I’ve written plenty of poems about growing up during the troubles here. I’m forty so I got to see some really ugly stuff and experience it first hand. I especially remember the difficulties my family faced during the Hunger strikes. We lived in Antrim, 407 Firmount Drive to be precise. It was a mixed community protestant and catholic and for the most part was a very pleasant place to live.
I’m shaking writing these words, I don’t want to write them but they need to be released from me before their poison does any more damage to me. I’ve been left with both physical and mental scars because of what happened in that place. I went to a Catholic Primary School my best friend at that school was a catholic. Hell my parents would take us to church in the local Presbyterian church and also to the local Catholic chapel both places of worship would also hold joint denominational sermons. It was a working integrated community. That would all change for the worse.
I mentioned I went to a catholic school what I didn’t mention until now was how badly I was treated at that school one teacher in particular took a real dislike to me because I was a southpaw and a Protestant. One of her favourite quotes was “God fearing christians write with their right hand, the left hand is the mark of the devil”. I also had a birthmark on my left arm which only lent credence to her claims. I would be beaten constantly for writing with my left hand, to have my hand tied to the table and to be beaten anytime I tried to use the hand at all. I grew to hate school. Then the bullying began I was allowed to be beaten in the school playground no one would pay any attention to what was going on.
In Firmount Drive our neighbours were nice people we’d play in the green outback with various toys I remember a Bionic Man doll that was popular, we also had a pool which the local kids would play in. When our neighbours wife took ill mum would help look after their kids. They would all help look out after each other someone ill not a problem. House on fire the neighbourhood all chipped in to put it out. The fire brigade took ages to get to our street.
My first knowledge of the hunger strikes was from one of our neighbours she was babysitting us when the news came on she turned to us and said “If the hunger strikers die the streets will run red with protestant blood”. I didn’t sleep well that night or the next night for that matter. When they died our street turned to chaos our own neighbours, friends for the 7 years we had lived there turned on us. Our home was attacked as were the homes of ll the protestant families in the street. Mum and dad had moved here to get away from the sectarian violence and it found us anyway. 1981 I was 8 when the hunger strikers died when our neighbours drove us from our home, we fed in the night, left all of our belongings behind except what we could carry. This poem published in Solstice issue one was about the rise in violence about my confusion and fear over what happened.
(published in Solstice 1)
I was 8 and a half
When I lost my
I had many friends
My closest was called Peter.
their actions turned him
Against me, my family
Home became a prison
School a place of fear.
You who embraced anger
Stoked the fires of Hatred
Used violence to give yourself a voice.
I was 8 and a half
Their deaths stole my childhood
Your actions however stole My home, my friends.
Only now at 40 can I look back
And realize that was the beginning
Of all my later emotional problems.
I still bear the emotional scars wounds that run deep.
I no longer hate you for what you took from me.
And yet, I Still Wake In The Dark Afraid
Because of you.
I realize that my anger is misdirected that’s one of this issues with this region there is so much misdirected anger and fear that it is easy for people in power to manipulate its a tool to keep us at each others throats. The stories can be repeated by people from both sides the horrors experienced virtually identical. That’s one of the most important tools in bringing communities here together. I’ve since edited the poem above to how I feel it should have run.
I did write another poem on the experiences of having to move under such circumstances;
From wild spring onion, flowing water,
The crumbling watermills they fled,
That countryside gave way:
A spot of green,
growing in the cracks of the pavement.
The garden much loved by all, the large
house with sliding doors – abandoned.
Replaced by red brick, terracotta tiles,
the only spot of green is a painted
old iron mangle.
Two up two down, a house pierced
through by metal rods,
holding up the remains of the past.
From a back path with open fields
to enclosed alleyways with runnels
Sparrowhawks, blue tits, give way to
pigeons and seagulls,
clean air for inner city smog;
there is a sadness, there, in the
cramped house, cramped streets
and cramped city.
Greenery becomes a gift.
Water for the parched man the
family grasped at every moment,
The noise so distant, all
pervasive. Not even childhood’s
imagination can hide it.
I have fond memories of Antrim the walks with my parents, my father rescuing a swan, a bat caught on a fishing line hanging out near an old waterwheel. Will I ever go back? Only to visit my brother’s grave, a grave vandalized several times over the years. He is my physical connection to the town.
Too young to know
Too old to die.
You were only a little babe
Never had a chance to play football
Chase girls, ask for help.
Robbed of a chance to grow,
To learn, to have help with homework.
Buried beneath a cross
In a town where family no longer
Vandals smashed tore down
Your memory lives on
In times of need I’ve felt you there
The brother who should have been.
You who never grew up
Have helped to keep
Guided from beyond
Still when I needed
Someone to talk to
You were there.
Rest now little brother
Your memory lives on.
Why have I written this? shared these thoughts? Simple I’ve been having flashbacks to this and other events its been affecting my sleep.