1975 in Belfast was a violent year. Many people died due to the troubles, many more were wounded both physically and mentally. This is the story of one of those victims. For reasons outlined later Im not using his real name. Slightly older than myself I recall him from my school days. A bit chubby, easy going and very quiet. Not one of us who run the streets kicking football, collecting for the boney and later drinking cider up the local entry. He lived with his mum. One night he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was hit by an IRA bullet. One other man died. One other was injured. Colin had never been in trouble. Had never been in court. But as well as his physical wounds the attack left a terrible mental legacy. Colin had what we called in the old days a nervous breakdown. He was never the same person after the IRA shot him for being at a pub door. Undoubtedly an innocent bystander, an unfortunate, collateral damage, just the way things were. No apology was offered to him or his mother. His physical wounds healed but it was obvious that Colin had changed greatly and was not coping. Colin would never marry, never have children, never have a full time job, and never go on a big holiday.
Only for his mother I wonder what would have become of Colin. His mother was a small, quiet, house proud ,working class Belfast woman. I most often saw her out brushing and sweeping the front of her home. Her neighbour was a good friend of our family. She lived yards from my parents. It was a tight knit community were people knew each other over decades. I would stop and chat with her and ask about Colin. A stable form of routine and stability had been established. Colin was a real Linfield man. He would go watch a match then go for a drink, then home. His mother done all the cleaning, cooking and everything else.
Colin then started to sport a beard. When we talked I would be teasing and slagging about the blues. (Despite being a supporter myself!) I then started to tease him about the beard. Which actually suited him. If he had the correct attire he would remind me of some pictures of Henry VIII. We had some discussion about his excessive drinking of Coke. This, despite the diabetes that he had developed. It all came crashing to an abrupt end in 1994. I lived close by and someone came to the door to say that Colins mother had taken seriously ill and was in hospital. Eventually I got talking to Colin and he explained as best he could. I offered to go to the RVH with him. His mum was in bed unconscious and hadn’t spoken since admission. The nurse was keen to talk to me and ask various questions. Obviously they had assessed the mental state of Colin and wanted someone else as a contact. I gave my contact details.
It was explained that the mother had suffered a major stroke and was not expected to survive. I stood beside Colin at the bedside. He looked puzzled. He wasn’t given to expressing how he was feeling.
He simply said that he mum wasn’t well. I agreed and tried to explain the situation. I was unsure as to his level of comprehension. Eventually we went home. I asked if he was OK and he said yes. I returned home to my wife and children. No sooner had I got into bed than the phone rang and it was the RVH. Please get Colin up here asap. Up out of bed, dragging clothes on, grabbling car keys. Rapping and kicking Colins door. Urging him to hurry. It was late and thankfully with next to no traffic. I may have went through some red lights? I was prepared to take the consequences but I needed Colin to see his mum. While she was still alive.
It was too late. She had died peacefully. We told Colin quietly. I will never forget that scene. Colin was standing beside his mother’s bed. The ward was deathly quiet. And dark. I walked away to give Colin some privacy to say whatever he had to say. He turned to me and said, ‘my mums sleeping’. I just agreed. Eventually we had to go home. I rang my wife and said I was staying with Colin for that night. Then another bombshell. There had been a major falling out in the family and there was no one to take over the situation. I took work off the next day. Undertaker, hospital, register death, check insurance policies, make lunch, pick a coffin, contact friends, death notice in the Tele. I was watching for any signs that Colin was not coping with this but he seemed unperturbed and strangely calm. The funeral came and went. It was with pride that I think back to the circle of friends and mates that Colin had. Collectively we helped him through. That circle of friends would be needed again.
Colin carried on in his home with good outside support around cleaning and cooking. And he got back to a routine which was important for him. Neighbours kept an eye out. I dropped the bantering and teasing. We spent a bit more time talking to him but his general health started to fail. One day I was told that Colin was in the City hospital. His stays in hospital were becoming more frequent. When I visited him I felt he was a bit failed. Some weight loss? We went out of the ward to a visitor’s room where he told me that he had MRSA. This was when MRSA was making its way into the public consciousness and was seen as akin to the black plague. It didn’t seem to fuss or upset him. Then again nothing seemed to fuss him. I had never heard him bewail his situation. Or curse fate. Or wish it all away. No moaning, no self-pity or bitterness.
The inevitable came and Colin died of a range of issues. The ceasefires had come into being but far, far too late for Colin. Again friends rallied round. The small funeral parlour service was packed. Out at the cemetery we buried Colin with his mother. I think she would be happy with that. Her only child was now back with her. She spent her lifetime looking after him. And now, together for ever.
There are no poems or songs about Colin. There were no TV people or journalists asking about his story. No name on a wall plaque. No bands with his name emblazoned on a drum. A Google search does not produce one mention of the man or his life. Another forgotten victim of the troubles. His story is part of the price paid by so many no matter where they came from. The unseen and unmeasured suffering that dominated so many lives. The IRA men were caught and imprisoned for life. They were all out by the time Colin’s mother had died. Colin didn’t die that dark cold night in ’75 but in a way his future died. Maybe we should tell the story of everybody hurt through the troubles? Get away from the hierarchy of victims. Drop the them and us? See the person and not the label?