grandmother came from Balymacarret and thought she
was born in 1882, but could not be sure. Her proud
boast was that she had never been hungry in her life.
She worked all her days as a doffer in the mills on
the Falls. In August 1969 I lived with her half way
up Divis tower and together we watched the Falls Road
burn. Rumours were flying around that 'they' were
coming to set fire to the bottom of the tower and
we were all going to go up in smoke. In September
of that year I walked up the Falls to school as a
brown bomber. It was still possible to smell the smoke
but there was a feeling that things were changing.
That was the first year we lived in the flats, 1969,
and I still have a newspaper cutting of a journalist
interviewing a lower Falls resident. He, the resident,
was complaining that the rents in the new dwellings
would be a half crown, (two shillings and six) and
where would working class people in these areas get
that kind of money! My parents who lived in the near
by maisonettes had a god send when the sdlp called
for a rent and rates strike. My mother never paid
rent from that day forward, it was a miracle we never
ended up on the streets.
Of course, there was the lower Falls curfew. I was
at my brothers home in Frere Street just off Raglan
Street to see his new baby. His wife and I soaked
old newspaper to stuff windows and under doors so
that the new baby would not breathe in the CS gas.
I had heard that women brought down food from Andersonstown
to feed us, but I don't remember any coming across
Albert Street from the flats as those poor souls didn't
even have enough to feed themselves, although I could
During the Ulster Workers Strike lorries came around
and distributed bread and milk, which was given out
freely. Sometimes lorries with food had been hi-jacked
and this food was given out as well. The problem was
what to cook it on as there was no electric. The barricades
were up, and men from the area took turns in manning
them, and women stood in groups at their front doors
talking and smoking a wee feg. There was a great sense
of belonging on the Falls Road then, we were all on
the one boat.
Things are different today, Sinn Fein want us to turn
out in our droves and vote, but at eighteen I burned
my first vote near the top of Leeson Street almost
where the Sinn Fein offices are today. There was a
pile of voting papers on the road and everyone threw
their paper on and then someone set fire to it. Nobody
voted then, it was almost seen as a betrayal of your
own. Today Sinn Fein call this infantile behaviour.
My first job came under new legislation. Something
akin to what the Americans would call positive discrimination.
I was taken on for six months by the Northern Ireland
Civil Service, simply because I was a Catholic and
for no other reason. There was a line of us made to
stand at the back of the room and all of us were given
various positions, but there was no real job there.
You were looked at with some amusement and you felt
somewhat inferior, thinking to yourself what am I
doing here, me one of the great unwashed from the
flats in this respectable middle class unionist establishment.
Back then in the beginning there was a sense that
maybe all this upheaval was about civil rights, but
that was quickly overtaken. We were on the road to
a United Ireland, the slogan then was a 32 county
socialist democratic republic, and everybody knew
it. We cheered at the news when an I.R.A. bomb blew
a building to bits, or when the Crumlin kangaroos
jumped over the wall, and the provie birdie landed
in Mount Joy, and we felt the pain and loss when we
were hit back. We collected and gave to Green Cross,
we went to clubs to hear Kathleen Largey sing-
'This island of ours has for long been half free,
Six counties are under John Bulls' tyranny,
so I gave up my boyhood to drill and to train,
and to play my own part in the patriot game'
There was a war on you see, and we were going to kick
Britain out. So we built our barricades and created
no go areas, we supported the struggle any way we
could. Yet at the height of this struggle shortly
after the hunger strikes when ten men died here and
two in England we now are told that Gerry Adams' was
in secret negotations. The result of those negotations
was the Belfast agreement. So now they do not want
you to burn your votes, man barricades or sing rebel
songs. We have moved on, we are a people now reaping
the benefits of thirty years of struggle, and we have
equality. No one lives in Divis flats anymore; that
slum has been replaced by bigger and better 'sink'
estates, that have no infrastructure or amenities
and widespread unemployment. And we still can't afford
the rents! Catholics are still more likely to be unemployed
than our non-catholic counterparts, and we are suffering
from rampant anti-social behaviour in our sprawling
crisis loan estates. So what did we get for our thirty
years of struggle. We have Sinn Fein as the biggest
nationalist party who are ready and willing to introduce
water charges and cut our services to save money for
the British exchequer.
Still by 2016 we will have a United Ireland! I wouldn't
bet on it - that idea has long been sold out by our
very own bearded quisling.
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