My Father’s Underpants

Guest writer, Martin Dino McGarrigle with his memories of growing up in Strabane where gangs of British troops terrorised families in the middle of the night.
My Da was old school. I know every young lad looks up to their Da as invincible - a hero. I was no different. My Da was always the strong, silent type. He never said a lot but when he spoke everybody listened. He had an aura about him. He’d boxed for years and on the occasions he caught me or my brothers fighting in the street the thing that would anger him most was the kicking. “Dirty fighting” he called it. “If you knock a man down you stand back and give him a chance to get up again!” Imagine his dismay when he caught me giving somebody a well-deserved kicking!

Throughout my early childhood I’d always been pretty much in awe of my Da and aspired to be like him. When I was a child my Uncle and Aunty and my four cousins lived in the house directly facing ours. We were all of a similar age and like one big family and it was great craic having two houses to run in and out of.

Then came the 1970s – I know I definitely hadn’t reached double figures when this incident occurred, I am the youngest. I was woken up by a huge commotion in the middle of the night. I ran downstairs to investigate … My Da was halfway out the front door, my Ma and my 5 siblings were all on top of him, trying to drag him back. Beyond him all I could see were Saracens, ferret cars, land rovers and British soldiers everywhere. My uncle was being dragged down his path by a gang of Brits. It is the first and only time I saw my father lose that cool, calm demeanor he had. He was shouting and screaming “get off my brother youse bastards!” He was trying to get out the front door to get at them. The weight of my brothers and sisters and my Ma was preventing him – but he was still making progress – so much so that a brit crossed the street and pointed his rifle at him and threatened to shoot him. I was 8/9 years old so the Brits with their armoured cars and SLRs didn’t faze me.

The things that have stuck in my mind since that night are: the hysterical screams from my Ma and my sisters, which reached an alarming pitch when the Brit cocked his weapon as he pointed it at my Da’s head; the fact that the British soldier was so cool, calm and collected (to borrow a cliché) when he threatened to shoot my Da; the barking of orders in an upper class English accent to “restrain that man” didn’t faze me; the scream of the engines of the “pigs” as they reversed and regrouped as neighbours started coming out of their houses didn’t faze me.
What fazed me was the absolutely stunning, unbelievable fact that my Da was wearing the same underpants as me. Here was my Da, my hero - wearing the same underpants as me (so was therefore just another ordinary human being.) That traumatised me the most. It was right up there with finding out that Santa didn’t exist, only worse … My Da was just another ordinary man and he wore the same underpants as me … Nothing would ever be the same again – for any of us …


  1. There is always something deeply endearing about this type of narrative: the combination of writing style and story content have an alluring charm.

  2. Bit of a Roddy Doyle in there. Interesting reminiscence. Enjoyable too compared to Oscar Wilde who asserted people eventually judge their parents....some forgive them.

  3. A truly wonderful article. Long may they continue

  4. As one of Martins cousins I remember this incident, it is a memory from deep inside that is only brought back to life when asked of my earliest memory. The year was 1972, At 6 yrs old I distinctively remember this raid on my home, myself and my 3 sisters huddled around a lino floor in front of a fire, I remember screaming 'Bastards' at the British Army as they dragged my Da down the garden path, my uncle Patsy being held back, a terrible scenrio when looked at with todays ethiics and standards. Those where the days when playing in my garden i would see unarmed Foot patrols of armed teenagers, the likes of Willie G and V murphy to name but a few take on helicopters who dared to grace the skies of the Ballycolman. personally speaking the hijacking of the bread lorries were my childhood favourite, fancy buns and all the toast you could eat. RIP uncle Patsy, the only McGarrigle I ever respected.