9th of August

It was a bright Monday morning. I awoke to the news that internment had been introduced while I was sound asleep. It was on the cards. As a paper delivery boy I could not fail to notice the headlines as I did my rounds about its imminence. The background was the daily sound of explosions rattling their way throughout Belfast often followed by plumes of smoke, allowing a stab to me made as to the general location of the bomb.

The previous day, a Sunday, was spent in the Lower Falls rioting around Leeson Street and the Falls Road. The thrill of the chase which saw a mad rush through houses to escape British Army snatch squads, the occupants of which we had never known or met, was electrifying but exhilarating. While we rioted the thunderous sounds of nail bombs exploding told us that another had been lobbed while our hearts paused through the shock of it.

I was with a friend from the Lower Ormeau Road, who later would make it into custody before I did, serving a 1-3 year term in St Patrick’s in West Belfast from where young people routinely escaped as quickly as they were brought in. I would later abscond twice; the first time while held on remand for rioting, a natural progression. They never officially termed it ‘escape’, declining I suspect to dignify the ease with which departure was enacted.

During an ebb in the rioting a brace of cars pulled up at Varna Gap. Men with weapons but no woolly faces alighted and began peering up the street towards the snatch squads of British soldiers. We perched on a window sill facing them as spectators to the event. Someone urged us all to move, this was no show but the real thing. Whether as a result of the firing distance being too great or the riotous assembly milling about the street, the armed men refrained from opening up. We left disappointed.

As darkness fell we began the journey on foot back to South Belfast, stopping at a sweet shop on the Grosvenor Road near the corner of Malt Street for something in the way of refreshments. Near the shop was a butcher’s premises where we stood either counting our coins or eating our sweets, I no longer remember. The blast that occurred terrified us. The place shook followed by the sound of glass breaking. Years later Nick Lowe recorded ‘I love the sound of breaking glass.’ I always associated it with rioting and nail bombs. In my mind I still have this image of hunching down, shuddering while the windows of the butcher shop shattered. Another memory suggests that the windows remained intact. Who knows so many years after the event when memory has a way of rearranging detail?

On internment morning in the company of another friend from the Lower Ormeau Road we crossed the city, again on foot, to Albert Street where we were quickly swallowed up by the crowd of protestors enraged at British incursion. It seemed that everyone was rioting. A lorry was thrown across the top of the street in which we found ourselves. We battled with each other to get on it, a commanding height from which to stone and bottle British troops. We showered them with rubble, they blasted us with rubber bullets, although it would be a month before I fell victim to one while rioting on the Andersonstown Road. At one point, forced off the lorry by the sheer volume of rioters scrambling for position, we tried throwing our missiles from behind the lorry. Our aim apparently short, we seem to have posed a greater threat to fellow rioters than foreign troops. We were ordered to desist. There was a simple solution, we moved to McDonnell Street where my grandfather lived and began throwing from there at any Brit on Albert Street.

Around midday a British officer announced through a loud hailer that if we were still rioting after 60 seconds he would hit us with lead rather than rubber rounds. The crowd forced open the gates of a yard where beer bottles were stored in abundance. The hail of bottles was our response to the sixty seconds warning.

Late in the evening tiredness drove us home. A good day’s work as far as we were concerned. Many nationalists were not so fortunate, failing to make it home, having been gunned down by British murder squads. Paddy McAdorey died that morning fighting the British in Ardoyne. His would be the first IRA funeral I attended.

Facts on the ground, rather than footnotes, a sure guide to understanding why people join guerrilla bodies like the IRA.


  1. Antony,

    What an exciting way to spend your youth! Never been in a riot but I remember seeing Paul Simonson of The Clash on the documentary film Westway to the World talking about throwing his first brick at a riot in Notting Hill Carnival in, I think 1976.
    He said that as he threw it he felt a huge sense of relief.

    Best of luck,

  2. many of the images you describe seem to be portrayed in the recently released film 50 dead men walking. I wonder how real to life the other images in this film are... SOME OF THEM SHOCKED ME TO THE CORE..

  3. Anthony,
    you're on RTE tonight. my mrs and I will watch that with great interest. Having been in Sligo for several years and Bundoran a small number of times my wife is speechless that Mountbatten would have the audacity to holiday there regularly.
    Though it was a bit "leprechaunish" of Ghandi to recommend Sligo lobster to the viceroy of India before he deperted lol.

  4. Well AM, would like to say 'God be with the days but...., its hard to believe there is a degree of normality.
    God bless.

  5. Rory, it was an exciting time, little doubt about that. I recall that Notting Hill riot.
    Larry, never saw the film. If it is as good as the book I will give it a miss!
    Larry Hughes, first I knew of it. It must be an old one. There was one for the 25th anniversary which I appeared on.
    Mark, it is not something I would want my kids doing.


  6. Anthony,
    Fond memories for me with your references to Leeson Street, Albert Street, Malt Street etc. I lived in Cyprus Street and to us kids in terms of what was going on back then it was the centre of the universe!
    Cyprus Street between Varna gap and Plevna gap seemed to be the unofficial rallying point for the 'boys' when the gear came out and as you said not a mask in sight. To be lucky enough to get within a few feet from someone without being chased, blasting away at a corner with an armalite or garand was for me one of the most exhilarating experiences I can remember!
    Your mention also of the riot at Albert Street/McDonnell Street revived a vivid memory of that day. I was there when the bottle store in McDonnell Street, (it was actually a bonded warehouse), was cleaned out to attack the brits. Inside the yard one 'entrepreneur' rammed a heavy steel storehouse door a few times with a forklift truck just enough to knock it off it's hinges creating a narrow opening at the bottom which was enough to precipitate a scramble of mostly adults to get in. They actually had to go through one at a time on their hands and knees! ( Including a middle-aged woman wearing a headscarf and a pair of slippers).
    On their way back out they were each shoving a heavy case of spirits in front of them with the wee woman in particular having a hard time of it! Things took a turn though when the cavalry arrived in the shape of Darkie Hughes who after calmly assessing the situation loudly announced to the throng that they were looting and that they were to 'desist immediately’ (or words to that effect). Anyway this request was ignored and their attention was only brought to bear when a colt .45 was promptly produced from under Darkie’s coat .
    Looking back now it seemed almost surreal considering that the riot proper continued unabated outside the gates in McDonnell Street. A number of them sullenly put down their boxes in the yard and made for the gate but Darkie was having none of it. Tapping the .45 on his thigh for emphasis he insisted that they put them back where they had got them i.e. the store, which of course would entail a return trip on hands and knees. This was duly done and none were exempt including the wee woman who was trying to hide behind a pile of wooden crates with her booty!
    To all who witnessed this, adults and children alike it was an abject lesson in how community order should be maintained in the midst of a crisis and doubtless Darkie knew this. It also demonstrated, to me at least, the decency and steadfastness that the young Brendan Hughes possessed, core values that he would retain through all his days.
    As you said, facts on the ground are the true measure of things.