Ann Allan: Memories 21: 1973 Civil Unrest and Personal Loss.

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Wednesday 1 January1973Two men were found shot dead near Burnfoot, County Donegal, they had been killed by an unidentified Loyalist paramilitary group.

Wednesday 31 January 1973: A Catholic boy, Philip Rafferty (14), was abducted and killed by Loyalists in Belfast.

This was the start of another violent year in Northern Ireland. We were leaving 1972 behind and little had changed. Violence was rife and murders common place. It was also the year that the UK joined the EEC ( EU) and the year that a referendum about a United Ireland was held. This was a non-event as Nationalists boycotted the referendum and so the result was an overwhelming majority to stay in the UK.

Meanwhile on a personal level, life was continuing in Comber. On New Years Day we invited the in-laws and my brother and his wife for dinner. The hubby suggested we have roast duck. Now although I considered myself a reasonably good cook, duck had never been a big part of the cuisine in either of our households.  But always one to try something new I bought the duck. I thought when putting it into the oven there didn’t seem to be much meat on it but I pressed on regardless and hoped for the best. The embarrassment when I served up one small slice of duck to each person stayed with me for many years. I’ve steered clear of roast duck ever since unless it’s in a carton and has Marks and Spencers on it.

I have had reservations about writing about 1973 and I have been procrastinating as it was a partcularly tough year for me. I discovered I was pregnant at the end of January and I was delighted.  Life was good and I was practising hard for my driving test at the time and felt well. On Wednesday 7 February,  the United Loyalist Council organised a one-day general strike. It happened to coincide with my driving test. There were power cuts and roads were blocked. Many were intimidated into not going to work but my driving test inspector turned up and with little traffic on the roads I passed my test with flying imagecolours. It was great to be mobile but it did prove problematic with only one car ( the norm in the 70’s ) so we spent our time organising lifts when one of us wanted the car. I think it was 2000 before I got the keys to my very own car.

I announced my pregnancy after three months as did a colleague in my office. Our babies were due in the same week in September. I started knitting baby things but I was not a knitter, never have been and never will be and so the two matinée coats I managed to finish were a disaster. My parents and my in-laws weren’t exactly over the moon with the news. No hugs or congratulations. More like ‘how will you manage with one job?’ It wasn’t the done thing to talk about pregnancy apparently and so a lot of the joy that I felt quickly disappeared. Also the religious aspect was probably high on the agenda.

At the beginning of Easter week I began to have some symptoms that were a cause for concern. The doctor was called and suggested bed rest. For four days I lay in bed. On Good Friday I was in such distress that Gordon took me straight to A&E. There, a doctor examined me and without any softening of the bad news told me my baby had died in my womb. He explained that I was in labour and there was no alternative but to deliver the baby naturally.  I won’t go into the details but it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I wasn’t told whether it was a boy or a girl. I cried for days. I had no family near me and I’m not sure Gordon and I as a young couple knew how to deal with the loss. We didn’t talk much about it and my grief was compounded when it was suggested to me that my continuing to work had possibly contributed to the miscarriage.  So along with the heartbreak of losing our baby I now had the guilt that it might have been my own fault. I know now that was not the case.

After a few weeks recovering I went back to work. The hard bit was that those who didn’t know about the miscarriage kept asking me when was the baby due. We tried to accept that many first pregnancies end in miscarriage and this wouldn’t happen next time but I felt alone and probably needed some follow-up counselling but I was discharged from hospital and had no choice but to get on with it. It was rarely mentioned again.

Around this time and probably feeling the need to be parents we acquired a dog. I say acquired because it was never my intention to have one. We visited friends whose dog had just had puppies. We left with a small black and white terrier who we christened Cotton ( after the small cigars). He was a lively pup and didn’t take long to acquaint himself with the surrounding countryside. One whiff of freedom and he was away, chasing the cows in the farmers field behind us and returning home smelling of badgers poo.Yuck. There were no restrictions on dogs in the 70’s so he headed into Comber and met up with his mates. Many nights he wouldn’t return until midnight, at which time he would stand at the front door barking, until one of us stumbled downstairs to let him in. I think he thought he was a cat. However we loved him and put up with him until one day he was chasing cars ( one of his favourite past times) was hit by one of the said cars and we had to make a decision to have him put down.  The house was empty without him and I swore never to have another dog. I have kept my word.image

Tuesday 12 June 1973
item mark Six Protestant civilians, aged between 60 and 76, were killed when a car-bomb exploded in Railway Road, Coleraine. The attack was carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who had given an inadequate warning of the bomb.

We made the decision that as we were going to have two salaries coming in for another while it was time to replace the small country-style suite we had for something a bit more substantial and comfortable. We went into Wright’s arcade in Newtownards where Mr.Wright was serving that day. He was very kind and we chatted. When he heard what had happened he gave us a great bargain on a suite and also threw in a coffee table which we have until this day. When the suite was delivered it was way too big for our tiny living room but we loved it and we had plenty of room to stretch out.

Thursday 16 August 1973:  Two members of the IRA died when a mortar bomb exploded prematurely during an attack on the Army at a base in Pomeroy.

September was a challenging time. My work colleague had her baby and it was difficult to visit her in hospital. Her baby arrived a couple of days after mine would have been due. However by now we were trying again and we were having a lot of fun trying!!

We had changed our car around this time. We bought it from a small garage at the bottom of University Street. It was a Morris something or other and I guess they saw us coming. After a couple of months the exhaust developed a hole.  What was it with us and exhausts? The sound as the car set off in the morning was noisy to say the least. No sleep-ins for the neighbours. Gordon spent hours under the car, rather than in it, plastering the exhaust with Gun gum ( a seal for exhaust). It would hold for a few days and then blow again. Like the Mini Cooper which was our first car, the floor in the back was also proving effective as an air conditioning system, and if I remember correctly I don’t think the heater worked but it just about got us from A to B so that was a bonus.

The year ended with a statement from the Northern Ireland Executive following its first meeting. The statement set out the Executive’s hopes for the future and called on people in Northern Ireland to allow 1974 to be ‘ The Year of Reconciliation’

Yes that was 1974. I guess reconciliation in Northern Ireland is a very, very, slow process.

 

http://Cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch73.htm. A chronicle of the troubles 1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

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