The Lower Ormeau Road -
A Community In Grief
An Phoblacht/Republican News
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.
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.
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 fiancée,
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.
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.