I believe her story could best start as Once upon a time the countless Orange Stampedes through the Lower Ormeau had not yet become an international media matter. Dolores and a handful of other residents had not only been protesting for 3 decades within a media blackout and political silence against the Powerful Orange insistence to trample on the Lower Ormeau people but she would also be busy organising bus trips to get local children out of the area during the “Orange Marching Season”.
Triumphalist Orange marches along the Lower Ormeau Road under the guise of tradition were little other than an opportunity for brazen bigotry to indulge in a little in-your-face fang baring. There were any number of alternative routes rather than the stuck in the groove traditional route for Orangemen and women to reach their destination but brandishing what Anthony Giddens elsewhere phrased the sedimented power of tradition had more purchase for the reason pointed out by Kevin Haddick Flynn in his book Orangeism: The Making Of A Tradition:
We are the masters here and you are Fenian scum - we will march where we wish and you are powerless to stop us … we are your superiors: we dare you to do something about it; if you don’t you confirm your own inferior status’.
Dolores Rea had stood up to so much unionist and British state repression that she was never about to acquiesce in any of that. Over the years she more and more assumed the role of a stalwart amongst residents opposed to their lives being disrupted by, leering, jeering coat trailing Neanderthals, some of whom on occasion, not unlike Israeli Fascists earlier this month, took to celebrating the deaths of the innocent at the very spot they were butchered.
I first met her when I was about 12 while rolling around Gosford Place, close to where she lived, while fighting with her oldest son Frankie. That is how I first encountered him, courtesy of a street fight. He had the notion of a typical 12 year old that Mornington Street, where he lived, was his turf and that Bagot Street riff raff should keep their distance. He fought like a terrier, probably inheriting it from his father’s side of the family. Willie Rea was a well known boxer back in the day. Dolores pulled us apart. Paradoxically, it was the start of a very close friendship between him and me.
Later he and I along with other teenage friends would be forcibly heaved up the hallway of my home on the front of the Lower Ormeau Road during an Orange parade by the RUC eager to demonstrate that it too prioritised intruders over inhabitants. Together we were arrested at 14 years of age and beaten by the RUC in Musgrave Street station. During the icy cold February 1972 dawn journey I was pressed down beneath him in the back of a British Army Saracen, the two of us stomped on for the short time it took us to reach Musgrave Street. While politically interested, Dolores was equally determined to protect her children from state aggression and violence.
Like many other mothers from the enclave of less than 30 streets she lived through the dark years, never sure that her children would avoid falling prey to the teams of loyalist killers that trawled the tight streets for targets; fearful that if they did come home they would carry the marks of a beating administered by British troops.
Dolores knew a lot of republicans. She campaigned on behalf of them when they were interned and later during the H Block protest years. One she knew very well was the iconic Official IRA volunteer, Joe McCann. On the Saturday afternoon that British paratroopers gunned down him down unarmed in the Markets' Joy Street, I came across her distraught at the junction of Donegal Pass and the Ormeau Road just across from the Gasworks, as she rushed to tell her family the news. Distressed she told me Joe had been shot dead and asked me to relay it to her family. She returned to the spot of Joe's death. Frankie and myself then ran the whole way down to the scene where a crowd had gathered. Dolores was so visibly upset I recall the press asking if she was the dead man’s wife or sister. Joes’s last breakfast had been eaten in her home that morning.
On my first day out on parole after 13 and half years in jail I called to see her. Post-release I would frequently bump into her on the Lower Ormeau Road. She had an energy that belied her years and always seemed to be rushing.
Dolores, a rock of community and family, lived a long and active life. In the words of the friend quoted above she was:
and will remain for many within the tight knit Lower Ormeau community a constant in every manner possible. Dolores was a tireless and honest community worker who spoke without fear, always saying what had to be said and it was likewise that as a genuine neighbour and a precious community stalwart she was first to seen when the right thing had to be done.
The type of person that enhances the life of communities everywhere.