17 in Belfast: James

17 in Belfast.

It is late June 1974. I have just turned 17. I live in the middle of Belfast. In the middle of the troubles. This is just some memories of one year.

July. It is a great month although its wetter than usual.  Still doesn’t stop us enjoying the bonefire on the 12th.  The 3 Degrees are belting it out and the Osmonds have hit the UK.  While I’m not a Liverpool supporter Bill Shankly has resigned. This is sad because I like him as a person.

The Provos have set a bomb in London killing one policeman. There is madness in South Belfast.  A woman is beaten to death by loyalists with her child outside the room. I recall sitting having breakfast before school when a report on the radio says a woman’s body has been found on the side of the M1.  It is all women and one man who are lifted for it.  The victim is Ann Ogilby. It is basically a fight over a man.   We hear sirens all the time now.  Im not into rugby but we have been  watching the famous British lions team (the Invincibles) play in south Africa. It’s the dirtiest  play I’ve ever seen in rugby.   Players from here are Mike Gibson,  Willie John McBride, McKinney, Milliken and Grace.

August. It is a lazy warm month although half inch of rain falls on the 10th.  One of them heavy,  summer plumps.  I mess about not doing much. I kick ball on the street but the young ones are out and they annoy me.  They are children. I am grown up now. There are daily riots around Belfast but they are so common they are not reported unless,   a) there is a foreign news crew or b) it is a slow  news day.  There are only 13 people killed this month due to the troubles.  One is a 13 year old school boy.  Wearing a school uniform is a problem these days. It can identify you to the ‘other side’. Arnotts shop in town closes. My mum is sad. I remember us going  shopping there.   There are regular bomb scares these days.

September.  I start my new school.  I am not happy. No friends and strange new routines.  I do not know anything about social class until now. It is made obvious that I am regarded as coming from a poor family and a poor place. I got a scholarship to be here but that does not seem to matter. It ends up with me fighting. I blacken the guys eye real good. I’m in front of the headmaster but I soon have friends who tell me that the bully deserved his punching.  At the same time Karl Douglas is singing away to the number 1 spot with King Fu Fighting. So after the Bruce Lee period a while back, everyone is out in the street giving it loads of karate chops and flying kicks.

October.  It is a busy month. We are having a second general election this year.  Big John Parkes runs a shop in the Donegall Pass. While he is a DUP man, all shades of Unionist are helping the Rev Robert Bradford keep the South Belfast seat.  Leaflets are given out and posters put up.  He keeps his seat but that night there are numerous Provo  bombs about Belfast.   It is a cool but dry month but the nights are getting chilly. Homework’s are starting to pile up for me.   One evening the news carries a story of a fire in the long Kesh prison outside Lisburn. I know one of the guys in there. No one knows what is happening.  The UDA mobilises and big patrols are out on the streets. I see a patrol of about 30 UDA men on the Shankill road. People are afraid. But David Essex is Gonna make us all stars.  My dad,  friends and I watch Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle on our black and white TV.

November.   It is a violent month even by our standards.  Bombs explode in pubs in Birmingham killing a lot of people. The government rush in new anti-terror laws.  Everyone is my street is angry.  The killings continue here, over 40 troubles deaths.  A doorman, a catholic,  is killed at the Club Bar on the University Road.  A man, a Prod, who worked in the Markets is found  shot dead in a car in Apsley Street.  A man, a Catholic, is shot dead at Carolyn Road  at the top of the Ormeau Road.  Barry White,  the big black dude with the white suit is crooning all over the charts.  It is a cold month but very windy.

December.  Getting ready for Xmas. Still watching Blue Peter and seeing how their charity appeal is coming along. There is a feeling of fear at this festive time. If you go shopping in the city centre you are assured of searches, bomb scares and maybe even a real bomb going off.  Army and police jeeps race about the streets.  If not in school uniform I wear my black DMs,  skinners  and bomber jacket. I love my Orange Widows badge. I am stopped often for a ‘pat down’.  The dark cold nights and troubles mean people stay in their homes.  The Monty Python TV show is finishing.

At least Top of the Pops is still on.  Thursday night is usually a good TV night. Mud will be at number 1 this Christmas with Lonely this Christmas.  Mud,  a name that they wanted to  stick. A catholic man who was shot at the City Hospital in October dies on Christmas Eve. Won’t be a great Xmas for that family. A woman is accidentally shot dead in a club.  I know the man who is charged. He is mentally wrecked. It was his friends wife. His friend has forgiven him and knows it was a terrible accident. We have a traditional family dinner with one invited guest.   There are fewer toys in the house now that we are all growing older. Clothes are more usual now.  No white Xmas,  more like cloudy  grey.


January. The year starts off with Status Quo and ‘Down,  Down’. Excellent. I already have one of their LPs.  My collection of 45’s is growing. I get my pocket money on a Saturday and it is down to the Gramophone shop in the city centre.  Back to school. It’s a long slog until June. We are told about our mocks this year.  Only 9 people killed in the troubles this month.  A young catholic is shot dead off Great Victoria Street. He is 17 years old. Same as me. The FA Cup starts for real on the 4th. Still love reading Shoot! The mighty Everton are held by little Altricham at Goodison. Liverpool win as do Leeds but Man United only draw with Walsall only to be beaten in the replay.  After a local church youth club on a Saturday night I go home to watch Match of the Day along with buttered bread and a bowl of Dads vegetable soup. Happy days.

February. It is turning out to be a mild winter. No snow.  Steve Harley and his Cockney rebel are going up to see the Number 1 spot.  Some woman called Thatcher has taken over from Teddy Heath as leader of the Tories.  A Catholic and Protestant are killed on the Ormeau Road.  Merlyn Rees is the Secretary of State. He’s annoying the Unionists. I always think of Harry Worth the comedian when I see him.  I have taken up playing squash through school.  Not a working class game but good fun.  Leeds and Arsenal look strong in the F.A . Cup.  But neither make it to the final.

March   The Shadows represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest . They sang ‘Let me be the One’. Instead they were 9th.  Another young catholic is shot dead off the Ormeau Road. The loyalists are having a deadly feud. 15 people die this month. The first policewoman dies in the troubles,  killed by loyalists  in Bangor.  My favourite bald, lolly sucking, American policeman, has made it to the top of the charts.  IF he would only  stick to catching baddies.  ‘Who loves ya baby’? One of my grand uncles has died.  It is a country funeral in a small country church. He was a happy go lucky man. I will miss him. Our whole family are at the funeral. It is good to see them all but sad that we only meet when someone dies.  Leeds and Ipswich go on a marathon tie needing to play 4 matches before Ipswich win out. Bryan Hamilton who plays for N. Ireland scores one Ipswich goal.

April.  I have backed Red Rum this year in the National after backing him last year when he won. We are a once-a-year betting family. My mum gets L’Escargot.  We all put a shilling each way.  Its nice to win. Especially when we haven’t a clue about horse racing. We banter Dad. His is still running somewhere.  I am putting in a lot more revision for the class tests. Although,  I am coming to hate maths.  The teacher knows that I am struggling with it. Mud are back at Number 1 with Oh Boy.  Fulham and West Ham win their semis to book a place at Wembley in May.  5 Prods die in the IRA bombing of the Montainview on the Shankill. It is one of the bloodiest weekends in Belfast. 13 men die in the space of 3 days in Belfast.  The army shoot dead a young Shankill man after a bar is attacked in Lavinia St.  The leader of the Sticks is shot dead on the Falls.  A man is shot  dead behind the City Hospital.  Rangers win the league in Scotland. Some of their best players  are Jardine, Johnston,  Jackson, Mclean and Parlane (top scorer)

May.  I have to go away on a residential with school. Feels very odd being away from family. And its only a  weekend. Only 11 dead in the troubles this month. Tammy Wynette is standing by Her man and West Ham win the FA Cup.  Man United are promoted from the second division back into the First Division. We watch Leeds being beaten in the European Cup final by Bayern Munich. Then the riot starts. There is an election to a Convention.  It was doomed from the start.  Another grand uncle dies. I am aware of a generation moving through and that we are all mortal. Even my generation today will be old at some time. And then?

June. I will be 18 this month.  Childhood has gone.  Summer holidays then one more year in school. What will I do then? All my mates have jobs. I see less of them.  A storm blows in at the start of the month. My birthday is a non-event.  It’s more about getting the card with the money inside and then a spending spree.  I think about a job and money of my own.  The killings carry on unabated.  A 3 year girl dies in her daddy’s booby trapped car in the Ormeau Road. The Daily Mirror headline screams ‘Bastards’.  A Protestant man is shot dead off the Ormeau Road. A 16 year old is shot dead in north Belfast. His killer is aged 16. It’s a warm and dry June but probably will be a long hot summer.   What will I do with my life? What can I do. Where would I go? I have never left this island. People just seem to plough on and hope for the best.  Wonder what the next year will bring.






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