A Maze of 'cut through' alleyways and entries.

Guest writer Davy Carlin takes us through the maze of streets that made up the Ballymurphy of his childhood

The Carlin family was a large family like many in those days. One of my uncles was killed though when he was a child. For me I was lucky even to be born. I was the result of a vacuum birth where a large dent covered by hair remains in my skull. I had less than a 5% chance of living. I had always thought though that I had been born in the Royal Victoria Hospital in West Belfast like the rest of my stepbrothers and sisters but in fact I was actually born in the Belfast City Hospital in South Belfast.

Having been born into the Murph I am still considered by some a ‘Murph man’ Today books, articles and songs have been written about the Murph with many more stories of daring, of courage, and of resistance handed down from word of mouth. The Ballymurphy estate pre-war {the recent conflict} was an area like many other Nationalist working class estates that suffered socio and economic deprivation, poor housing, discrimination and much more at the hands of the Unionist dominated state. For that reason the establishment of a local Tenants Association took place in the early 1960’s. Its first meeting was held in St Bernadette’s school almost directly across the road from me. St Bernadette’s was a school where as a child I had used to climb over its gates with other kids, as so to go and play handball against its walls. My grandfather, Jim Carlin, was in the Ballymurphy Tenants Association {BTA} along with Hugh McCormick, one of its founders. I used to as a child knock around in those days with one of his grandkids, Kieran Mc Cormick, who frequented his home, which was directly across from ours. Also in the tenants association was Frank Cahill the brother of veteran Republican Joe Cahill. At times the BTA had held its meetings in our home where my mum would serve up tea and biscuits and would also have helped out at some of the social functions etc. organised by the BTA. The BTA went on to have a huge impact for the betterment of the community and was a testament to the skills, commitment and determination of its activists that they had achieved so much. This more especially against the backdrop of the overt discrimination and state barriers erected against them.

The Murph itself was a maze of the ‘‘cut through’’ alleyways and entry’s. Perfect for the IRA volunteers to take on the Brits in the urban territory before the redrawing of the eventual new estates that took such a situation into account. The Murph although at the forefront of the Irish War was a community not only of resistance but a community that also cared and embraced each other. Of course there were the various splits and disagreements within and between various organisations. Which when feuding, took those feuds at times brutal and bloody onto the Murph’s surrounding areas streets. Nevertheless at times of need, the community stood firm as one, and resisted whatever was thrown against them.

As a kid I knocked about with many on the street with many more on the street having been related to me. In those days extended families lived very close to each other and so the maze of streets in the Murph had many families related to me. Therefore seeing the number of relatives houses actually running well into double figures from my mums and stepfathers sides of the family. Their homes stretched from Glenalina Road right round to the Ballymurphy road and within the surrounding area.

Visiting such homes always was a delight with being handed sweets and biscuits as I made my rounds from home to home. Yet such was the times that all homes that I frequented were open and welcoming. In those days doors where left open not only as so to be open and welcoming for visitors but in many occasions as so those being chased by the Peelers or Brits could run through the front door and out the back. Something I had availed of on many occasions as a child with the Brits in tow chasing after me, to words of the effect, ‘there’s the wee Black Bastard’. Ballymurphy in those days was an estate that was at the forefront of the conflict with every family and household affected by it and participant in various ways within it. Even today the stories I hear within conversations shows up not only the discrimination and the brutality of the state but of the resolute willingness of such citizens to stand firm against it.

Yet while I was being born into the Murph on the 4th of Oct 1970 a hand full of doors down the bottom of our street was the house of the Adams family. On that adjourning street of Divismore Park, within that house, was a young man who would go on to become infamous in the annals of the recent conflict. His name was Gerry Adams and he was to go on to become the President of Sinn Fein {SF}. Yet such was the nature of Ballymurphy and West Belfast in general, many such persons now recognised within the recent conflict had lived or still live there.

When I had moved to Sevastopol Street I had witnessed the shooting of Ronnie Bunting. Ronnie Bunting was the founding member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party {IRSP} and once Belfast commander and a senior chief of staff of the Irish National Liberation Army {INLA}. The house that I had actually moved into in 6 Sevastopol Street in the early seventies, the person that had lived there previous to me was another whose name is now famous in the annals of our recent conflict. His name was Seamus Twomey, the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s {PIRA} Chief of Staff. Then when I had moved to Twinbrook, John Lowry, who had gone on to become the General Secretary of the Workers Party {WP} who were allied with Official Irish Republican Army {OIRA} had lived in my street there in Twinbrook. So such was the nature of the times that most streets had a history that has already be written within the history books detailing various incidents and movements, or indeed of those involved within them.

For me though as a six year old such things were not part of my understanding, but such times were though indeed exciting. In those days the streets of the Murph as a community held their own ‘get togethers’ and entertainment. As I kid I remember bringing out the kitchen chairs in those long hot summers onto the streets of the late seventies and playing street bingo or having a street party. The games of yesteryear in the Murph for the girls and at times the boys where hop scotch and skips. Skips was a rope turned and we skipped over it while all sang the various songs to accompany it. I remember I also had these toy soldiers and Brit jeeps, which I mercilessly attacked in pretend ambushes or threw against the wall to see them smash into smithereens.

As a kid and teenager I knocked around with my cousins Patrick, Martin, John, Ian and Seamus. I also hung around with my neighbour whose house was a first aid centre during some of the worst days of the troubles This when volunteers where having gun battles with the Brits from the back alley ways, from side streets or from within the gardens of the Murph. Or when the Brits where attempting to run riot and to dish out their brutality throughout the Murph, and so seeing the Murph residents of all ages getting wired into them in running street battles.

Yet looking back on those days although a kid I can remember nearly every surname in that street. Such was those days; I believe many of similar and older age can. Today though many things are different, with the street games all but gone and home computers, motorbikes, mini quad bikes, and even mini jeeps the interest of many such kids today. Also seeing the extended family in most cases not existing, to and in the same extent, as many of the now generation of my age tending to move further and further away. This, as many more are now able to find jobs and some financial stability. Yet in those days of yesteryear although we had little in the material sense we nevertheless had much within that sense of community and solidarity. This was indeed intensified within the collective forms of struggle and resistance.


  1. Davy I,m no chicken and I was born bred and buttered in Andersonstown, your comment re Seamus Twomey living in Sevastapool st is news to me,the Twomeys lived in Trostan Way Andersonstown as long as I can remember.

  2. From Davy Carlin:

    - Hi Marty, at the time of writing that article, the word ‘stayed’ {as did various others} - would have been a more apt word for those times.

  3. Davy,

    as ever a great wee read.

  4. Davy Carlin-

    Enjoyed reading your story-just two questions if you dont mind-

    " I had witnested the shooting of Ronnie Bunting "

    Did you see the fcuks that shot him?-

    " there is the wee black bastard "

    I thought that was our slang for them-[the brits]

  5. well done. its good to see people documenting stuff. It reminds me of the Blasket writers in a small sense.

    ps Mackers - some more stories about ur time spent on the outside during the conflict please :) :)

  6. Great piece Davy , reminds me of Ardoyne , once shooting started , lights went out , front and back as well as yard doors were left open. Seems you have followed some well known people in moving house's.

    Michael Henry.

    AND , what is your second question to davy , I only see one!. or , have I missed a question mark?.

  7. Ffs Davy you,ve moved about almost as much as the bold Seamie,My mate Mick Purdy who is Jim Brysons bro in law lived at the bull ring,we used to piss the brits of by playing "say hello to the provos" very loudly,the old established communities had a closeness that in times of adversity made an almost impenetrable wall of support for those engaged in resistance against the brutal and bullying tactics of the british army,the ruc being nowhere to be seen, it seems that the more they beat us the stronger we became,we were never beaten as a people just betrayed..good read Davy a cara ..

  8. Davy,
    Great account and a lovely piece about a very different time.
    The entries and the alleys still exist in some areas although the majority are sealed off for the very reasons you have stated.
    I especially liked your recolletion about how in those times we knew all our neighbours names.
    Sadly, that's no longer the case but its nice when such thoughts get other reflecting.