a Thursday night and presented by a man called Brian Connell.
      Certainly around 1964 they sent over a reporter called John Morgan (he had a heavy Welsh accent) to report.
      I will never forget going to Mass in St Peters on a Sunday and Morgan and his camera crew outside. It was the first time the vast majority of people around St Peters had seen a TV crew. And we could hardly believe we were watching places we actually knew on the following Thursday.
      I suspect that was in response to either the Divis Street riots or maybe later when Gerry Fitt was working with some Labour MPs, including Paul Rose.
      But TV did change much.
      But essentially BBC (and probably ITN) reporters were in awe of the British military and police press offices.
      How can we account for all those reporters who were at Bloody Sunday and only forty years later were prepared to admit the truth.
      I think journalists were too easily leaned on or bought and a question (remember Kim Philby) arises as to how many were actually “agents”.
      Certainly the Battle of St Matthews (1970), Internment and Ballymurphy Massacre (1971) are examples were Media (I cant speak for RTE as we would not have had it then) simply lied.
      And with the Stapleton-Officials-Stickies embedded at RTE, could they really be trusted either?

      • Frederick Forsyth boasting about being an MI6 agent in recent days while revelatory is also dangerous. It places REAL journalists on the firing-line when they can be easily dismissed as spies and subject to arrest or worse. Yes, it’s good to know that person X was a partisan troll, as we always knew, but what happens when someone pays the price for their James Bond play-acting?

        On the media, TV opened Ireland as a whole to the world. For good and ill. Unfortunately the OIRA/OSF crowd took hold of RTÉ and the press just when we needed it at its most free. One can fairly lay the “Troubles” of the 1980s and early ’90s partly at their door.

      • I cant remember which print journalist (Simon Winchester, Simon Hoggart, Derek Brown) who said that he never had to leave the Europa. If he wanted to know anything about the loyalists paramilitaries he got it from the security men at the Europa and if he wanted to know anything about republican paramilitaries, the best sources were the waitresses at the Europa.
        Really the Security Services always had connexions to journalism…Chapman Pincher, Kim Philby, Tom Driberg, Bill Deedes and no doubt there is a placement in BBC Ormeau Avenue….as well as various key BBC offices around the world.
        Wasnt there a “spook” who actually had an office at BBC TV Centre and people were vetted …seemingly a “Christmas Tree” sticker was put on their files.
        So I dont suppose any journo sent to take up an appoitment in Washington or Moscow did not pass thru that office.

  4. Declan says:

    The presbyterians I talk to have a strong self perception that it was Irish Presbyterians who saved the Irish language – so the church thing seems quite fitting in a way.!

    • Dont think the congregation led by Rev Ray Davey would agree that giving up their church and seeing it occupied by the people who see themselves in the same as inheritors of the tradition who were responsible for the sectarian murder of their verger in the 1920s.
      So it is not in any way fitting.
      Certainly some of the congregation lived in the streets off Broadway and on the “Protestant” side of the Grosvenor Road. I cant say that I miss the annual Orange Parade up Broadway to the Broadway Church or the sight of Orangemen on the Falls Road.
      There were in fact some Protestant churches in the Falls area, notably at Albert Street/Raglan Street and Grosvenor Road/Theodore Street….now closed. I think the former is a community centre and the latter is a GAA club.
      Of course back in the 1960s, these churches and others served small communities in predominantly Catholic areas which of course was one of the better aspects of life back then.
      St Anthonys in Wilowfield and the Catholic Church at Ballyhackamore continue to serve small Catholic communities and in the latter church, the priest was shot in the head and barely survived in the 1970s (in fact the last I heard. …about two years ago….he was still alive in a small parish in County Down).
      The fact that so many Protestant churches already dwindling in demographic terms were swept away since 1969 has made the Falls Road less diverse and thats a shame.
      It is little more now than a one party (Sinn Féin) state.

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