Joe Corr

Anthony McIntyre remembers Turf Lodge man, Joe Corr.


Joe Corr, or "Wee Joe" as we knew him, died last year and by mishap missed TPQ’s end of year obituaries, which was unfortunate because if there was anybody whose life deserved a special reflection at the end of the year of their death, it was Joe. It was not for the want of trying. Myself and his son had been in frequent contact after his death, but a change of contact details spiked the planned obit.

Another patron of Turf Lodge’s Green Hut to succumb to cancer he was the friendliest of characters, refreshingly lacking in airs, graces and pretensions. The Green Hut, the property of the Turf Lodge Tenants Association,, was a great social venue. It was probably the place where I consumed more drink than anywhere else in Belfast. Through its doors came the finest from Turf Lodge. Joe was one of them. He would come in regularly with his wife Mary and were great craic. Mary could banter with the best of them while Joe would sit smiling and chatting in that genial way of his. Through the Hut, I also got to know the sons to varying degrees, in particular Michael whose sense of humour never deserted him despite having lost an arm in an accident.

Joe was in the bar trade most of his working days, have earlier cleaned windows around Ballymurphy with his late father before giving the computer installation trade a go. He was to find himself thrust into the role as head of the family after his father was gunned down by Paratroopers during the Ballymurphy massacre. In the era of the interventionist state, the British government often intervened via murder. 

Joe married Mary Bloomer in 1976, around the same time I was going into prison to begin a life sentence. It was not until I was released that I met him and so many others from Turf Lodge who were to become firm friends. Turf was where I had to do what was called the "Work Out Scheme" prior to release. It was the beginning of a long love affair with Turf Lodge. A strong republican estate, I was made welcome immediately. Beneath the dour architectural exterior, there were many colourful people, and I had befriended quite a few of them in those three months before the front gate of Maghaberry banged behind me for the final time, bringing to a close my long spell of imprisonment. 

Life for the working class community there was never easy. Joe's son Michael described what it was like to grow up in the estate during the violent political conflict that gripped the North:

1980s growing up in Turf Lodge was different and difficult for a lot of people but looking back on it now we survived from shootings to bombings, British forces and RUC occupied streets, loyalist paramilitaries stalking Catholic areas, tit-for-tat killings on both sides and with my dad working in the bars in town this made it worse than most especially for mum not knowing what, when, how, if he was going to be fine ... I remember from a personal point in the early 80s being awoken by a banging on the front door in the early hours of the morning by the RUC, to be told that my daddy had been beaten savagely by loyalist paramilitaries when they tried to rob the Alambra bar in North Street which he he managed. He was left in the RVH for quite some time - like a wire mesh - and we often talked about fighting for his life. His injuries were reported to be horrific as I saw for myself ... but as he did, he got better and jumped on the bike and got back to life and people within the community

In the final weeks of his life his family spent a lot of time by his bedside, where he had come home to die. Once after I had sent him a card his son told me he had made the thumbs up sign: by that stage he was unable to speak.

The family was advised to place him in a care home on the grounds that it would be unable to give him the 24 hour care needed. They were having none of it, taking the view that if family can’t pull together to aid their father and husband in the place he loved most, in the last weeks of his life, what meaning has family? “There was no way we would let our father/brother spend his last few weeks in a home.” It was tough going for sure but they coped and when external help was needed the McMillan nurses were on hand. The family was generous in its praise of those carers. 

Wee Joe was a big man whose passing left an even bigger gap.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre      

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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