Ravings From The Bog

Bullets and Romance Belfast-Style
August 12, 2008, 10:15 pm
Filed under: History, Life, Society | Tags: , , , ,

It’s more than thirty years ago but I remember it fairly clearly.  The early and mid-seventies were dark and frightening times in West Belfast. On many evenings I would be doing my school homework 

and hear the rattle of IRA Armalites and M1 carbines being fired from stolen or commandeered cars at Fort Monagh, the nearest British Army/RUC base to our home in Gransha Parade on the Glen Road, and the different tone of the British Army’s FN Belgian Patrol Rifle (known to all as the SLR) answering back. This and the constant military presence felt normal. In other words, the dark and frightening times were the back-story to my puberty and adolescence.

One welcome distraction at this time was the practice of women and children in Catholic areas meeting at a pre-ordained time in the evening to say a few decades of The Rosary to pray for peace in Northern Ireland. I was an early atheist and in my view, religion equalled Voodoo, so to me, and a few of my friends, it simply meant a rare opportunity to get close to girls. My primary and secondary schools were “boys only”, sadly. There were a few particular girls that I had in mind of course – Claire Malone, Nuala McKeever, Fiona Hill, Deirdre Moreland to mention but four! Opportunities for a chat depended on a number of variables. There was the weather, the amount of homework they had been given that day, Thursday night’s Rosary 

was usually youth-free because of the TV programme, Top of the Pops, and a few others, but more often than not, at least one of my top four were there. However, at thirteen or fourteen years old, a young man’s mind can race ahead romantically and I had myself married off, settled down and with children mentally, when the reality was that I was never slick enough with any of these girls to wangle a date.

My main memory of these events is a mental vision of the yellow light from the lampposts in Gransha Avenue reflecting on the rain drenched street, while I pick at Curran’s privet hedge in boredom, large cold raindrops running down the back of my neck with the “hum” of prayer in the backround.

I also remember the guarded looks from the soldiers, as they would pass on foot-patrol occasionally. I don’t know who felt more out of place, them or us. Many years later, I would meet a couple of ex-soldiers who described their time stationed in the roughest parts of Belfast. Most of them weren’t much older than I was then. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like, aged 18 or 19, to travel to Leeds or Birmingham and to walk the wet streets at night with a rifle waiting for someone to take a shot at me. It must have been terrifying for most of them.

I’m sure that some of them were praying too.

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