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I have spent many years of my life in opposition,
and I rather like the role.
- Eleanor Roosevelt



The Lower Ormeau Road -
A Community In Grief
Anthony McIntyre
An Phoblacht/Republican News
Anthony McIntyre, a republican prisoner serving a life sentence in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, lived in the Lower Ormeau Road community up until his arrest in 1976 and retains his association with its people. He writes here of the impact of the UFF murders of five men at Graham's Bookie's shop on February 5th, and of the tragic history of a besieged community.
Cordite, its stench still bitter in the nostrils, bodies still warm, blood yet to dry and coagulate, moans of the wounded and dying, and the wails of misery filled relatives combined to form the scene of utter carnage that Joyce McCarten walked away from on Wednesday, February 5th, as she accompanied and comforted a grieving woman who has just been told her brother had died.
Even prior to the slaughter at the bookie's, the Lower Ormeau Road had been touched by tragedy. One of the victims of RUC assassin, Alan Moore, at the Sinn Fein centre on the Falls Road the day previous, Pat McBride, left a girlfriend, Bernie McDaid, and a young son, Patrick, both members of that small community.
The scenes flashed to us on the TV screen from the junction of Hatfield Street and the Ormeau Road were profoundly disturbing. The close-knit nature of the community and its familiarity with loyalist devastation were poignantly and all to evidently captured in the physical presence of those standing shocked and numbed. Joyce McCarten is a human encyclopaedia of suffering and loss due to loyalism. Her son Gary shot dead by the UVF in May 1987; brother-in-law Noel gunned down outside the studios of UTV in March 1974 by the same group; other family members slain over the years, including one mutilated to death by Albert 'Ginger' Baker - a 1970s Brian Nelson.
Alec McManus, leading a distraught relative away from the horror. Outwardly stoical and calm he was aware that his own brother Willie lay dead a few yards behind him; another brother Jim critically injured and his nephew Paul Kennedy - son of his sister Jean whose own husband Billy lost an arm in a UVF bomb attack on the Rose and Crown Bar, a mere twenty yards from the bookie's - wounded also. In 1973 I stood beside Alec McManus as he buried his fianc�e, Eileen Doherty from Slieveban Drive in Andersonstown. After shooting her dead in the Ormeau area the UFF claimed she had formed part of a guard of honour at the funeral of IRA volunteer Jim Bryson the previous month. The only funeral attended by Eileen that autumn was her own. UFF statements count for nothing to the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road.
The Lower Ormeau Road is a small enclave situated in South Belfast, territorially bordered by the River Lagan on one side and the Belfast to Dublin rail link on the other. Isolated and vulnerable it is in the middle of an otherwise orange monolith, pressed in to varying degrees by Donegal Pass, Sandy Row, the Village, Annadale Flats and the sprawling East Belfast complex. An exclusively Protestant area, the B-Specials and Orange Order flourished up until the 1950s when its first Catholic residents began to filter in. Even then this tiny trickle was regarded as an intrusion.
Our own two-up-two-down terraced home in Bagot Street along with the homes of other Catholic families had its doors daubed with the sinister 'X'. Gradually, Protestants began to drift out of the area not as refugees but of their own volition as modern housing and better living conditions enticed them to greener pastures. A steady stream of young Catholics stating out in married life took up residence in the recently vacated inferior houses. This gradual but persistent demographic shift changed the social complexion of the Lower Ormeau Road. Today there exists an identifiable Nationalist community. Yet the area is not exclusively Catholic. A number of Protestants live there or have small businesses about the road. They feel quite safe. They are quite safe.
It was within this diminutive collection of narrow streets that four of the dead had strong roots. Willie McManus, Jack Duffin, Christy Doherty and Peter 'Twin' Magee were known to almost everyone in the district. Young James Kennedy came from its cousin enclave, the Markets. Innocent, harmless people, hemmed into the bookie's by the social oppressiveness of unemployment, they were killed for being there. People pushed from pillar to post by the structures of a hideously sectarian society and state.  A state which had no difficulty in making its presence felt to chase punters out of the bookie's in order not to 'provoke' triumphalist Orange bands as they saunter and strut their way through the area, was conspicuous by the lack of protection it afforded the punters once the music had died.
In such a context bitterness and sorrow, grief and sorrow, anguish and pain make themselves felt. Some of those not rendered dumb by the enormity and gravity of it all spoke in sombre tones, their voices heavy with anger. They were clearly stunned and displayed some difficulty in comprehending just what had happened.
In the midst of all this it was somewhat puzzling to listen to Alisdair McDonnell of the SDLP attempt to blame republicans for the awful events of that afternoon, adding legitimacy in a perhaps unintended sort of way to the stated UFF rationale. Sinn Fein were not permitted to say anything in response. But I suspect had they said anything their comments would have been grief-laden and not the petty political point scoring utterances of Alisdair McDonnell. Even the spokesman for the Workers' Party , regardless of his political perspective, chose not to harangue republicans but rather spoke in terms of grief, loss and human suffering. But like the victims and the censored members of Sinn Fein, he lives in the area and understandably feels the grief and bitterness of a bereaved community. Unlike Alisdair McDonnell, his association with the area is one of residence and shared experience.
The UFF in their post-massacre message said 'Remember Teebane'. But no one forgets Teebane, nor do they need the UFF or Alasdair McDonnell to remind them. When human life is lost on such a monumental scale, irrespective of who sustained it or who inflicted it, people do remember. But the people of the Lower Ormeau Road were being butchered by loyalism long before Teebane. The UVF bombing of the Rose and Crown Bar in May 1974 in which six people lost their lives, was seventeen years prior to Teebane. Neither James Kennedy nor Peter Magee were born when loyalists claimed their first victim in Belmore Street - Robert 'Scruff' Millen. The UFF are not interested in facts - just excuses.
Sectarian attacks on the beleaguered community in the Lower Ormeau Road are part of an ongoing twenty-year campaign by loyalism to hammer the community into abject submission. There is nothing new about them. They have failed. They will continue to fail. But it is incumbent on the community in that area to not only ensure that loyalism does not win in its endeavour to secure submission but to equally ensure that no more nationalists become its victims.
But the lessening of the community's vulnerability to sectarian attack shall not be secured through increased activity on the part of the RUC and the UDR. The latter in particular make no attempt to hide their sectarianism; threats of assassination by the UFF and the UVF are issued regularly from their mouths. The community can only protect itself. The presence of the RUC and UDR serves not to protect nationalists or deter loyalists - it only means that those capable of providing any defence are denied the means to do so through fear of arrest or shoot-to-kill. Arguments that a withdrawal from the area by the RUC and the UDR would only lead to 'gun-law' do not make sense. What we have at present is gun-law. The RUC/UDR/UFF make armed forays at will and without fear of prosecution.
As the state will not withdraw its sectarian forces some limited but practical measures must be taken. Vigilance must be increased and maintained at a permanently high level. People should work together as a community to secure their houses, watch their places of leisure and entertainment. Concerned political parties and community activists must make it their duty to actively advise the people on very aspect of personal community security. Nobody should be caught out as a result of complacency.
At this point in time the heartfelt sympathy of every nationalist prisoner in these wings lies with the families and friends of the deceased. To those fighting for life in hospital and the less seriously injured we send you our strongest support and solidarity. To the entire community of the Lower Ormeau Road we extend our condolences.
Hold Firm.



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