Looking into the Coffins of Children

Guest writer Davy Carlin continuing his story of growing up in West Belfast. Tonight he focuses on the murderous use of plastic bullets against children by the armed forces of the British state.

The Murph and the greater Upper Springfield area had been to the fore of the conflict and so within it are held not only those many accounts of courage, determination and resistance, but of many deaths and lost lives. The Murph, a small estate, has seen over one hundred and fifty dead due to the conflict. It has seen many more injured and imprisoned, yet through it all it has seen its citizens stand firm.

Many of the marches that I had been on going down the Rock were against state sponsored murder and collusion. Marie and I had lead of such banners as ‘Ballymurphy or Turf Lodge against state murder and collusion’, and behind the banners seen many of those who were from the surrounding areas. Many of those citizens carried pictures of their loved ones who were murdered by the state. The depth of the state’s participation in such murders may never be fully known but it is widely recognised by the local citizens and by many others around Ireland and the globe.

Not far from St Thomas School on the Rock was the place in which my stepfather had lived. Therefore like my mum he too was from the Murph and so like myself is a ‘Murph man’. I had remembered going around to my Grandmother’s {on my step father’s sides} home on many occasions. Sitting beside my Gran watching a film I would tuck into the biscuits and sweets provided to me. The Murph estate as I had remembered then was really run down and impoverished. The mazes though of alleys and cut-throughs were great not only for the volunteers to get away from the Brits but for us kids and our games. The back alleys though were littered not so much with rubbish as wood and such that was stored for the bonnie, {bonfires} as well as seeing remnants of the aftermath of battles. We also came across stashes at times of bottles and bricks, which had been gathered for forthcoming battles.

Rather than go down Glenalina Road onto Divismore Park and then around to beside Ballymurphy Road, on my way from one Gran’s to another, I would use the cut through’s or go around via the Bull ring. I remember the Bullring well and would go around there to go to the shops for either of my Grans always getting a few bob for doing so. You would also see youth gathering there as due to the systematic discrimination by Unionist governance few facilities where provided to such Nationalist working class areas.

It was though with such developments as the Ballymurphy Tenants Association of which my Grandfather was involved and through many activists such as Father Des Wilson for example that the community began to get such facilities. The history of the Murph, and it is a proud history, will be talked and read about for decades to come. It is a history of such a community that had everything thrown at it that the state could throw at it, and more. Yet through it all the community had stood strong and above it, and provided much with having been afforded so little.

‘He will probably get there before us,’ the elderly lady said, back in the hack of 2004. ‘I know he probably will’, I replied, as the young man faded into the distance. As he did, I thought of the changes that had taken place and in many cases had been won which had benefited such young persons. Although there is still much more to be done, more especially seeking that fundamental change that I as a Socialist pursue. I do however acknowledge though, that life today is far better than it was when I was a kid.

Yet today within the Murph many gable walls are adorned with historical accounts of both the conflict and indeed of those within it, may it be the volunteers or the wider community. Yet there are also murals which picture and record other accounts of history dating back to 1916 and indeed going back to the famine. One such one I remember having stated, that in fact there was no famine. Which in a sense is very true given British Colonialism role of letting the ‘Irish starve.’ In fact to the Brits the Irish like the Scots where always their cannon fodder in war or not. Discrimination and racism was as institutionalised as the politic of colonialism, which went to, and in many cases today goes to the heart of the British state. Even just a few decades ago on bar and bed and breakfast windows signs were hung up of ‘No blacks. No dogs and no Irish’.

Another such mural adorns a gable wall in Turf Lodge; this one though is of Marie’s uncle. On the very day of my sixth birthday, October the 4th 1976, while I was in the Murph celebrating my birthday, Marie’s uncle, Brian Stewart, was being murdered. Marie uncle was from the Turf and he was a child. He was shot by the Brits with a plastic bullet which fractured his skull and he died later in hospital. Locals who witnessed the event told of the area having been quiet, as opposed to the Brits version of there having been a riot. Like many other lies peddled out by the Brit propaganda machine they were attempting as they had done previous and would do in the future, to cover up for the cold blooded murder of a child.

It would though be just a few years on, that I would find myself looking into the coffin of another child, a childhood friend, again murdered by the state {and looking into the coffin of Hunger striker Bobby Sands in the same estate}.Carol Ann Kelly had lived in our estate in which I had moved to in early 1981. Another child, on her way home with a carton of milk, slain by another plastic bullet shot straight to her head. A memorial was erected to Carol Ann Kelly in Twinbrook. As the years progressed though and as I got older I would either find myself looking into coffins or having known many others in childhood who had again been murdered by the state or by supporters of it.


  1. are you really surprised that you were looking into another coffin, given the record of the irish. Some of them would sell you for a fish supper. So davy fuck you and your dewy eyed bollicks. fuck all you pacifist cunts. you are where you deserve to be because you think you are all so smart but in actual fact ya do fuck all to advance the removal of the brit bastards from Erin.

  2. Davy,

    good piece. I considered throwing the trash above into the Bates & Wilkes Central bin, giving that it adds nothing to anything and makes no one any the wiser after reading it. But I let it through knowing you would treat it with the contempt most others do.

  3. Great Piece Davy, Nothing worse than kids seeing a dead body in a coffin.

    Looking forward to your next piece.

  4. Davy,

    I have the book "They Shoot Children" by Liz Curtis which (I think) has a cover photograph of Carol Ann in her coffin. It is a gruesome and disturbing image and I keep it on a higher bookshelf so my younger child won't be exposed to it. I have shown it to my older child when making efforts to explain some aspects of the nature of conflict and how violence will always claim innocents and innocence.

  5. Kevin,

    a striking cover image. Not sure I would want it if it were my child but the story has got to be told and Liz has always been great when it comes to getting it out there. I so admired her commitment and got to know her quite well.

  6. Anthony,
    I'm glad you didn't bin Feel te love's post. May have been missed.
    Feel te love if I wrote about my experiences growing up in Ardoyne during the worst of the conflict you'd ask.."Frankie, do you really come from Ardoyne?".
    Davy, keep posting. I enjoy reading your articles..

  7. Feel te love,

    who exactly pissed in your porridge and why have a go at everybody here as if that does anything to assist in the removal of the British from the north.
    A bit of constructive criticism wouldn’t go a miss but you seem content enough not only to slobber all over Davys piece but also condemn everybody here.
    Only two good reasons for that sort of reaction either too much whiskey or not enough.

    You should note the difference between being a pacifist and being pacified? The intellectual war was won hands down by the British now they are smart they seemed to have little problem convincing the PRM leadership to surrender and follow the victors to parliament. A very long detour on the road to a united Ireland not to be picky but I wouldn’t call anyone smart that followed the leadership (hindsight can be a terrible thing) only to end up more British than before.
    That war is over so I don’t see the problem with people here bantering or arguing the toss remembering this or that.

    Best a luck