Saturday, May 31, 2014

Strange Picture

I have no memory of this picture being taken. It features myself, (curly hair, snub nose) my sister, (bonnet) and my older cousins Eilish and Roisin. I haven't a clue who the half-faced boy is. I guess it was taken in 1957/58. Bert wasn't even born! I am four, sister two, cousins 11 and 8.

I like the picture because no-one (except the unknown boy) is looking at the photographer.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Shooting At The Pub

On Friday 24th May 1974, Day 10 of the UWC strike we went, as usual, to evening Mass in Tannaghmore chapel. As always we were in good time and there was the regular group of men standing chatting at the chapel door. This had recently become an ordeal for me, passing those men, neighbours and family members, for I was 20 years old, six months pregnant and unmarried. Forty years ago this was no light matter. John Heffron and Uncle Sean smiled and nodded at me but Uncle Brendan was not on speaking terms with me and made no acknowledgement. This was hurtful but understandable. I'm sure, that if given the chance, once my daughter was born, he would have come round. Brendan had a great fondness for children and was a very well-loved uncle.

After Mass my parents went to visit Mum's family in Randalstown. The first hint of something wrong was a series of strange phone calls. My younger sister took the first call that alerted us to something badly wrong. A shooting at the pub. A neighbour called to the door and took my brother down to Randalstown to inform my parents. I took a call from a woman who did not identify herself.

“Is that Byrne's?”
“It is.”
“Tell Sean we'll be over for a carry-out.”

There was laughter in the background. It sounded like they were having a party. I took it to be a malicious call.

The younger children were hysterical with fear. They thought that maybe the gunmen were coming to our house too. I tried to reassure them. By the time the tragic news came to us the gang had left the Wayside Halt and were already in police custody.

The thing is, the RUC were well aware of the gangs' activity. They were a ramshackle band of UVF, UDA and other loyalists who had come down to our area to reinforce the strike. Around thirty in number, they were armed with cudgels and sticks and at least one carried a loaded firearm. A neighbour of ours saw them at their work in the Harryville area of Ballymena where they smashed up pubs that were open in defiance of the strike. Their way back to Belfast took them past the Wayside Halt public house and it was there that a gun was used to shoot my uncles. That is when the police went in pursuit. That neighbour reported their activities in Harryville at the time. Had the RUC moved in Ballymena my uncles would not have died that night.

So there it was. Two devastated widows, eight fatherless children, a community torn apart, a loss felt as keenly today as on that terrible evening 40 years ago.

That link above is well worth reading as it is my sister's account of the events of that night and there are details that I have not included here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Forty Years Ago

In my last post I wrote a little about the Dublin-Monaghan bombings that occurred 40 years ago during the Ulster Worker's Council (UWC) strike. I did not add that I was pregnant with my first child at this time. Perhaps it was being pregnant that made me feel so thin-skinned about everything that had happened. I remember walking at dusk feeling as if a cloud of dread was enveloping me. I felt terribly apprehensive to be bringing new life into the world at such a dangerous and precarious time.

Daddy brought the terrible news to us. A young man, Michael Mallon, from Cargin, near Toome, had been found beaten and shot on the outskirts of Belfast. He was twenty years old, a student at Queen's University in Belfast. I did not know Mickey but my sister did and our family knew his family. My father and my sister went to his funeral. So did my Uncle Sean, who is supposed to have remarked that the funeral was a big one and he hoped not to be at such a one for a very long time. His own funeral would be held less than a week later.

Mickey Mallon was the closest that the Troubles had come to us but it would be closer again within days. I will write about it on the anniversary.

Michael Joseph Mallon was found murdered, at the age of 20, forty years ago today.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Looking Back In Anger

In February 1973, during the first Loyalist Workers Strike, I was working in the Ballymena branch of Crazy Prices. There was a prolonged power cut and all the freezers powered down. Urged by our managers we worked on. Until the cry went up, 'the Tartan Gangs are coming!' And sure enough, gangs of youths, wearing denim, big boots and tartan scarves were rampaging along Broughshane Street, smashing windows as they went. Managers hastily locked the doors and told us to get ourselves off home but not before allowing us to help ourselves from the freezers. So it was I phoned Daddy to come and rescue me and my big cardboard box full of frozen food. Seamus was not afraid of any Tartan Gang.

That is my abiding memory of the 1973 Loyalist strike. Tartan Gangs and a surfeit of frozen food to which we were certainly not accustomed. Of course the power cuts meant that we couldn't refrigerate the food and a good deal of it had to be thrown out anyway.

This month is the 40th anniversary of the second, and even more sinister, Loyalist strike, the one that brought down the power sharing executive, and the one that Ian Paisley and his ilk supported to the hilt.  

Today is also the 40th anniversary of the co-ordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan. On the third day of the UWC strike thirty-three people died, the greatest number of people killed on any one day. A full-term unborn infant is not included in the list of dead but tiny sisters Jacqueline and Anne Marie O'Brien are. They were 17 and 5 months respectively and their parents died with them.

No-one has ever been charged in relation to the murders in Dublin and Monaghan.

It was thirty-three years later, again in the month of May, that Ian Paisley, who had been so vehemently opposed to the idea of power-sharing, accepted the post of First Minister of Northern Ireland, in an assembly that included Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as Deputy First Minister. It is rumoured that the two of them got on so well they were dubbed the Chuckle Brothers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boring Post About Being Happy

Apparently accounts of happiness are rather tedious, whereas tales of misery are tremendously interesting. This makes sense. If happiness were interesting there would be no country music, no soap operas, no Game of Thrones, no murder mysteries, no Celeb Culture. Imagine a world where Kerry Katona had a trouble-free birth or Katie Price had a happy marriage. How horrific would it be that a soap opera wedding should pass without incident, or a Game of Thrones wedding pass without mass carnage and regicide? Unhappiness and misery are very newsworthy.

This is why today's post will be boring.

I started my day with an early morning dream.

Other people's dreams are so very tedious, are they not? But this is my blog and I'll be boring if I want to.

My dream was tremendously entertaining and quite surreal - as dreams often are. My younger brother and I were driving slowly down the length of the road we lived on for most of my young life. And where he still lives. It was the gloaming. Things had changed. There were new houses on the road and  many of them had the same interesting flower growing in the gardens. It was tree height, but not a tree. It was a sky-blue campanula, gigantic, with flowers bigger than a human head. And there were birds roosting in plum trees at the side of the road. At first I thought they were magpies but then saw they were jays, hundreds of them. Just as campanulas do not grow higher than houses, neither do jays flock in hundreds. We decided to visit our neighbour. She was just as she always was, always has been for more than fifty years. And this too was surreal for, in real life, our neighbour is not as she was.

I was wakened by someone calling - Mary. For this is my real name, not Nelly. I pretend to Nelly. It was part of the dream and it called me to wakefulness.

An enjoyable dream can just set up the day. There was good weather. I did necessary chores then I spent the rest of the day gardening. Nothing makes me happier. I did not have to go out, visitors were scarce. At six I started dinner, at seven we ate it, at eight I poured us a gin, at nine I had a bath. Happy all day. What an achievement. What a delight.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dinner Plans

I have had a busy few days. On Friday I went to Garden Show Ireland at the Castle Grounds in Antrim where I heard a very interesting talk by the delightful Alys Fowler. The talk was a tiny bit shambolic as is, apparently, her own garden, but no less charming and interesting for all that. I know it has changed my mind about a few things and I am determined to make great improvements to my soil and adopt the no-dig approach to growing. I will also be more tolerant of slugs. Apparently they are doing us a favour by eating seedlings that we'd never get around to planting anyway. Still feeding any I find to the hens.

Alys Fowler - my heroine
Plants people in search of treasure

On Saturday I went to cheer on the participants in the Giro d'Italia as they raced through Ballymena. Very exciting even though they were out of town again in a matter of moments.

Photograph taken by ZMB on Flickr 

Tonight Nellybert went for drinks with the First Husband and His Beloved. The carers were late in coming to Pearlie and the most curious one commented on me being 'dressed up.' I told her I was going into town to meet the First Husband. She said,

I don't like the sound of that.

I said,

Don't worry. Bert is coming too.
That seems very strange to me.
It's not. Far better that people get along. 
What does Bert think?
Oh Bert gets on well with FH.
Does he?
Oh yes. I only hope he gets on as well with my next husband.
You! You're not near wise!

So, FH and Beloved are taking the girls out for the day tomorrow so that First Daughter can get a wriggle on with her sowing and planting. I'll make dinner. We are having vegetable lasagne and rhubarb crumble as FH doesn't eat meat. Another busy day ahead.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Throwback Thursday

There is this thing on Facebook called Throwback Thursday and, as far as I can see, it is an excuse for oldies (like me) to upload pictures of ourselves of when we were young and gorgeous so that our Facebook Friends can comment on how adorable we were.

So - as this is Thursday and in the spirit of Throwing Back, here are a series of snaps of  Bert when he was a young lad just turned 46 after a night camping out in the poly tunnel.

He has quite a history of sleeping under glass and plastic. There was that time when he slept in the greenhouse but that was before I knew him. He was about 17 at the time and had been to a wedding party where he got rip-roaringly drunk. Concerned that his parents would be displeased at the state he'd got himself into he decided to sleep it off for an hour or two in the afore-mentioned greenhouse. It must have been comfortable in there for it was mid-morning when he staggered into the kitchen in his best suit, covered in dead vegetation and compost.

Daytime napping is another thing and on a pleasant day a poly tunnel can be delightfully warm. One day, a few years back, when Bert was producing and selling bedding plants, he glanced at a mound of protective garden fleece and thought it looked so inviting. Before he knew he was trying it out and the day being balmy, and the temperature inside the tunnel so warm and cosy, he was soon asleep. Until, some time afterwards, he was awakened by a nudge from a matronly Clarks shoe and opening one eye, saw he was being gazed upon by two concerned looking elderly ladies one of whom was saying to the other, "Do you think he might be dead?"

Wouldn't that be a picture worth having?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

We Go To The Bann

Judy writes...

Moms said to Hans, shall we go to Portglenone Forest, check the bluebells? I'm sure the dogs would enjoy the walk. My ears pricked up. Whenever did a dog not enjoy a walk? And Portglenone is particularly good. Lots of other dogs. Lots of pungent smells. Lots of sticks. And the river.

First of, I found a ball. Hans threw it into the river, stupid Jess got it and lost it. I looked everywhere but it was gone. Gone forever. I was gutted. Meanwhile Hans starts throwing sticks. Jess was in like Flynn but I wanted my ball. No joy. Gone forever. I loved that ball. Only had it for two minutes but it mattered to me.


Ah well. Sticks it is then. I'm a far stronger swimmer than Jess. Beat her by a mile. Ziggy the wimp wouldn't go in any farther than his knees and, as we all know, that's not very far.

Then disaster struck. That rotten sneaky wee bitch mugged me. Snatched my prize right out of my jaws. I was gutted.

This was turning out to be a rotten day. That thieving, smug wee shit was grinning all over her face.

Thought she was so bloody smart. I've never been so upset in my entire life. This was worse than that time Rusty tossed me up in the air. And it got even worse. Moms made me and Smug Face sit in the back of the van on the way home while Wimp Face Ziggy got to sit in the front. She said it was because we were wet. Moral being if you are a cowardy custard like the Zigster and barely dampen your paws you'll be sitting up front in luxury while good dogs (well, one good dog and one filthy cheating rat bag dog) have to rattle about in the back.

As soon as I got home I told Dawds all about my rotten day and he was very kind to me and let me go to sleep on him. I'm sure I'll feel a lot better when I wake up.

The End.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

First Day Of May

When I was a child the month of May was a period of special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At home our mother encouraged us to make a May Altar. I loved this. A deep window sill or table would be cleared and various holy statues, pictures and a crucifix would be placed and among this would be arranged wild flowers in vases and jam jars. We picked primroses, celandine, kingcups, daisies, dog violets anemones and bluebells. Most of these flowers soon wilted but they were easily replaced. I remember once bringing in May blossom but this was strongly discouraged as it was considered 'unlucky'.

I wouldn't have picked dandelions myself because they had a bad reputation and were supposed to make you pee the bed and bringing such a noxious weed to Our Lady's Altar would have shown a serious lack of respect. But daisies were a different matter. Those little Shippam's paste jars were just the right size for posies of violets or daisies. I remember being affronted when one of my aunts mocked us for having daisies on our May Altar. She called them weeds! I was shamed not to know this.

Shippam's Paste Jars

Having the May Altar in our house always made me feel extra holy and I said more prayers in May than I would in any other month. I was always sorry to see it cleared away when May was over but I think that Matty was relieved to be rid of the jars of wilting flowers.

Crataegus, hawthorn, may blossom

When I asked her why May blossom was unlucky and she said it was because it shed its petals so quickly that it made a big mess. I knew she was palming me off. Maybe she did not want to tell me the truth, which was, that hawthorn in the home was associated with death, or worse still, 'unregulated love.' And of course, for a good Catholic, the thought of death might be acceptable but unregulated love? Unthinkable.