Coming Home

Guest writer Davy Carlin continuing his story of life in West Belfast as viewed through his eyes.

It was the year 2004, thirty-five years after 1969, which many view as the beginning of ‘the troubles’. I was thirty-four years old and living now in Turf Lodge {the Turf} in West Belfast. On a particular day of that year I had ventured out of my home to go down town, this despite the downpour that was ongoing.

As I walked towards the top of the ‘Rock’, {White Rock Road} I was joined by a neighbour, then the heavens really opened and it lashed down so we quickened our pace. Then from across the street a couple of kids lifted a few stones and threw it at a passing Peeler {Police} jeep. With that came a loud voice directed at the kids: ’catch yourselves on, ye will put someone’s eye out,’ this coming from a man not far from them. The kids scampered and my neighbour commented at how long it had been since he had seen ‘that’; which I had presumed he was referring to the situation of the kids throwing bricks at the Peelers. So we said our goodbyes as I got into a ‘Black Hack’ {Taxi} at the top of the Rock.

As I sat back into my seat the rain pelted off the taxi windows and the man who had shouted at the kids crossed the road to make his way across to the Spar. Yet although he had a cap on, his face was familiar – older, but nevertheless familiar. I pulled down the window slightly and our eyes met briefly as he made his way past the front of my waiting taxi. I then pulled the window back up. So as I sat there alone in the back of the hack waiting for it to fill up I moved across the seat to the window that lay closest to the kerb. I laid my head on the window and closed my eyes for a moment and with that my mind went back in time, back to the mid-seventies.

‘Catch a grip of that’ came the voice of a much younger and able man as a friend grabbed the other end of a crate load of bottles almost half full of liquid. The voice was that of the much older man who almost 30 years on had shouted ‘catch yourselves on’ to kids cladding a few stones at the, still, very same forces that he was planning for all those years ago. I was in fact standing in my memories almost to the very spot of where I was sitting presently in 2004. I let my mind continue to wander in the past, to relive in my mind my memories. It was 1976.

The crowds of youth where gathering at the top of the Rock as I held on to my Granny’s hand as we proceeded down along the Upper Springfield Road. As we continued I looked up at my Gran with her warm smile radiating out from her head scarf with the feel also of her warm and secure hands as I continued to hop and skip beside her. She looked upon me and smiled her smile looking upon my face. With my Afro and black face I of course stood out amongst the local ‘white community’ but it was a community in which I never felt any different, as I was never treated as such in those early years.

After a few brief moments we turned into the estate and made our way down the hill. I looked back to see the Brits {British soldiers} who had just left the Henry Taggart fort in their armoured tanks driving up towards the gathering crowds. Even from where I was I heard the cries of ‘here they come’ as the youth gathered their bottles, bricks and other weaponry at hand. It would be only a year later that I too would be driven by the state actions into seeking such weaponry, but for now we continued down the hill. At the bottom of the street we turned into Glenalina Road on our way to number 40. We were on our way into Ballymurphy estate, the ‘Murph’, the heart of the Irish war – it was 1976 and I was on my way home, I was six years of age.

A jolt from the taxi revived me into my present reality. It was 2004 and I was on my way into town to pick up some books, political books. Having been born into such a time you may think that this alone would highly politicise you; it did so only in part .Yet I had moved out {in part} of West Belfast around 1988 – 89 {fully moved out by 91} only to return almost a decade later and during that period had in fact little interest in politics or anything overtly political, that is until the mid-90′s.

I had left the West and went on to college then found a career in the civil service. With that I had bought a home in the leafy area of South Belfast’s Four Winds.With two to three holidays abroad a year and cash on the hip I was away ‘from it all’. Then on the television screens I watched from that comfort of my home the British state once again battering people of the streets, this time to force through an Orange march down the Garvaghy Road. This after the Brits caved in on the original decision to ban it. Then on the Ormeau Road a curfew of Nationalist residents was put in place to force down yet another Orange march. Watching this turned me to the stomach and showed it in its truest form that little of the Brit mindset had changed in real terms. While I watched the screens from afar, I saw friends and those close to me also being battered of the streets and with that it brought many memories back. I therefore at that time had begun to read a number of political diaries and came to the decision that I could not stand at the sides and simply watch what was going on around me.

With that I contacted several political parties, Republican and Socialist of which my extended family may have been in support of, but none of them wrote back. It was therefore by chance, and it was by pure chance, that I happened upon the Socialist Workers Party in Belfast. It was on that very issue of the Orange marches in which they were briefly campaigning, and it was that which made me first approach their stall to offer my support and activism. Although when I first joined, they, and now we, were but a handful of ‘unknowns’ in the wider political world with numbers counted on one hand at the first meeting I attended. Nevertheless five years later and with much activism and respect being gained, we had started to help, and to initiate and deliver momentous and historic events and mass movements never seen before in the North of Ireland. More importantly for a time we had initiated and helped mobilise and unite thousands and at times tens of thousands of Catholic and Protestants onto the streets of Belfast. From Anti Sectarianism to Anti War, from Trade union fight backs to Anti-Racism stands, we had stood together on each issue, with citizens on masse.

As the taxi continued from the top of the Rock it slowed now to an almost stop, traffic jam. Sitting there my eyes started to drop as my head again lazed against the window. I drifted off again to the Murph, the Murph of the mid to late seventies.

I had arrived home; home to me was between 40 Glenalina Road Ballymurphy and 6 Sevastopol Street on the Lower Falls Road. I had lived with my Grandmother and Grandfather in the Murph – then for three days while staying with my mum and stepfather for the remainder, until such times as I stayed permanently with my Mum and Step dad. It broke my Grandparents hearts though when I eventually left.

1 comment:

  1. Davy,

    I walked the same streets and roads so often. It is all so familiar. Keep it going.