What was your experience of The Troubles?

Belfast Glenariff is one of our regulars in the comment zone

“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” is the famous opening line of the 1953 L.P. Hartley novel The Go Betweens. Hartley’s book is an interpretation of understanding the past and how we come to terms with our own memories. This got me thinking.

If we take 1968 as the beginning of the conflict then the youngest person born at the start of it is now 55. The Troubles really went on up to the early/mid 2000s with various Loyalist feuds, Holy Cross, contentious parading and sporadic sectarian violence. Dissident Republicans remained in various forms but had little support. The majority of those still living who had direct involvement or experience of the worst of the conflict would be well into their 50s/60s/70s plus. The time is flying past so quickly.

I was talking to a close relative about the Troubles, about people we knew had been killed, the various bombs going off and other atrocities/incidents. I am 54, my brother is a year older and we started conversing about our actual experiences of the conflict. Then our elderly father joined in, he is in his 80s. We had some younger family members listening, they would be in their teens and early 20s. To them we may as well have been discussing WWI, it was just something they didn’t know much about and hadn’t experienced.

My da lived right through everything and started rhyming off people who had been killed. He knew the young Catholic barman Peter Ward who worked at The International Hotel and was murdered by Gusty Spence’s UVF gang in 1966. “A very decent fella” my da said wistfully about Peter with a real sadness in his eyes. He then went on and named another 20/30 people just off the top of his head. My first real memories are about 1972 or 73 of a large British Army convoy coming out of Girdwood Barracks, along the Antrim Road and down the New Lodge Road. My mother and I had just come out of the butchers in Newington on a Saturday in 1975 when Loyalists blew up McLaughlin’s Bar a few hundred yards away. A policeman was shot dead 100 yards away on the morning Bobby Sands died while a milkman and his son died after their van was hit by bricks. A friend and schoolmate of mine was shot dead in Ardoyne by Loyalists in 1988, he was 18. A UDR man was shot on the other side of the ‘peaceline’. Another Catholic man opening his shop was shot dead beside our house by Loyalists in 1991. A young Loyalist Glenn Branagh was killed at the bottom of the street when a blast bomb he was handling blew up.

The sound of distant Lambegs on the Twelfth morning, the rattling of binlids as another Hunger Striker died and the whirr of British Army helicopters sitting just above the roofs will never leave me. I can still hear them all now. My brother likewise remembered quite a few victims. We grew up right on a North Belfast interface through the 70s, 80s and 90s. So I want to ask people what their actual experience of the conflict or Troubles was? What did you see and experience? Did you lose close family, friends, colleagues? I’m not looking for narratives, blame games or “we did this ‘cos youse did that”. I don’t care if you’re a Republican/Loyalist/Nationalist/Unionist, a former member of the RUC/UDR/British Army, a political figure, journalist or whatever.

I think it’s important to talk about this issue, not to forget those who died or were injured and to let the younger generation know exactly what we lived through. Tell us your story.

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