The Sound of the Engines

Guest writer Davy Carlin continues his story of growing up in West Belfast's troubled times.

Yet now I thought to myself how lucky I was as to where I lived. With my home nestling on the side of a mountain, Black Mountain, we have beautiful views over the city of Belfast. Then with just a two minute walk sees us to the entrance of a large spacious park.

The park hosts beside it a library, a leisure centre and an array of bars, eateries and a 24-hour shop. The park itself has tended flowerbeds, football and Gaelic pitches, outdoor netball and basketball courts and gym as well as BMX bike ramps. And of course a river that runs through it, graced on either side by magnificent trees. Then to cap it all off, at the bottom of the park and across the road is an award winning nature reserve, with a lake, walk ways, and a whole host of shrubbery, birds and other wildlife living within it. All this within a stone’s throw of our home, with much of it succeeding due to tireless work of local activists over time. In fact a love for the environment has grown on me now that I have space to acknowledge it. Whereas for my wife Marie it has always been with her. A smile came to my face as I thought and remembered as to how contented and chilled out such nature can make one.

‘It’s not funny ye know I have to get to work’. ‘What, oh sorry mate I wasn’t smiling about that’ I replied, ‘you’d probably be quicker getting out to walk my man’ He looked at his watch, maybe to decide or not to take up my suggestion. I recognised the young man, he was from the Murph and about twenty years old, therefore was a dozen or so years younger than me. Although not a huge age gap I though thought briefly as to the difference to our childhoods. More especially I thought of the now still developing change around the Murph and the West {West Belfast} over the last decade or so.

The humdrum of the ticking taxi engine only now began to sing to me. It was beginning to become almost hypnotic. With my hand on the side of my face I felt myself slowly falling and being drawn to the window again like a magnet as my eyes fought to stay open. My head slowly dropped to the side. My mind spoke to me ’the sound of the engine’, ‘the sound of the engine’, ‘the sound of the engines’.

It was the seventies and it was at the top of the Murph.

‘Here they fucking come’. Even today many can recognise the sound of a peeler jeep from afar. In those days there were the sixers, six wheeled tanks, and the Saracens amongst a whole layer of other army transport and machinery. At times they all came out together including huge monster trucks and diggers, green and covered in camouflage. You could tell each by their engines and at times they were absolutely deafening which as a kid added both to the fear and the excitement. ‘Come on get wired into the bastards’ came another call, as youths ran around trying to pick up any weaponry at hand. I was not allowed to go up near the top of the Rock but crowds of youth on their way up had then seen me follow them up beyond the entrance of the Murph.

As the Brits drew closer in their armored tanks the youth got stuck in. Slabs off stones, beer barrels, bottles and petrol bombs rained down upon the tanks and armored personal carriers. Make shift barricades had been erected in part but the Brits armored tanks just went through them. Then I heard bang, bang, it was not live bullets, as I knew the sound of those so it must be the cylinder ones, the ‘Rubbers’ and ‘Plastics’.

I remembered what I was told and dropped to the deck. ‘If shooting starts son drop to the deck’. Therefore flat on my stomach I crawled like I had seen soldiers do in those old war films on TV, making sure to keep my arse down. Older teenager youths where still get wired in though while both ‘masked up’ and fired up. Still the bullets fired, and when I believed I was at a safe distance I got up and ran like a ‘goodin’. It would not be long though before I would no longer drop to the ground but ‘mask up also’, as an eight year old behind the burning barricades, this time on the Falls Road of the late 70’s. It was at those times that the journalists would pay me a pound or so, as so they could picture me with my scarf over my face. This either behind the barricades or against the murals {or upon the fountain in Dunville Park} with my fist raised in the air. I dare say though that my seventies childhood afro would have given me away.

During periods of the troubles, may it have been at the height of battles or through the systematic burning out of homes, refugees where created. Many people whom I now know had been evacuated, with one such evacuee being my mum. She was evacuated across the border with her neighbours.

Some women would also play an active role in the ‘Hen Patrols’. The Hen patrols would patrol the area and warn of the presence of the invading Brits, with their use of their whistles and bin lids. Such times had seen many initiatives and participants by and within the community to counter such Brit invasion. More especially it showed the active and important roles of women played within the struggle, may it have been street patrols or as volunteer soldiers. This was something that came to the fore against the traditional and conservative vision of the then roles of women within society, within that emergence of resistance against the state. Women also came to the fore in their support for residents in other parts of the West {West Belfast} who were under Brit siege.

Yet on many occasions the Brits were as brutal against women and children as they were against the fella’s. Over time they had murdered many women and children and brutalised thousands of others. I remember looking into various coffins of such ultimate brutality. Yet the brutality was dished out to all. Of course many were killed and brutalised by all involved in the war, Loyalist, Republican and by state forces. All such killing of innocents was wrong whatever the reasoning. Yet when a state moves intentionally to kill its own citizens, which I believed they did, then that needs to be realised. So apart from the ongoing killings and murders by all involved either it be against each other or sometimes against their own, other forms of brutality continued on a daily basis.

One such time that comes to mind when listening to discussion was a case of when one of my uncles was coming back from work in the early seventies. My uncle was a steel erecter as others within my family where, although many others went off to join the merchant navy. Incidentally one uncle to join the merchant navy was my uncle John who eventually set up home in Australia but returned back to the Murph in the nineties. Like him many people had moved away in those days not only due to the war but also due to the systematic discrimination of Catholics carried out by the Unionist government. Poor housing, lack of jobs, discrimination in voting practices and much more meant many had to pack up bags to find a life, rather than a mere existence, elsewhere. The history of British Colonialism has meant that literally millions of Irish people had to leave Ireland to create a life elsewhere. That is why the Irish can be found settled across the entire globe.

My uncle though who was steel erecter was on this way through the Murph when a full running battle with the state was ongoing. He had almost made it to our front door which was by then full of people attempting to escape the brutality being dished out by the state when the Paras, {British Paratroopers} caught him at our front door. Although innocent, they almost killed him with the beating they gave him. Boots, batons, gun butts, you name it he got. By the time those in the house had realised, he had been dragged into their vehicle where the beatings continued as he was whisked away. My Grandfather was given the run around for days through not being told where his son was; as for all he knew he could be dead. Fortunately he was found alive, although like many others after such beatings and torture dished out by the state it had an impact on him. Similarly like many others when he sought justice within the state system he got nought. How can one find justice from the very people melting out the ‘unlawful’ and unjust brutality many had asked?

This was a situation many found themselves in, and with seeing and receiving such constant brutality and no justice within the justice system forthcoming, many then were ‘driven’ into the politic of the gun. In doing so, seeking not only protection of their families and friends, but for that very justice and wider equality. With that situation there where various organisations who could and would then provide the means. Indeed with such state brutality this provided in large part a continued amble recruiting ground for those very organisations which had already been brought about by the brutality.


  1. Davy:

    You mesmerize me with every piece you put on TPQ.
    You bring me back to the auld days

    I have always had the utmost respect for those brave women , my late wife included , who walked the district with a whistle and a bin lid. House lights out and back and front doors open, yet , I still remember a few houses in our street who kept the doors closed and lights on, needles to say, they were spoken to! and reformed.

    You are 100% correct , because of the brutality of the Brits and RUC , it drove hundreds to join the RA.
    Sadly , a lot of people on both sides of the divide who were innocent non combatants died needlessly , as did many volunteers due to premature detonation, of which I was very suspicious , yet nothing was ever confirmed about touts handlers working on said devices to change the timers. As for your Uncle being battered , my late father and younger brother got the same treatment, I just got a few kicks and digs and the odd Rifle but and baton in the ribs and legs and lower back.

    Sure wasn't life grand in them days , better than it is today.
    I can't wait for the 2016 easter elections which the british government has pushed through parliament to coincide with the 2016 Eire Nua!.

  2. Davy,
    Great to read stuff like this. I worked on the lower falls for a while and often walked about the terraced streets, identifying murals, landmarks, historic streets and unfortunately plagues to dead volunteers.

    I often thought, it really must have been pure fear around here, with its close streets, get a ways and basically killing zones.

    I can identify with the sound of engines myself, in the early 1990's the dark nights around Halloween brought with it, the usual anticipation, fear and extra security that was somehow institutionalised to us all.

    I have heard people say they missed it when it was gone, the fear/excitement/anticipation, but they couldn't work out way they did, given the misery involved.

    A generation has now grown up without it, but the sectarianism remains. Will the tribalism ever go, or more to the point should it go?