Ireland most famous for its guinness, the shamrock and the Celtic cross, its international music figures Bono, Enya and Van Morrison, but what about the great old North?
Northern Ireland, home to many famous television and film stars, sporting icons, musicians and an artist famously known for painting ‘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 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 ended in 1998 during the Good Friday Agreement, with the occasional series of conflict known as the Belfast riots that continue to date.
I am thankful that the height of the troubles during the 70’s and 80’s that I wasn’t around to see, for what I witnessed as a young child in heart of North Belfast during 90’s traumatised me hugely still affecting aspects of my life today.
I lived in an area of the Limestone Road known as Parkside situated 50 yards away from Tigers Bay. Parkside was a catholic neighbourhood and Tigers Bay being protestant. There was this huge divide and the conflict between the two communities was the fuel to the troubles of this time.
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 would stop you reaching the school. 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.
It was a terrifying time and now in reflection I look back and wonder how I stuck with it after all these years, but the only answer to that is trauma.
When there was rioting taking place known as ‘The Troubles’ as a 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
We hope for world peace!