Their Only Crime

Guest writer Maitiu Connel reflecting on the experience of a Catholic family living in a loyalist area.

Those winter nights in which the air is still and crisp. The moon shines her beauty over the landscape. The moons light dodging in and out of entry after entry as we walked through the estate.

Another Sunday dinner at my Grandparents' house. Granda was watching the re-run of the Chelsea match and Granny was cooking her special roast beef with roast potatoes. Just glad to be in out of the cold and sitting in front of the fire.

It was just another typical evening. After dinner we were sat watching London's Burning when we heard the shouts of men and the smashing of glass. It seemed to last for a few minutes. Then silence. The silence maybe only lasted a short while also before the crying of a woman was heard.

A knock came at the door. My Grandparents were scared but recognised the sound of the voices at the door. Opening the door to witness the pale white faces of their life long friends. They ushered them indoors to the warmth. 'What is wrong, what has happened?' they enquired, nervously. 'Our home has just been attacked. They smashed all the windows and tried to petrol bomb the place.'
They managed to put the fire from the petrol out, just in time. Back of the house had it's windows smashed also. They kept apologising for being a nuisance on our family. Oh don't be so silly, they were told. We are here to help you any time. I felt shaken up a bit myself just from looking at them. An elderly women in her 70's who had caused no trouble to anybody.
She had lived in that house for over 50 years and was loved and respected by all neighbours. Her family who were over to visit were also shaking and pale white. They kept asking why. 'Why us?. What have we ever done?'

Their only crime was being Catholic in a loyalist area.


  1. Maitiu,
    You start your pieces very descriptively and it really sets the scene.

    It's awful to have childhood memories like that.
    I would guess you are about the age of my son, as I remember him young and curled up watching Londons Burning. Thankfully his childhood experiences did not mirror mine, we had moved into Clonard then and apart from the odd house raid there was a degree of normality in his growing up

    My first memory of blatant sectarianism was when my brother had taken me to the Stadium picture house on the Shankill Road.
    On our way home we called into the public toilets, when the attendant heard my name she took us outside and asked where we lived.
    When I answered she was puzzled because our street was predominantly Protestant. then she asked my religion?
    I kept looking at my brother because I was frightened but not too sure why.
    When I eventually answered, she told me that I had to go straight home and never come back there.
    Crazy stuff, but as children it was the sad reality of our lives.

  2. Good piece Maitiu that jolts my own memory.

    Nuala, I was always amazed at that type of attitude. Getting stopped in those areas and asked if we were 'Taigs' was a frightening experience. Once me and Davy Clinton got stopped in Sandy Row and he told me to run which we both did - right up over the Boyne Bridge until we made the safety of the Grosvenor. I had a granny who lived in the Village and the raw sectarian hatred of kids my own age there was startling.

  3. Mackers,
    it was the fear mixed with total lack of understanding.
    The hatred was unreal and it's back and sadly back in equal measure.

  4. It was awful, but credit to the neighbors whom rallied around the family and they continued to live there. Her son now lives there and has no bother at all. People were disgusted at the attack.
    Because I went to an integrated school, I have also been in many " what is your religion " situations. My friend and I were nearly stabbed near Mount Vernon back in say 1994 time. My friend was a Catholic from the Lansdown area and we were walking down to the shore road for a bus into town or something. 3 teenagers came up to us, grabbed us and held a knife at us. We were asked to say the alphabet. Very scary and I often think of the young lad who did get murdered there a few years later. That could have been us.

  5. The iorny for the mindless bigots in places like the village area is that their "staunch heartland" is now owned by mainly castle catholic slum landlords, and occupied by Poles ,Chinese and a multitude of other nationalities.they are like Canute they have railed against the unstoppable tide of change,their arrogance and bigotry is as useless as tits on a bull.

  6. Sad old days they were, I could , I Think , write a book about how many times myself and mates were pulled because of being a Catholic, For instance, watching a film at any of these Picture houses was , RUN THE GAUNLET afer the film ended, You had to get out before God Save The Queen started to be played , The Crumlin , The Savoy , The Forum , which wasn't as bad because it was in our own area , but I remember big Farley (B special) who used a whip many a time, The worst was the DWARFS as we used to call them , The B-Specials, they used to stand on the crumlin rd outside each picture house hoping to catch Taigs running out. I have no doubt about my worst memory, Hooker St,Ardoyne, B-Specials , RUC , and Orangemen trying to get all the catholics out, Rough times they were, Now we are back to square one, but this time its not just the Loyal Orders, Its the UVF in a more militant roll with young blood so full of indoctrinated hatred they should self combust, RUC/PSNI/MI5/Secret Evidence. We are up against it, and must be prepared for the worst. That's my honest opinion of what will come in the not to distant future.

  7. From Beano Niblock

    Sadly the events described by Maitiu were quite common-particularly in working class Belfast. I am unsure when this particular episode took place but sound like the late eighties or early nineties. Unfortunately, no matter when it was, sectarianism always seemed to be in close proximity. Anthony's escapade in Sandy Row and subsequent dash over Boyne Bridge brings back similar memories to me - and quite coincidentally involved Boyne Bridge. I left school on the Friday 26th June 1970- the day before sporadic fighting throughout Belfast. I had to call into the Youth Employment office - which had just been relocated from Ann Street to Durham Street. I attended the appointment and on the way out was challenged at the bottom of the stairs by a group of youths - all of a similar age to me. There were about five in total. One of them asked me what school I went to-I never answered. I had my school blazer on-a grammar school one-they might not have been able to work out which school it was as there was no name on it. I broke free from them but one grabbed me by the coat and pulled me back. Another grabbed my top pocket-with badge attached -and declared I was a Prod. At this I slipped out of the blazer and bolted.

    I didn't know the area at all and ran to my left-turned left again - into Hamill Street I think - continued round the block - back past the Youth Employment Agency - and over Boyne Bridge - into Sandy Row. As I say-there was a lot of it about in those days.

  8. Beano,

    and there was me wondering all those years who it was running in the opposite direction over the bridge with half a blazer!!

  9. Good to hear from Beano. I hope we never go back to those days, I really hope we do not.

    I had another school friend who was Protestant, lived near Tigers Bay. Harmless fella. He was stabbed pretty bad walking past Bawnmore. Because he went to the integrated school beside Bawnmore they beat him till he admitted to being from Shore Road. That was not long after the UVF bombed the bar at the bottom of Bawnmore, so sadly tensions were high.

    In regards to my post, it happened in the early 90's. I would say 1992 from what I remember.

  10. Sometimes reading the posts, articles etc here about peoples experiences growing up during the conflict, I wonder if I actually grew up during it.

    My experiences are very different..I was never hassled by the RUC/BA..I was stopped the odd time, name, age address, where are you going to & coming from.

    I seen the aftermath of riots, during the hunger stikes I was still able to walk up the Crumlin Road unhindered to school.

    One thing that sticks in my mind is busting my right elbow in school (I jumped of a roof in school and landed wrong)..anyhow the IRA decided to shoot their way out of the Crumlin Road prison and I was going to the Mater Hospital around the same time...

    Most of my memories in Ardoyne are going camping at least once a month, hiking..When I got a bit older getting drunk in the Bailey bar then later Dublin Road.

    I woke up once after a party somewhere on the Newtownards Road and the fcukers shaved half my hair because I fell asleep.

    As for naked sectarianism, I'm not sure even today who circumvented who, the troubles or me.