Learning the Reality of Bombs and English Soldiers

Guest writer Maitiu Connel with his first piece for TPQ detailing something of what it was like to grow up in a community that was wholly ill at ease with nationalismm and republicanism.

Slowly waking up in my childhood bed and watching the fresh morning sun rays shine of my bedroom wall and to hear the wonderful noise of birds singing. Gentle noise of traffic of in the distance. It was the summer holidays in the early 90's. Another day of running about with friends. Perhaps more football and of course imitating Man Utd as I would possibly score a goal.

My Mother was up early as usual to head of to work. UTV was on TV. Of course I had wished for cartoons. She always checked the news in the morning to ensure that town was open and that no road blocks were in place.

It seemed a morning never passed without the news commentator giving details of another murder, shooting or bombing that had happened over night. I use to ask my Grandparents if my Mother would come home safe from work. They were always nervous about such events happening. After all, my Mother had been near killed in 3 very close bomb situations. This was often followed with my Grandparents phoning around the place to make sure she was OK. I would hide at the top of the stairs to pretend that I did not know what was happening. Thankfully she was always OK and returned back to us.

Though as a child, the conflict always seemed so alien to us. I did not live in a front line area such as the Falls or the Shankill. Though this summer day was to change that.

My mates and I were kicking the ball around in the hot summer sun and we could see one of the locals washing dishes after lunch in her kitchen. She was listening to the news on the radio. Around 5 minutes later she came running out of her house with arms in the air screaming at us to run. We thought she was mental.

She started screaming “ bomb, there's a bomb in that car”. Needless to say we bolted up the street. The car in question had been left over night by the IRA. In a built up housing area. Whether they had ditched it or had planned it, I do not know. Soon after the bomb squad arrived, we thought the bomb disposal robot was brilliant. The area was swamped with British soldiers and RUC. It was strange to see them without raiding somebody’s house. Some of the kids wanted to play with their rifles.

A loud bang echoed across the area and it was now declared safe. After all the excitement was over, people suddenly just talked about the IRA all day and some kids spoke of wishing to join the Hairbears (nickname for the UDA)  later that night, we had Loyalist gunmen patrol the streets with machine guns, stopping cars driving through.

The RUC never entered the area unless it was needed and usually it was to raid a house or arrest somebody. Our area was covered with loyalist murals of UFF gunmen and every lamp post had a flag and every curb and post box was painted red, white and blue. The area was getting ready for the 12th July. At the top of the estate the bonfire sat. I was never allowed to attend the bonfire due to the gun men whom would appear to fire shots. I use to watch them out my window and listen the crowd cheer and chant U-U-UFF as the shots rang out. The flames quickly rising up towards the Irish flag nipping at it as it started to set it on fire. I never understood why. Why were they burning the flag of Ireland? Why so much venom. A wall near me had Kill All Irish written on it.

My Grandfather loved Irish music and his parents had came from Tyrone to get further up north for farming and also due to the famine. Our holidays each year involved 2 weeks down south. Fond memories of fishing on the river Shannon. Many a night in local Irish pubs with the bodhran and spoons being played. We owned giant Leprechauns and even owned small Irish flags. We had to hide them in the house and were never ever to tell anybody about them. 

I also grew up listening to my Mother play the Fields of Athenry. Irish was my identity and that burning of the flag was hard to watch. I often got picked on by others for having been down south in “Ireland “. These people literally viewed Ireland as a foreign country.

Despite Ireland being one island. We would sit in the car at the border and I was scared as soldiers pointed their rifles in the car at us. Their foreign accents. The way they treated my parents. It was probably around that age that I asked my Mother the one question to shape my mind set

‘Why are there English soldiers here and why do people hate us so much for being Irish, when they are Irish themselves?’


  1. Maithu,

    welcome to the blog with this piece. It was a good read. Obviously things cannot have been easy for you given the ground you have covered intellectually, politically and culturally. Hopefully this is not the last piece from you

  2. Maitiu,

    Outside of your family, do any of your friends have a sense of Irishness?

    Cheers for the read over my coffee. Good one.

  3. I often wonder what kind of person I'd be if I'd been born into a Protestant background - I'd like to believe I'd have become someone with the same thought processes as yourself Maitiu, though chances are I might well have been as staunch as those gathered round the bonfires roaring on the paramilitaries. Thanks for sharing such a thought-provoking piece. Somewhere along the line the two traditions in this country will have to reconcile but that will be no easy feat

  4. @ Frankie.

    I have family who are big into Irish dancing and compete and it is now accepted in the loyalist community. Perhaps not by a minority but by most it is now an ok thing to do. To be honest, it is rather split with people I would have known. I lost contact with most. It is a very difficult question to answer as many would be scared to open up about their beliefs. I do notice that many I have spoke to, are rather Socialist in their thoughts and do blame England for the troubles here. Most that I know, are against the monarchy and would rather see the money spent on something useful. They do feel disconnected from Britain in the sense that, they know England is a separate country and there is no real concern from the English towards the Protestant community. I think they feel lost and abandoned. On one side they have the Brits who really do not want them and on this island, they see no method of how they can fit in with a United Ireland or even the Catholic community. Their culture is really all they have. They are clinging to it till death. I must stress that most I know in those areas would class themselves as Atheist and even Agnostic. These are people who 20 years ago would have been in the “ proud to be a prod “ camp. Now they wont even attend band parades and get away on holiday each July. I have noticed a huge reduction in the amount of people at parades. For example a mini 12th parade in Rathcoole area this year only had 3 bands attend. Back 10 – 15 years ago, there would have been 30 bands easy at that parade. Always caused trouble at the Catholic Glenville area in Whiteabbey. Recently I have a friend who's father was a former loyalist prisoner, posting Irish language videos on social media and goes to the St. Patrick’s parade. A small crowd of us from where I grew up, actually travel over to Celtic matches. These guys are openly Celtic supporters and wear Celtic shirts. Nobody really says anything. A few teenage lads are wearing Ireland rugby shirts openly.
    Going out in Belfast, we meet up with friends from West Belfast and nobody cares about where each other is from. I find that a lot in town now. We are all at University ( mature students ) and the vast amount of our friends are all Catholics. This is in contrast to the time I was nearly stabbed near Mount Vernon for walking down from the Lansdown area with a friend who lived there. I was asked to say “ hatch” and being asked to repeat exactly that, it went down like a bad joke.
    Slowly but surely. I feel the community is to an extent accepting their Irish roots more. Life in loyalist areas is still under paramilitary control so people are scared to speak out. Sitting at a bar on Dublin Road, we spoke about our identity of being Irish. I class myself as Irish and they use the classification of Northern Irish. As said, in the past, they would have been pure 100% British in their reply.

  5. Maitiu-

    So like Paisley and McCrea you have
    the Tyrone blood in you-yet I detect no hate from your good self-
    I suspect you have many other reality's to tell on the Quill-and I shall enjoy reading them like this one-going what I hear-[and it not much-]the UDA are over as the UVF have took over-what a bright future we have-

    Maitiu-the Pensive Pimpernel-

    1. Maitiu,
      That was a very interesting read!
      I was born in an area which was predominately Protestant.
      I remember as a child having 'Kick The Pope'
      Painted outside our home and while it can be argued some Catholics would have gladly kicked him as well, I remember from a young age always feeling that we were different and it caused a state of perpetual fear.
      I never witnessed hatred and bigotry like it. Everyday they would pass our homes in thousands on their way back and forward to Mackies.
      They walked through the peace line and through Clonard in their droves, an area which they have tried to burn to the ground in 69.
      The contempt spilled from them. At times they would smash the odd window or kick in someone's door as they went by.
      We weren't accorded the innocence of not knowing who or what we were, our local brethren made sure that even sitting in our prams we knew we were different.

  6. Nice piece Maitiu.

    Not much difference from both sides of the fence during the Troubles.

    You should be proud of your Irish heritage. Hope there is more to come from you.
    Its sad though that the UVF are still running the mainstream, But , They Painted over the George Best Mural (which cost £1500) with a UVF Gunman Mural, but the people of East Belfast Don't want it, UVF forced to stop Finishing the Mural.
    I wonder will the replicate the George Best One, At their own expense. I remember wee Geroge giving an Interview on the BBC just after he signed for Manu, He was asked , what would you be doing if you weren't playing football, His Reply was, Probably throwing stones at Catholics , The Interviewer looked at him in astonishment and said, "Really", but not taking anything away from the magic dribbler , A football legend.

  7. @ Itsjustmackers

    Over the past year we have had the UVF name blasted all over the media. I do not think that the majority of UVF units are a threat to the peace process. Most UVF units told their members not ot riot and former UVF prisoners were out trying to get the kids away from the rioting. They are starting to see break away's with the likes of East Belfast for one major reference and a minority in South Belfast. The Shankill leadership is not in support of armed conflict. Yes the PUP are in support of the protests but I believe that is just about votes. After all, the PUP voted for the flag to be flown on certain days only. The PUP have lapped it up since last December. Near all UVF units have been stood down and are mostly just involved with community work and local Somme societies. An old boys club to an extent. The ones getting peace money have to much to lose and conflict would make them lose it all. Most of the men who were active during the conflict are all old men now and every last one I have spoke to, all want better for their grand kids. They do not want violence again. Many turned to drink to cope with their violent actions over the years. Some committed suicide. Most are not proud of their actions. Normal everyday men and women were driven to such extremes during an awful period. I think one of the saddest aspects of all this, is that I have sat and shared a few pints with former Republican prisoners and some had been on the blanket and they shared most of the same interests as the former loyalists. Football, music and love for their family. They would be friends if we had lived in a normal society and that really is the heartbreaking side of it all. I have said it for years now, we are all victims on this island. Britain stole lands right across the world. Ireland was no exception and they have left us in a terrible mess. Each side is a victim to this fallen empire.

  8. Fair play lad, that's a brave analysis and surely gives hope for the future

  9. Maithu,

    '..why do people hate us so much for being Irish, when they are Irish themselves?’

    Two decades on, what conclusions, if any, have you arrived at?

  10. Anthony,

    Liking the titles - alot!

  11. Itsjustmacker
    'Not much difference between both sides of the fence during the troubled'
    I think there was and I think it is indisputable that there was.
    I think even the rosiest of spectacles could not allow anyone to reach this conclusion.

  12. @ Robert

    I have not really arrived at a conclusion. I was a supporter of David Ervine and I feel loyalism lost a real leader when he died. He was an inspirational man. I will never forget his phrase on a documentary " stop all this nonsense about not being Irish" He was proud of being Irish but also proud of his British heritage. I believe that every person here, has the right to celebrate their culture and PUL have every right to theirs. Ervine stated that to bring people in from the cold in relation to identity and sectarianism will be a huge task and it is. I think the PUL community is scared of losing what they identify with. Donegal is a great example of how the Orange order can parade in peace and not have any contention or trouble. I would love to see it evolve to that here in Belfast and surrounding areas. We have to be honest about fear. How many in say the Shankill or Sandy Row are really going to walk around and call themselves Irish. Labeling yourself Irish can be so provocative and sadly some people can not distance the word Irish from Republican or Nationalism. I really hope we have a shared future ahead of us. For the sake of future generations. We need true genuine cross community work.

  13. Fionnuala:

    I meant nothing other than the Bombings and the shootings.

  14. Maithu I,m not long back from Dublin where the Dublin branch of the anti internment committee held a meeting in the Teachers Club on Internment By Remand,on the way down we detoured to say hello to those two stalwarts of freedom of speech and human rights Anthony and Carrie Mc Intyre,the meeting itself was well attended and the speakers Clare Daly ,TD, Dee Fennel,John Mc Cusker and Pauline Mellon were excellent in all the issues they covered,the discussion afterwards was open and frank and while it could have been confined to the plight of republicans,this was not the case .the human rights abuse that internment by remand is anathema to all right thinking people loyalists like muslims and republicans have and will suffer this draconian ,unjust abuse of power by the state,we need to realise that there is more common ground to unite us than divides us,it was heartening to see that even though there is fools within loyalism willing to become cannon fodder for the arch bigots who are interested only in their own advancement,that there is still people trying to reach out them and pursue the common ground that unites us all and that is the abuse of power by the state ..

  15. Itsjustmacker,
    No sorry! I would not agree with that either.

  16. Fionnuala:

    "No sorry! I would not agree with that either."

    Never say sorry for what you believe is right, I wouldn't.

    Has not the same atrocities occurred on both sides , excluding the Shankill Butchers of course.

    I hope you get my meaning now in response to Maitui.


    Excellent post, should have been more there though.

  17. Maitui:

    Re The late David Irvine
    " stop all this nonsense about not being Irish" He was proud of being Irish".
    that is our point in life to teach those of a different religion that they are born on an Island, Which is Called "EIRE", Ireland, Those who state that ((Ulster" 9 Counties") are British) are in denial, because their Grand Masters decree it, those Grand Masters are not struggling to pay there bills, the working class of the whole of Ireland Are Struggling, North,South,East, and, West, The word Austerity was created by bankers , for Bankers filling there pockets at the expense of the working class. When the working class people of our Island , realise what has been happening , Its then , and, only then, that we can be United and have a Socialist Democratic "EIRE"

  18. Itsjustmacker,
    The 'sorry' was more a figure of speech than an actual apology.
    I wasnt apologising for my beliefs !
    'Have not the same atrocities occurred on both sides?'
    I think this is a very simplistic view of what took place and continues to take place here. It's right up there with all the rest of the revisionist thinking and the old Brit logic, 'we are the peacekeepers and need to be here due to the tit for tat'.
    In 69 there was no atrocities carried out by the people of Clonard, even though we were informed many years later there was by members of the Peace People and all the others engaged in the re-framing process.
    A few IRA men and a few old guns stopped what would have been absolute carnage in this area. Not content with burning our homes they came into murder wholesale as they did in many of the other districts unfortunate enough to be surrounded by them.
    What were we supposed to do? Let them just murder us?
    I would never defend the death of innocent people, but the scales weigh very different when set in the context of what actually happened here.

  19. Maitiu-

    " Donegal is a great example of how the orange order can parade in peace "

    Is it-they are annoying no-one there- they can march up and down that beech all day-and nobody would say boo-

    A good example would be Derry city
    where there is no problem with orange feet walking the streets-talks work when both sides want to find a solution-there is nothing wrong with compromise as long as you get what you want-

  20. Mickeybroy not that I give a fuck but do you know where exactly those orangemen march in Donegal ,the area in Rossnowlagh that this pro brit bigot display takes place is outside a catholic church and monastery!(ps there is a cracking wee museum in there also) does that sound familiar!

  21. To be honest, I hate the marching season. I really do find it offensive on many levels. These parades in Belfast city center should be banned. Thousands of drunken sectarian thugs all doodling around to the tunes of sectarian hatred. The 11th bonfires are horrendous. The sheer mess they make.
    In regards to Donegal, I was under the impression that it was a peaceful parade. The OO no matter how the try to sell it, are no different than the KKK to me. Both extreme far right anti-Catholic groups.
    These parades should be kept to their own areas.

    Fionnuala Perry.
    I would agree with yourself on the difference between the communities both before and during the conflict. I have family who live in Republican areas and their experience was very very different to mine. The CNR community lived under sheer oppression.

  22. I have a a very dear unionist friend who shares the same sentiments as Maitiu and it is heartening to say the least!

  23. Maitiu,

    I remember the KAI well as a youngster I had no idea what it meant only that it was painted on the side of my family home and the coal shed.
    My first serious indication of what was coming was when a young protestant friend and me returned to our street after playing.
    We lived almost facing each other his father came charging across the street yelling at him grabbing him by the scruff and slapping his head literally booted his backside across the street.
    I was scared out of my wits as my friends father was a peeler and I thought for sure that I was going to get a lacing from my father for being a papist and Fenian as that what my friend was giving a hiding for hanging out with a catholic.

    I asked my father what was a papist and Fenian as usual with similar questions he deflected my attention away with other things.
    Prior to that me and 3 other catholic youngsters would hang about with our protestant friends and would watch and collect for the bonfires and watch the bands marching none of us had any idea why but it was just kids being kids.
    Not long after that I remember we were the only catholic family left on the street the intimidation grew and long story short we eventually were forced out.
    Years later one of my catholic childhood friends was murdered by loyalists not too far from the area his family like mine and others had been forced out of I often wonder if his killers knew him or even possibly played alongside us as childhood friends before the troubles came.

  24. @ Tain Bo.

    Very sorry for your loss with your friend. We have also suffered family murdered at the hands of loyalists through so called mistaken identity.

    See to be 100% honest. Not one person between us growing up had a clue what the bands were about. They came out year after year and nobody ever questioned it. My Mother hated the bands. Every parade to pass our home, she shut the windows and drew the curtains. I think for most young kids, it is just the banging of the drums that attracts them and over the years they get sucked into this horrific sectarian mindset. Though I knew many kids who were brainwashed to hate anything Irish from day one.

  25. Maitiu,

    For me and my mates it was exactly about the noise I remember in 69 not being allowed out as the bands marched by our house. I also remember the eleventh night and not being allowed to watch the bonfire that was directly behind my house in the field not that I understood why as the year before I could watch it from the back bedroom window.
    That particular night the mob decided smashing windows would be high priority on their list of merriment. Needless to say that bedroom window was smashed along with a few others.
    Sadly, that would be the least damaging memories of then.

    Sectarianism should not exist and should not be encouraged in any community and the, they started it nonsense should not be drummed into the youth on either side.

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. I always found that “mistaken identity “line particularly vile as if it somehow justifies the murder of innocent victims.