As we settled down to married life in 1971 the troubles intensified. Punishment beatings were becoming a common occurrence and there were nightly riots. However, we steered clear of any trouble spots and life went on fairly normally for us. We did however lie in bed at night and hear shots being fired and the bang of the petrol bombs as they hit their target. Over the year the number of killings increased. These included civilians, soldiers and policemen.
It was a relief to escape to the country at the weekend. Here we could go for long walks, go out for a drink and relax before returning to Belfast on a Sunday evening. It was also cheaper as we didn’t have to buy any food. No flies on us!!
On Saturday afternoons, if we were in the country, we made a point of visiting my great Auntie Peggy. Peggy was a real character. She came from a large family and had 4 sisters and 5 brothers. The sisters all arrived one after the other and then the five brothers. All of the brothers emigrated to America to look for work and in the late twenties Peggy joined them. She was having marriage problems and needed a break. She loved America and all things American and loved being with her younger brothers. When the crash came and the depression set in she packed her bags and returned to Northern Ireland. She made up with Tommy and they ran a pub in a small Co.Armagh village. I often visited it when I was young. Peggy still thought of herself as being American and constantly referred to her handbag as her pocket book. She loved to tell us that was what American ladies called their handbag. The ‘powder room ‘ was another of her favourites. Peggy and Tommy had a little sports car which they named ‘sparky plug.’ I wish I could have seen the two of them out and about in it. The pub smelled of beer and smoke. The smoke came from an open range which belted out fumes. It was in the kitchen behind the pub. We weren’t allowed into the pub and had to sit and inhale the fumes while having a lemonade. I think we would have been better of in the bar with the cigarette smoke from the Gallagher’s Blues. Peggy smoked, something she told me she learned from her brothers at a very young age, and she also liked a whiskey. When visiting Rostrevor when we were children one of us would take her up to the village and on the way past the pub she would pop into the snug and have her wee tot of whiskey. We were sworn to secrecy but it was an open secret. She always dressed in black and she wore a black berry tilted at a cheeky angle. She loved her red lipstick but never managed to get it right. This made it all the more endearing. These were the days long after Tommy had died and the pub had been sold. At 90 she fell and broke her hip and sadly died of pneumonia, but she enjoyed her whiskey and her cigarettes right up to the end. A character if ever there was one and when I think of it, what a brave lady to travel to Philadelphia and to a completely different world in 1927. As you can see from the photo she was very attractive in her youth.
Living in Belfast was becoming very unpleasant. The number of pop groups visiting Belfast dried up and nightlife was being affected. Fewer people were venturing out a night and it was impossible to drive freely round the city. I was working in Rathgael House Bangor in 1971 and the hubby was in Stoney Road. On the morning of 9 August 1971 we were wakened to the news that internment without trial had been introduced. As I stood on the Ormeau Road, waiting for my lift to Bangor, I could hear in the distance gun shots and the stench of smoke hung over the city as a bus or busses were hijacked at Smithfield bus station and set on fire. The guys who I got a lift with were from West Belfast and they spoke about friends being lifted from their houses in the early hours of the morning. The arrests were made only in catholic areas. Part of me had thought on hearing the news that maybe things would quieten down but I was assured that this was going to be a recruitment godsend for the IRA and things could only get worse. Over the next four days of horrendous violence about 24 people were killed. Looking back on that day I think I must have been quite brave to travel across the city on internment day. There were many days like that.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, I had talked the hubby into buying a house. We were spending the princely sum of £22 a month on renting an unfurnished flat in Wolseley street. I was ambitious and wanted to move on to the property ladder. As the Ministry of Education had moved to Bangor we decided on a halfway house at Comber. In those days it took 6 weeks to get a mortgage so we had to wait and there was great excitement when our application was accepted. Our deposit was £70 on a semi detached chalet bungalow without heating, price £ 3200. We only learned many years after that Gordon’s great- grandfather had come from Killinchy and had lived in Comber. Bit of a coincidence.
It so happened that there was a regulation in the Civil Service that if an employee moved from an unfurnished residence to a new residence in order to be nearer to a workplace that had relocated, they were entitled to removal expenses. Bingo. Our luck was in and we were able to claim for carpets and curtains and solicitors fees. We couldn’t believe our luck. Hubby’s reluctance to buy turned to a high-five for having had the guts to go for it.
We moved in round September and started painting. I’ll never forget the mint green colour of the living room. Not having a clue about DIY we thought it a good idea to dilute the emulsion. We had very little money for decorating. We thought it would go further. However It ran down our arms as we painted and we spent about a week coating and recoating the walls to cover the plaster.
This was to be our home for the next six years. We used to take turns in the evening when we got anything new to walk past the front of the house to see how it looked from outside. What were we like? The day we got our central heating installed only paled in significance to the thrill of getting our first twin tub washing machine. Compare that to today’s newly weds where unless there is a sound system, wall mounted TV and underfloor heating they feel hard done by. Our first coloured TV was rented from Radio Rentals in Dundonald. No remotes in those days. I think the channel ( all 3 of them) were changed by a lead that plugged into the TV. Anyhow it proved a great attraction for the mother- in -law and her friend who travelled all the way from Warrenpoint to see Princess Anne’s first wedding to Mark Philips.
The one downside to our little house, which was unusually numbered 13, was that we were next to open farmland and on many occasions we woke to cows in our back garden.They kept breaking through the hedge and were prone to walking through our vegetable garden where we grew most of our own veggies. We also acquired a dog that we called Cotton. Cotton used to chase the cows and roll in cow and badger poo. The farmer was not amused. He also chased cars and sadly ended up being hit by one of the cars.
The 15 February 1971 was Decimalisation day. Civil Servants had all been sent on a training courses to teach them how to work in the decimal currency. Members of the public weren’t so lucky and it took a while for the new currency to be accepted. Personally I think many manufacturers used it as an excuse to put the price of things up before an unsuspecting public got to grips with decimalisation.
As 1971 came to a close, a bomb exploded in McGurks bar, killing 15 people. This was one of the worst atrocities in the city during the troubles. The UVF carried out the bombing. This pub was mainly used by Catholics. There was now fear through the community and many gave pubs a miss. We were heading into 1972 which turned out to be the worst year for fatalities during the troubles.