A Mother Facing down British Gunmen

Guest writer Davy Carlin continues with his tale of growing up in West Belfast in an era of British state militarisation. 

‘Ah we are moving a bit’ said the elderly woman who was in the Hack with me. The Peelers had held up a car in front of us for a long time but it was now allowed to go on its way. ‘Probably doing it deliberately’ another woman remarked who had got into the Hack, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised’ the older woman replied. She of course like us all in the back of the Hack would have had the experience of such deliberate hold ups just to annoy and frustrate the local community.

This again was part of the Brit and Peeler strategy to attempt to frustrate and to wear down the local community. Although it was frustrating, people’s knowledge as to its reasoning, made them all the more determined not to give into it. The Peeler jeep, which was parked in front of us, was painted white as opposed to the old grey jeeps of which some still float around. Although still an armored jeep, they seemingly have been painted white as to make them more ‘acceptable’. Almost now upon the cause for the traffic jam, a peeler ran out from behind the jeep narrowly avoiding a guy on a pedal bike. His avoidance of the guy happened due to a very quick side step by the peeler away from him. ‘That was lucky’ said the young woman in the back of the Hack. ‘I know it was lucky he could move so quickly’ or he’d caused an accident, replied the older woman. As I looked out the window at the peeler, he indeed was lucky as was the guy on the bike and it was fortunate that he sided stepped so quickly.

Those side steps, those zig zags, it was again the late seventies and the Murph. The Henry Taggart Fort’s doors opened and two Brits appeared crouched down at either side of the entrance doors. Their guns where aimed into the Murph estate. Behind them came several other Brits sidestepping and zig zagging as they ran out. This was done as so when volunteers where having a pop at them that they would make harder targets. This was to be the case this day. An almost whistling sound echoed out and for a moment I did not realise what it was although having been used to such sound. Then I seen the then commotion of the Brits and knew that they had been shot at. I did not though hang around to see if any of them had been shot or not, as I was only to aware even then that when they come under attack or more especially if any of them is injured they can then go berserk. When that happens they at times turn their brutal intentions to any innocent bystander may they be man, woman or child. Therefore I made a beeline back up Glenalina Road. I had though while as a kid taken ample opportunity to get wired into the Henry Taggart Fort along with other kids. Although our childhood weaponry consisting primarily of bricks, bottles – paint and catapults would make little impact on the armoured fort, we nevertheless made our point of Brits Out.

The complete militarisation of such areas had seen us surrounded by forts some even with their own helicopter landing pads. The venting of anger against state brutality had on many occasions seen such forts and barracks take the full brunt of the peoples anger. Marches to and upon such installations often resulted in riots with the state dishing out more of their brutality. Despite this the people held their heads high and continued to work against all such forces put against them, for the betterment of their community. The Brits though took every opportunity to get into the area and to establish surveillance on it – even from a distance. Although with their whole host of listening devices, cameras etc they still relied on the old fashion methods also.

I had remembered going up the mountain with a few mates when all of a sudden the ground and surrounding shrubbery stood in front of me. The Brits fully camouflaged looked like bushes – walking bushes, as they walked away. It had scared the plums out of us but again I presume they were dug in on the side of the mountain to spy on the estate down below. The Brits also used various tactics many of them brutal to attempt to divide and cut of solidarity and community cohesion. Over time they attempted to strategise and prioritise the breaking down of support bases with many such methods, yet the Murph had stood against it time and again.

On my street in the Murph, Glenalina Road, we were like an extended family. Saying that, many houses on the street had people who were related to me, but many of the other homes were like second families at times. I could, as like many others just walk in and out of other people’s homes that were not part of my immediate or indeed extended family. Within such homes the stories and accounts of many various situations where talked about and acknowledged, and when tragedy struck all rallied round. I remember the time when a man had set his house on fire and many of his family were burnt alive and therefore I had been witness to such accounts of how people re acted to such instances. Tragedy came in many ways though, no more so than when it arrived via the hand of the state. On one occasion people had called to my Grandfather’s house telling him that his son had been shot dead when it fact it had been someone else.

Such constant fear and trauma for loved ones I can fully understand, even from my earliest days. I remember that if my relatives had gone out and they were not back for a certain time that I would lay awake in my bed at times sweating until such time that I heard the key turn in the lock. I had many restless and sleepless hours in those days waiting to hear the key turn in the lock to know that, for now, that loved ones were safely home.

As a kid I would also watch the news sometimes intensely as to see if anybody I knew had been killed or injured within the shootings and the bombings. Such news though as a child drove fear into me more especially as I knew how real, how very real it all was, but I felt that I had to watch and listen. Yet watching at times war and conflict from afar it can seem to be something that is somehow envisaged as unreal, but when you live within the heart of it, it becomes all too real. The differences though was that while the Brit brutality was not being played out on the Brit screens it was though being played out and very real on our streets.

When I was only born the Brits had at times not allowed people out of their homes {curfews} while at other times it was just too dangerous to even go out of our homes. Yet not only were there gun battles being played out on our street with the Brits, but the loyalists would also shoot into our street from up upon a hill. Indeed at times it was so obvious that the instruments of the state in the form of the Brits and Peelers where working with those loyal to the state in such gun attacks. There were times that people had lay in our street injured through such shootings and people would have to risk their lives to attempt to pull them into their homes. Volunteers though at such times would get involved in gun battles as so to attempt to protect the area and the people. Internment had also seen many, including those extended that I knew, trailed out of their beds, and in many cases trailed over stones and broken glass into the street.

There they were to lay in whatever they had on, with their legs spread out wide and hands behind their backs. Some of them were told that if they moved that they would be shot dead. This, while the Brits continued to smash their way into other people’s homes beating and brutalising with rifle butts, boots, fists and shooting rubber bullets. The men where then taken away while the beatings continued to be joined at their detention point with further tortures.

It was also around this time that I as a babe in arms was crying out for by bottle and for milk. Although told not to leave the house my mum could take no more of the screams of her child’s hunger pains. The milk that I yearned for lay across the road in St Bernadette’s school and so my mum left our home on 40 Glenalina Road and went across the road to get it. With that, as she got onto the pavement at the bottom of our path a Brit shouted ‘get back inside or I will shoot.’ My mum ignored him and walked on. The Brit lifted his gun an aimed at her, while another Brit shouted, ‘Shoot her, fucking shoot her’. My mum continued on, and he did not shoot. I got my milk and my crying ceased, and my mum lived.


  1. Davy-

    Another good read-

    " if any of them is injured they can go berserk "-

    To true-and they were supposed to be a highly trained and disciplined
    army-they were far from that-

    I remember back in the day-92 or there abouts a East Tyrone unit blew up a para in the country-side
    and that evening the surviving brits descended on coalisland and went into the bars to beat the shite out of the poor people-there
    was such a kick up that the paras were withdrawn-

    The next brit regiment went well armed with those heavy machine guns
    on their patrols in coalisland but
    after locals called them cowards one of them sat down his machine gun and bared his chest-he never knew what hit him and the armed brits all ran up the road to the army barracks chased by children with stones-the East Tyrone Brigade
    had another heavy weapon and the brits were left red faced again-

  2. See I never can understand this militant Republican notion of how they expect o go blow up soldiers and shoot them dead. Yet expect the Army to be all nice and humanitarian towards them.
    Sure they Army carried out some very horrendous actions at times but from our perspective, they were constantly under threat and I do not blame them for giving abuse back.
    And no, it is not an excuse for bloody Sunday or Ballymurphy.

  3. When them white jeeps first came on the scene my wee grandson run in shouting...Granda its the pokeman.lol

  4. Maitiu-

    " I do not blame them for giving abuse back "

    But the brit army was supposed to be a highly trained professional army not your bodie and doyle types-and you wanted them to shout abuse at men women and children on there home turf-is this the way the US army treated the peoples in Iraq and afganistan-any wonder your
    army is hated and despised around the world-

  5. Good read Davy , a few memories came back to me reading that.

    They always went berserk , they flapped and starting shooting anywere thinking how they could get out of the districts asap. They shit themselves, not knowing what was coming next. I remember they day they got of the boat, to so call protect Nationalists districts, There orders soon changed and we were surrounded by them.

  6. From Davy Carlin

    Hi Maitiu

    I enjoy reading your stuff and in many ways you remind me of myself starting out to attempt to understand more.

    Firstly it must be said that I am for peace, but not for the process of self-interest that reeks from the hill. I have known too many, like many on this site, that gave there all, and for what.

    For the gravy train were nods and winks and connections secures a new establishment within that interest?

    For facades?

    For our working class communities who shouldered the brunt of war to be left behind in what is termed as `peace?

    Yet, that is not to say that there are not good genuine people up on the hill, there is, but many such heads are bowed within such a process.

    I come to my perspectives through my life experiences, and my experiences were witness to the sheer brutality of the British state in the communities that I was born. Yet I had also known and had friendships with those who were maimed and murdered by the IRA, and I have also written about such needless slaughter.

    So, what drives a 7 year old kid, as I was then, into the politic of militancy with sheer hatred reeking from their very soul? Well I will further write of that here in the year or two ahead as I continue this series of articles down into my Lower Falls childhood.

    For me, it is, and always has been in recent years only about seeking that such a brutal time is not visited upon another generation like it was before – and this point of view may differ from others.

    But that is also why I have written both for the Blanket and here, as it offers a forum for differing views within the context of our recent history. And I have no doubt that in generations to come such sites is where many will come to, who want to read beyond the state and the new establishment perspective on our recent history.

    In my youth although I came from staunch working class Republican areas, a lot of my friends came from within the heart of stanch working class Loyalist areas, again for me it was about seeking to further understand.

    And similarly I have known many, including those passed on, who have written for these sites, indeed some even going back into childhood I had known. And again the debate and discussions, like you have now, I have had with key loyalist leaders both here and elsewhere over many years.

    For me, this helped give a better understanding, yet there is of course those who don’t want to understand, who just want to do simply to do in my view, or because self-interests ascends above all else.

    Nevertheless these forums, and other avenues that I will be soon utilising for my writing and thoughts at this time, are important -and it is important to hear voices like yours, and other such on this site that stand outside that of the new establishment's.