Ann Allan: Memories No 12: Tension Rises in Northern Ireland

We have reached 1967/68 in my ongoing saga.  In 1967 my favourite pirate radio station Radio Caroline was outlawed.  In America thousands were protesting about the war in Vietnam. Flower power was everywhere and Scott McKenzie was singing about ‘going to San Francisco.’   In the Middle East,  Israel went to war with Syria,  Egypt and Jordan now called the ‘six day war.’  My sister-in – law and her family were evacuated from Beirut.  I remember talk of another world war.   It was a scary time and there was talk of petrol rationing because of the oil embargo.

In Autumn of 1968 I decided to go and visit my friend Moira who was now at college in Nottingham. I had enough to pay the air fare and I remember asking my mum for some spending money. She gave me £3 and that plus the £2 I had already,  lasted me the weekend. I left in the evening from Aldergrove ( now Belfast International airport). I got a fright when I saw that the plane had propellers and looked a lot different from the jet I had flown in to France. We had to fly to Dublin pick up passengers and then continue our journey to Nottingham. I remember taking the hand of a poor man sitting beside me and holding on like grim death during take offs and landings.  Spent the weekend at a party! Got a bus back to Castledonington on the Sunday night in thick fog to find we were being bussed to Birmingham. Arrived back late to find Gordon waiting for me on the tarmac. That was the arrival area in those days.

The romance was still going strong.  We were living in Belfast and we both went home on the bus to Rostrevor and Warrenpoint every weekend.  With none of today’s communication devices available Rostrevor seemed a long way away.  What a rush it was to get from Dundonald on a Friday evening to Gt. Victoria street station. There, with a lot of other commuters we took the bus to Newry.  In those days the express stopped in Hillsborough, Dromore, and Banbridge. The M1 was completed in 1968 and that made the trip a little quicker.

'That's my dad...Director of Homeland Security.' ‘That’s my dad…Director of Homeland Security.’

Of course when we got to Newry my dad was usually waiting to bring me home to Rostrevor.  Gordon had to wait for a connection as we couldn’t be seen together. We spent weekends like two MI5 agents syncronising times and places to meet.  On one occasion we saw my dad’s car coming and Gordon flung himself over the shore wall. Thankfully the tide was out. On a Sunday evening I would be left back up to Newry to get the bus back to Belfast, cases full of clean laundry, packet soups and always a couple of tins of Heinz sponge puddings.  Unknown to my parents, Gordon and I would then stand outside the old Ardmore Hotel ( now the police station) and hitch a lift back to the city. On one occasion when I wasn’t going back, Gordon and JT hitched a lift only to find it was with three of the Moody Blues who were on their way from Dublin to Belfast. Very nice lads was the verdict. They were a big group in 1968. I wouldn’t recommend hitching these days but it was grand in those days and it saved the bus fare.IMG_2439
My days in Dundonald House were taking its toll on my health. Not used to central heating I was having tonsillitis every few months. My absences were being noted by the ‘ establishment ‘ branch ( now Human Resources) and it was decided there was nothing else for it but to have the tonsils out. Not a nice prospect when you are 18. I was admitted to the Mater hospital for a tonsillectomy. It was my first time in the Mater and I can remember the resemblance to an old workhouse. I awoke after my op trying to climb up the Venetian blinds that covered the window beside my bed. It was hard to swallow and when I did it was hospital cartoonlike swallowing razor blades. I had few visitors as travel wasn’t easy in those days but Gordon was there come hail or shine. I went home four days later to recover. I weighed 6 stone and 7 lbs. The good thing about having my op was that my mum seeing how devoted Gordon was during my recuperation softened a bit and allowed Gordon to phone and to call when my dad wasn’t there.

It shows how naive we were in 1968 when we didn’t even notice when one of the girls in the flat became pregnant. We were conscious of the fact that she was putting on weight but put it down to eating too much. When she didn’t return after a weekend home we became aware of her condition. It was a warning to the rest of us. Some of my flat mates were shocked as pre -marital sex was frowned upon in 1968. I’m saying nothing!!  When my mum heard about the goings on there were suggestions that I should get a transfer to Newry and come back home. No way José was my reply.

It was a great time. We had parties, we went to the Astor the Orpheus, and the Queen’s hops.  We  went to see all the visiting groups who came to the ABC and to the Floral Hall. We ate out at restaurants like The Cotter’s Kitchen, The Skandia and the Wimpy Bar. We had by 1968 moved to Fitzroy Avenue.  Only one of the original girls from St. Paul’s Hostel in Bryson Street remained so we teamed up with two girls from Derry and moved in to our new accommodation. By coincidence the flat above us became vacant and Gordon,  JT and two of our friends from Warrenpoint  decided to rent it. It was a grand arrangement. I did a lot of cooking if I remember rightly.
There had been simmering tensions in NI since 1964 which we were completely oblivious to, wrapped up as we were in our own little world. Ian Paisley had set up the UPV in April of 66 and the UVF declared war on the IRA in the same year. A Protestant and two Catholics were killed by the UVF but we were still unaware of the deteriorating situation.

It was brought home what was happening  when in October the two Derry girls returned after the weekend back home where a civil rights march had taken place. They told us of  how  the civil rights march had been stopped and how they had seen marchers beaten by the police. They became active in the People’s Democracy group and were at Burntollet when it was ambushed.
In those days it was the UVF doing the bombing and I remember the night the Silent Valley reservoir was bombed. The noise was heard in Belfast and it was terrifying. I never dreamed  that the ‘troubles ‘ would last for thirty year and I would bring up two children during that time. I believe it could have been sorted out in the late 60’s had people been more magnanimous and agreed that equality was necessary. Personally I feel that Ian Paisley bore a large responsibility for the violence of the following thirty years.

Meanwhile Gordon and I had decided we would get married. Brilliant idea seeing that the age of consent was 21 and my father hadn’t even met my intended but I’ll tell you next time how that all panned out.


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