We always regretted moving back to west Belfast in the 1960s—and two decades since the peace deal Northern Ireland is still recuperatingby Philip MacCann / March 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
Contemplating violence in Northern Ireland is unavoidable this year, half a century since society imploded, and celebrations of the last two relatively peaceful decades must be sombre.
My family always regretted moving back to west Belfast. In 1966 my mother resigned from Manchester Grammar School, pining for the genteel Catholic community she had left behind. Genteel under Special Powers. She tended our new garden, planted Canterbury bells.
Dad joined the second Derry protest against the long denial of Catholic civil rights. On TV she watched the Royal Ulster Constabulary bludgeon peaceful marchers, which included Protestants, liberal Unionists. One night IRA volunteers broke through her blossoms, apologised. She chased them as she did nervous Brits in jungle camouflage. Like most neighbours, she believed all violence was alike, resisted pressure to take sides. From our car, I saw rows of large vacated houses. Catholics moved in from the east and I heard about alternative security forces chaining you up and singing as you burned.
History can read like a list of war crimes. I imagine distant ancestors passing parcels of agony down interminable lines. What DNA mutations do we carry from Britain’s protracted thwarting of Ireland, massacres, convoluted concessions? All evidence indicates that in the 1970s British involvement further paramilitarised the province, tightening the tangled mesh.
Yet thinking as a child, Britain appeared civilised. The bad guys were the few Republicans, haggard with early understanding of the socio-pathology of imperial self-interest, who ghettoised our suburb and exacerbated the violence they opposed. Their thugs beat our neighbour, Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan, as the RUC had beaten marchers. Nobody’s friends, peacemakers were ahead of their time when the Provisional IRA disappeared Catholics like Jean McConville for showing Brits humanity. Republicans gave Catholic families hours to vacate their homes, which they assigned to cronies; graffiti-ed threats on our properties to reconfigure our values; redefined the citizen as combatant.
A long-haired gunman commandeered cash and two Yorkies from Mr Manning’s sweetshop. A second spread-eagled him against candy jars, kicked his feet apart—the very treatment Republicans objected that British troops did to us.
“These are not our people,” Manning remarked.
A skinny mother pushed a stroller, her toddler thrashing. “Shut up, you wee fucker!” she rasped. He wailed as…