Monday, 22 December 2008

The Shankill Bombing

In 1991 when I joined the swelling ranks of the Happy Jobseeker I went to live in West Belfast (where I remained for 12 happy and not so happy years).
Having also served as a soldier in West Belfast I hope you can indulge my little story on this thread.

On my arrival in NI on that cold winters morning in a transit van with all my belongings plus a wife and three children was totally surreal. Whereas previously I had been surrounded by mates armed to the teeth, here I was, a civvy, a nobody totally bewildered and defenceless.

The view that hit me driving into Belfast as the sun was coming up, was one of a sleepy slumbering peaceful giant, Harland and Wolff to my left and the rolling hills to my right, although I knew of the tragic secrets this wee town held.
Arriving on the Shankill I was greeted by the wifes' whole family (it seemed like the whole road had turned out) and immediately whisked away for an Ulster fry. I was aware of the murals that I had seen on the 1983-85 tour but only really noticed the detail for the first time.
It took me 4 months of living with the in-laws before we found a council maisonette in the Glencairn Estate and a further 16 months to find a job.
The people I met in the City Centre where amongst the friendliest, both Catholic and Protestant, and I enjoyed many a pint of Guinness with both. It was amazing then, that at 1800hrs the bars emptied and everyone went home to their respective areas to continue drinking in their own pubs.
The City Centre became a ghost town except for the odd fella going to work security nightshift somewhere.
The troubles were still going on although not to the same previous extent and in the main, shootings were confined to kneecappings on teenage anti social behaviour. The paramilitaries were policing their own patch. At the same time turf wars were starting to intensify over drugs and extortion.
This was a society going to the brink of anarchy yet again.

Then one awful Saturday on the 23rd October 1993 while my Brother in- law and myself were having a few sherries on the Shankill Road and the wives were shopping an almighty thud and tremor hit us in the pub.
On running outside through the dust and debris we saw that the fish shop three doors up had been totally demolished. Everything was deafeningly quiet for what seemed like an eternity until what had happened had sunk in.
With no thought for our own safety the two us charged into the rubble along with the rest of the assembled male crowd and started to tear frantically at the loose brick and woodwork.
The rest you have probably seen on television.
For a few hours we toiled until we could no longer feel our fingers which were torn and bloodied, but a small price to pay for what had happened.
Our thoughts returned to our wives whom we had lost track of.
Eventually we found them and realized that only minutes before the blast they had been in the fish shop.
Myself bottom left in hoodie and brother in law bottom right

Once the emergency services had secured the scene we made our way home and said our goodbyes until later.
On going into the house I ran to the toilet and threw up everything I had eaten for the past 10 years.
I knew I wanted to talk about it but as had been ingrained in all our skulls Big boys don't cry.
The same questions hit me then, that had hit me at Lockerbie.
What had these innocent people done to deserve this ?
What was the mindset of the people who had not just planned this, but carried it out?
What did it achieve?
How could a way be found to stop this madness?

It didn't take long for the Loyalist Paramilitaries to attempt to answer my questions as nineteen people were killed by the U.V.F and the U.F.F in the next two months, mostly at random.
Of course in 1985 Margaret Thatcher brokered the Anglo-Irish agreement (although talks had been going on for some years) it appeared to me that this was certainly no agreement.
The kids were being shot by their own, kids were glue sniffing, the kids were joy riding and kids were committing suicide at an alarming rate in fact it was the kids, the future generation of that wee island that were bearing the brunt of the “right and just struggle that both sets of paramilitaries would have you believe they were carrying out.

Above is just an extract and a few paragraphs from the book I am writing entitled "The adventures of a nobody"(it goes into a lot more detail)

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