The Bonnie

Guest writer Davy Carlin continues with his tale of life in West Belfast narrated against a background of political violence and state repression.

The Falls Park as I looked to the right of me while in the Hack also holds a cemetery, which includes many of the dead of the conflict. Yet it also holds a history and without seeming morbid, Marie and I enjoy walking through it as each grave and monument has a story to tell. Towards the bottom part of the cemetery where Marie’s Grandparents have been buried sees also huge monuments and statues some several hundred years old. The history held within each is such that there are local tours organised by local historians around it. We find such history fascinating and again such interest has grown on me over time.

The Falls Park as a kid was a place which had a different abundance of fascination, it was where we would go to collect conkers, {Chestnuts} or play hide and seek etc. Although a war was ongoing it did not take away on many occasions from the same childhood experiences found elsewhere. Saying that though, a lot of the street games that developed were in large part due to living and growing up in that situation, at that time. Nevertheless to us it was the norm and the norm on many occasions was thrilling and exciting.

The Park was a place where we would also go for picnics at times, or a place to find the childhood freedom not afforded in the close and built up streets in which we were living. The park also provided trees that as kids we could either build trees houses in or cut down its branches as to use in our bonfires. Such destruction to the trees then was the norm for us as there was much more pressing issues to us such as our bonfire, as to worry about the environment. Yet the bonfires destroyed many aspects of the community in which we lived as they were lit in the middle of our street destroying roads and houses at times. What usually followed the bonnie were riots and street battles with the state, but after time a more positive and celebratory initiative was introduced in the form of a festival. The West Belfast festival grew and had grown to become the largest such community event in Ireland and people come from across the globe to participate.

The actual bonfires we made were lit on each anniversary of internment. Internment was when many of the Catholic population were rounded up and interned in prison camps without trail. This Brit state policy caused a huge backlash and was counterproductive to them. Not only where they using such a draconian act with seeing severe brutality dished out in the process but they were systematically using it against the Catholic community.

Yet despite this few of the IRA where actually caught. What they did do though was to round up many innocent people along with others long inactive on the basis of old intelligence amongst other such information.

Therefore we had a bonnie to mark such an event each year on that anniversary. I remember we use to plank some of the wood we gathered for the bonnie in peoples back gardens in the Murph or at other times we just left it out on waste ground. We would also build huts out of the wood, sometimes even within the piled up bonfire structure which in hindsight was extremely dangerous. However I remember as a kid being allowed to stay out to all hours on the night of the bonfire and therefore I would work to collect as much wood as possible to have the biggest bonfire possible.


  1. Another good read Davy-

    " Where we would go to collect conkers "

    Used to keep mine in the fridge overnight and take one of my brothers shoe laces-some shouting the next morning-everyone must have cheated at conkers because my hard as stone ones were usually well smashed-

  2. I remember as a child in the late 1970s or maybe as late as 1982 being shown a bonfire on the Glen Road at the Popular Shop. A lorry arrived dumping a huge pile of smooth brick-shaped stones which looked as if they were manufactured to throw with precision and comfort. We left quickly after that. The security forces wouldn't have paused to fire a plastic bullet at an 8 year old.

    I was glad to have played music on the back of a lemonade lorry or similar at the first West Belfast Festival which in essence was a march down from Beechmount to a bouncy castle at Dunville Park so the kids could play and Gerry Adams could address the crowd.

    Even as a youngster I remember seeing the common-sense of getting rid of the bonfires with their associated hoods and anti-social behaviour.

    I hope if bonfires make a comeback on the eve of Internment's anniversary people see the sense in getting a funded "beacon" which is designed to be brighter, safer and cleaner than a usual bonfire. Hell, even some Loyalist bonfires are beacons. They're in the minority but maybe we could pave the way and set a proper trend. We shouldn't want to burn tyres like atavistic fools sucking up the cancerous, poisonous fumes and destroying people's homes. We know more about the health and other risks than ever before. We can't demonstrate that we are slower learners than the Loyalists...

    Thanks Davy for the story. It brought back memories and the opportunity to have a little rant.

  3. I never heard of the 'fridge' trick Michael. I use to put varnish on mine to harden them. I still remember the bruised knuckles when my friends missed.

    Simon, I'm with you on the beacons.