Ann Allan: Memories No 15: Public and Personal Turmoil

1970 was the beginning of a new decade but not the beginning of the end of the conflict.

1970 was the beginning of a year that would see me marry and take a step into the unknown, crossing the sectarian divide, unsure of what would be on the other side

1969 had ended on a personal high knowing that at long last Gordon had been accepted by my family and I had been accepted by his.

Plans were being made for an August wedding in my local church in Rostrevor, with the reception planned for Ballyedmond Castle hotel ( now the home of the late Eddie Haughey or Lord Ballyedmond to give him his full title ). image The date was set for the 19th August which was also my parents anniversary and so that box was ticked. I turned 21 on Valentine’s Day and had a small party for a dozen of my close friends. I was allowed to serve my male guests a beer each and my female friends a Babycham. My parents were under the mistaken illusion that my friends and I were teetotalers. If only they had known. We didn’t however shatter their illusions. They accepted that I smoked and as it was not considered dangerous in 1970 they did not object. We all thought we were super cool sitting with a cigarette in our hand. Little did we know what the long-term consequences for some of us would be.

image           On the political side there were now two divisions of the IRA, the Provisionals and the Officials. In March the Police Authority of Northern Ireland  was set up together with the RUC reserve. The reserve was not phased out until 2010.

My wedding plans continued. My bus route to work in the morning took me from Botanic Avenue to Howard street and then a walk to Chichester Street to get a bus to Dundonald House. Every morning I passed Robinson and Cleaver. imageTheir corner window featured bridal dresses and one morning I stopped in my tracks . I looked in the window as I did every morning and there it was.  I had found my dress. It was the most beautiful dress I had come across and I was determined that it was the one I was going to walk up the aisle in.  At lunch time clutching my 3p I waited patiently for a telephone box to come free.  I dialled home waited for the beep, beep and put in the money. imageMammy, I said, I’ve found my dress. You’ll have to come up to Belfast so you can see it.  No mean feat in those days. My mum didn’t drive and dad wasn’t too keen to drive to Belfast so she had to take the bus. Luckily she loved the dress too and the little bonnet with the veil that the assistant suggested would go well with it. It cost £29 and looking back I know that was quite a lot of money in those days.  Probably around £600 in today’s money. Another box ticked

Riots took place in Ballymurphy in April between the Catholics and the army. As a  result the UDR was formed. The UDR was seen by the Catholics as a replacement for the notorious B -Specials. They were mainly Protestant and many ex B- specials joined.  They were despised by a large section of the catholic community. In the UK Edward Heath was elected Prime Minister defeating the Labour Party.

Continuing with the wedding plans, a request was made to the local Parish Priest for permission to marry in Rostrevor. This was around the middle of May.  At the beginning of June or thereabouts I was returning from Sunday mass ( I went to humour my father, after all he was paying for my wedding ) when I saw the local Parish Priest,  Monsignor Boyle, hovering at the church door.image He called me over and summoned me to go to the Parochial House and wait for him. I did as he said and the house keeper showed me into the parlour. He came in. He was quite old, very doddery, deaf as a post and all in all quite intimidating.  I was waiting for him to say that all was fine and of course I could get married in my local church, where I had been baptised, sung in the choir and distributed petals on Corpus Christi ( It’s a Catholic thing ).  I’m sorry, he said,  but if you persist on going ahead with this marriage I will not permit you to get married here in Rostrevor.   However, I am prepared to marry you in Killowen ( a small nearby parish ) but you will not be allowed any guests or congregation. I was feisty then. I still am now and I had no intention of letting him talk to me like that. I shouted at him that he could threaten all he liked but it would make no difference.  It was something you just didn’t do to a priest in those days,  to answer back, but I did and when he was in mid sentence I got up and walked out leaving him gobsmacked. I’m pretty sure he had never been challenged like that before and possibly never was again.

I marched through the village and headed home. image I just about held back the tears until I saw my mother. She  was fit to be tied when she heard what he had said. It was Sunday and I headed back to Belfast distraught that all my plans were in disarray.  My bridesmaids were making their own dresses and we had decided on an all white wedding and they had chosen a lovely pleated georgette. I had to let them know that plans had changed and the wedding was now in jeopardy. A ladder and Gretna Green were looking more inviting. However, on return from work on the Monday evening my mother phoned. She and my dad had been working hard all day and had managed to contact a cousin who was a priest in Ardoyne. He was happy to marry us and the date was free. They had contacted the Dunadry Inn at Templepatrick  and they could accommodate the reception. No daughter of mine, my mother said would ever have to marry in a church without a congregation.  All arrangements for the wedding now moved to Belfast.

Meanwhile the situation in NI and particularly in Belfast was getting worse.

In June loyalist groups attacked the Short Strand. The IRA defended the Short Strand from the grounds of St Matthew’s church, the very church I had lived beside for almost a year. A close friend who was a volunteer with the Knights of Malta ambulance service was behind the lines in the church and told of his fear as a gun battle raged on the Newtownards road. Three people were killed that night with each side declaring they were attacked by the other side.  The day after 500 Catholic men from Harland and Wolff were told to leave by their fellow Protestant workers. They never got their jobs back.

Thankfully a lot has changed in the intervening years but we are still a long way off from a society that can live side by side in peace and harmony.

Next time: The wedding. In jeopardy again ?

Ann Allan: Holidays, Not For Me.

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So where have you booked your holidays? Much asked question at this time of year, especially on a visit to the hairdressers.  Well I don’t actually like holidays so I’m not going anywhere, I answer. Shock horror. I might as well have said I hate puppies.

Why I hear you ask do you not like holidays?  Well maybe not. But I’ll tell you anyway.  Where do I start? Probably the fact that I’ve had many disasters. And then there is the fact that I don’t like flying. ( I’m ok with boats provided its a short journey). Where do you get a suitable climate if you are fair skinned like me, and I’m being kind to myself with that description, cause I’m actually pasty white.   Go somewhere like Spain where the temperature can reach 40 degrees and you are asking for trouble. Which is exactly what I did some years ago and the result was disastrous. What was I thinking?

After driving from Belfast to Girona  ( I did mention I don’t like flying) we booked into what was supposed to be our base for the next few weeks.  A house had been rented for us by a friend in Spain. Either the friend didn’t like us, and wasn’t really our friend, or he didn’t actually have a look at it. Enough to say it was well below my expectations. So I did what any woman in my position would do. I threw a tantrum.  I cried and I blamed the hubby. I point blank refused to stay in Casa Twadell.   After negotiation with the management we got an upgrade and for a while I was content. That was until the temperature reached 40 degrees. As a result of the high temperatures, forest fires broke out in the hills nearby. We awoke, well rather we got up the next morning (there was no air conditioning so sleep was nigh impossible) to find the car covered in ash.  It was drifting in from the forest fires and although the smell of wood burning in Autumn is pleasant, it’s not what you want on a holiday in Spain. It smelt more like Belfast on the 11th night. So we were now risking suffering from lack of air and being burnt out of our holiday home.

It couldn’t get any worse.  Don’t bet on it?  After a lovely meal in the nearby Santa Christina d’Aro, I began to feel a tightening in my joints. They had become noticeably red but I put it down to sunburn and rubbed in cooling cream. The next morning I awoke to find I was wearing a pair of inflated rubber gloves.  What you may ask?  It was only when I had a proper look I realised that both hands had swollen so badly that they looked like inflated rubber gloves. Panic set in. We set off looking for a doctor, hubby pretending all was ok, but actually imagining how he would cope in a foreign country with the wife in hospital.

The first doctor we were directed to was a doctor in private practice.  He charged 25 pesetas to tell me I needed a steroid injection.  My nervousness at having an injection paid off.  I told him I would come and have it the next day if it didn’t get any better.  Came out of his surgery turned the corner and found a walk-in clinic that accepted our E111.  As a further sign this was a place I could trust, the doctor was a Dr Allen and she was Scottish. After diagnosing a severe case of urticaria or nettle rash as it’s commonly called, she gave me an injection. She also gave me a valium to slow my heart rate. To hubby’s relief the valium knocked me out for a couple of hours and I woke up drooling but with some of the tightness in my hands gone. However all the blood vessels had burst and should a part have been available in Dr Who, I was your woman. Wouldn’t have needed make up at all. When I want to scare the grandkids I show them the pictures. Eating with cutlery was well out of the question for the next few days and while dining out I really felt I should have been ringing a bell and shouting unclean.

We somehow managed to get through the next few days without any drama until the night before we were returning home. Remember, we had driven here. I woke up with a tummy bug and all that goes with that distressing condition.  I won’t go into details as many of you have been there. Suffice to say that while on route to Calais, I made a call at every service station between Girona and Bourg-en -Bresse.  Now if you know the geography of France you will be saying to yourself ‘thon’s a funny route to take to Calais’. It was you see pre sat nav days. As a result of me moaning and groaning in the back, the big son misread the map and we ended up 80 kilometres to the East, heading for the Italian border. However that was one of the better parts of the holiday. We booked into a beautifully quaint hotel, and watched an exhilarating thunderstorm from the comfort of our rooms.You will be glad to hear if you stayed with me this long, that we arrived home safely, marriage still intact.

So enjoy your foreign holidays. I’m content to stay at home and potter in my garden. I will have a couple of breaks at the beautiful Mount Juliet in Kilkenny. And if the weather’s fine, well, that’s a bonus.

Ann Allan: My Titanic Experience

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I’m ashamed to say that I have only today taken the Titantic tour. I had visited before on my birthday for the afternoon tea which was delightful.  However the incentive was a request from my Dublin cousin who was staying with me for a few days and wanted to do the tour. I agreed to go and I pictured us wandering around a series of charts and pictures showing the building of the ship and then its demise.  Wrong!

The tour which takes about an hour and three-quarters, but could take longer if you so desired, is wonderful.  Set over four floors, each section deals with all aspects of the ship’s journey. There are interactive displays, wonderful photos and a tour of the bowels of the ship.  Seated in a little ‘carriage ‘you can experience the noise and heat that these men worked under,  in order to build the world’s biggest ship.  All built to scale so that you too can experience what it was like to work there.

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A replica room from the first class cabins gives you an idea of the luxury in which  the first class passengers travelled. Watch as a virtual lift takes you through the different floors. Look down through a glass floor and see the wreck. The scale of the exhibition is mind-boggling.  How it was set out and reproduced, beyond my understanding. But courteous and friendly staff will make it a memorable experience. I’ve Australian and American visitors coming this summer. I know where I will be taking them. This is somewhere that makes me feel very proud to be from Belfast.

Congratulations to all at Titanic Belfast for the award of Outstanding Visitor Experience. Well deserved.

http://www.titanicbelfast.com