Ann Allan: Memories No.1 Childhood

In 1949 George Orwell published 1984. Over 73 years later I have survived to see this dystopian novel become a reality.

In 1949 society was emerging from the aftermath of the second world war and it was an austere world with food rationing being part of every day life. Coupons were needed to purchase everyday items like butter and sugar and this led to black marketing when goods were purchased in the Republic of Ireland and smuggled across the border.

My parents married in 1947. My mother had recently returned from London where she worked in the BBC. I’m including her account of her time in England during the war as it makes interesting reading.

My dad was a Civil Engineer graduating from University College Dublin and during the war he had worked on preparing air strips for the Americans landing in Northern Ireland.

I came into this world on Valentine’s Day 1949. I weighed only 5lbs 5ozs and probably my mother didn’t need to push too much to introduce me to the world. However, I can’t have looked too healthy, as to be on the safe side I was baptised the next day. I was called Ann Patricia Valerie and I was born under the sign of Aquarius, the water carrier. Well that’s not strictly true. I was baptised Anne Patricia Valerie but the kids in school used to call me Annie so I knocked of the ‘e’.  Annoys me even when I see it on prescriptions etc.

The river Ghan ran along the side of Peacefield, the house in Rostrevor where I was born and then made its way out into the nearby Carlingford Lough.  Ironic, as I have always had a fear of water. I had been under the illusion for many years that my birth place was a cottage called Rose Cottage. But on a recent visit my delusions were shattered when I found out it was not actually a cottage, was in a state of decay and going to wreck and ruin.  A check on my birth certificate confirmed it was called Peacefield. Rose Cottage was I suppose more romantic.

The house is still standing but we moved from there when I was two, to a large Victorian terraced house which was rented from the local parish. It looked over a large estate which belonged to the Bowes- Lyon family. My aunt, who was a nurse, looked after Miss Marriane Lyon, a second cousin of the Queen, and so I accompanied her on many occasions to the house that stood in the park. 2EBE1F41-5549-4BA5-9C88-6A2252D4EC70Unfortunately it was knocked down as it had fallen into disrepair. I believe the Queen mother and the present Queen and her sister Margaret visited the house and played in the grounds. It is now Kilbrony Park having been taken over by the local council. When we were young many beautiful Arab horses roamed the huge expanse of meadow. In spring the ground was covered in daffodils. It became our private playground as we grew up.

Many happy hours were spent exploring Kilbroney Park. Along with many rare and beautiful trees ( Rostrevor is often called the Riviera of the North because of its mild climate) Rostrevor is also home to the evergreen Holm Oak. The oak also known as ‘Old Homer ‘was nominated as Northern Ireland’s tree of the year.  C.S. Lewis was inspired by the view and it is believed Narnia was  the result. Every year girl guides and boy scouts would pitch their tents in the 462A9B2B-A647-4299-9B29-15C0A2821622meadow. In the evenings my brothers and I would stand at the windows for hours watching them playing round the campfires and listening to the campfire songs. We did however feel sorry for them when it rained and they were mud to the elbows.

We lived near the sea and to find out if the tide was in or out all I had to do was stand at my front door. On summer mornings we would head off to the beach for the day unaccompanied, and we wouldn’t come home until we were hungry. I never went out of my depth and despite all those hours splashing around in the water I still can’t swim.

imageThe house we moved into had been a boarding house run by two elderly sisters and each upstairs room had a bell which had been used to summon the servants from ‘below stairs’. Great fun to play with but a nightmare for Mum down in the kitchen. They were taken out during renovations which was a pity. My first memory in my new house was of almost flooding us out. Left to my own devices at about aged three and after the arrival of a new baby brother, I decided to wash myself. I pulled a small chair over to the hand basin in my Mum’s room, put in the plug and turned on both taps. I guess the overflow didn’t work because I can remember my Mum running out of the kitchen as the water flooded through the ceiling. Her first reaction was to run to a neighbour who happened to be the local constable. I thought he was coming for me but he quickly found the source of the water and a scared little girl. The chair I stood on was made by my grandfather, who was a carpenter and I still have it.4AB8965A-B41C-4943-944E-7D1B6D344D08

Four boys arrived over the next eleven years and I began to wonder if they were coming from somewhere in my mother’s bedroom. Every time she disappeared into that room with the local midwife another baby appeared. I was thirteen when my sister arrived and this was the first time I worked out where babies came from. Men were barred from the births in those days and were called in when the baby was delivered and was alive and kicking. Mothers were confined to bed for two weeks, unlike today when new mothers are discharged from hospital only 24 hours after giving birth. I also remember that after a birth my mother had to be churched. Until this archaic ceremony took place shortly after the birth, mothers were considered unclean. A sort of purification. It was done away with in the late sixties by the Catholic Church. When I look back on it now, the cheek of it, making women feel unclean because they were giving birth.

My father was a a favourite with the local children as we were one of the few houses with a fridge. Every weekend he would fill the ice maker with orange juice and then add sticks, resulting in home made lollipops after a couple of hours. A steady stream of youngsters would appear on the doorstep looking for a lolly.  We were also subjected to National Health orange juice which was extremely sweet and that together with a daily spoonful of Virol ( a vitamin preparation based on malt extract), it’s no wonder dental decay was a big problem.

I remember at about the age of five getting our first television. It was an ugly-looking box, with a tiny screen and watching it was an ordeal. TVs in those days had a vertical hold and a horizontal hold. The horizontal hold was to control the picture from continual lilting to the side and the vertical hold was to stop the picture continually dropping off the screen. We got used to watching every programme IMG_2325-4through a snow storm. Reception was awful and for many years there was only one station. We sat in awe watching Muffin the Mule, a puppet horse on strings and a mad woman who played the piano and talked to said Muffin. Goodness!  We were easily entertained. Muffin was followed by Bill and Ben, the Wooden Tops and Andy Pandy.

Nevertheless we had TV nights when the neighbours came in to see something special, had something to eat and money was raised for the local church. As I said the reception was terrible but TV was a new phenomenon in Rostrevor and the neighbours were enthralled.

We had a happy childhood. We didn’t need xboxes or Playsations. We built pretend houses, we skipped, roller skated, explored and read comics. We attended the matinee in the local cinema on a Saturday afternoon. Saturday was Bunty and Judy for me and the Victor and the Hotspur for the boys. Comics in case you haven’t heard of them. Food was wholesome but adventurous. Meals out at an hotel were a treat. There was no central heating in most houses in the fifties. Many winter mornings I woke up to find ice had formed on the bedroom window. When we were sick, a coal fire was lit in our bedroom. Getting dressed was an ordeal.  We tried to do it while still under the blankets. No duvets in those days.

Living in a terrace of eight houses we had an eclectic mix of neighbours. Next door was the local headmaster of the boys primary school and his wife who was the headmistress of a local country primary school in a town land called Drumreagh.

On the other side was the district nurse and midwife. Extremely handy for delivering my four brothers. Further down was the local Methodist minister’s Manse and next door to him the local policeman. In a detached house on the same road was the local doctor. In those days the local doctor knew you and your family and all the family history. Home visits were normal and happened without even a request. No appointments were necessary at the surgery you just sat in a queue and waited your turn. Many occasions saw me running with one of the younger ones, blood dripping from somewhere in order for the doctor to do a quick stitch. My mother couldn’t stand the sight of blood .

I attended the local school. We were taught by nuns. I can still remember my first day when I sat beside a boy called George Cahill. I loved being at school. We wrote on boards with chalk as we hadn’t graduated to ink pens. When we graduated to ink pens, fingers were constantly inky and blots on exercise books were common. Outside toilets with half doors were the order of the day. Can you imagine it in the middle of winter? The water in the toilet was frozen, the toilet paper was Izal, that’s the shiny sort. There was central heating in the school but why were those crates of milk always set beside the radiators?  I can still taste that warm milk. Ugh.

My Dad had a Ford or an Austin, not sure which, and many times we travelled with him to Dundalk to smuggle home sugar and butter which were still rationed in the North. We thought it was a great game and I’m sure the customs officer who asked ‘Anything to declare?’ knew we were sitting on something. On one occasion while on our foray for food, my brother leaned on the back door of the car. There were no safety locks in those days. He must have flipped the handle because he suddenly disappeared out the door. Luckily the car wasn’t going to fast. ‘Dad, Dad,’ I shouted, as I looked out the back window to see my brother lying on the road. Seems hysterically funny now but not so then. After the once over in Daisy Hill hospital he was released with a slight concussion.image

On a final note bearing in mind what is happening in 2017 the twelfth ( Orange Order Parade)  was held in Rostrevor on one occasion. Shopkeepers of every denomination had their stalls out selling Smyth’s lemonade and homemade sandwiches to those marching and those watching the parade. Our local milkman, an Orangeman, delivered the milk the night before, apologising profusely for the early delivery. We were too young to know what the Orange Order was and what it stood for. In those days most people seemed to come out to just to watch the bands. No bonfires and very little, if any, trouble. My lovely granny who owned a pub in Camlough was visiting on that occasion. As the parade passed our garden she waved and was acknowledged by a lot of the marchers as many were her customers. I remember thinking she was like the Queen. I loved my Granny and I used to visit her often and stay with her in Camlough.  She would also come and stay with us in Rostrevor. I was devastated when she died.
The fifties were a quiet time but we did have a taste of what was to come.  One night a loud explosion shook our house. A bomb had blown up a U.T.A bus in the nearby depot.

Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor

Ann Allan: Me and the Beeb.

After the birth of my second child in 1977 it did not take an Einstein to realise that we were going to have to add to our income. In 1979 six months after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister interest rates hit 17%, the highest since records began in 1694. Yes 1694. Now that may have been wonderful for those with savings but for those of us with a mortgage it was crippling. So it was decided that I should look for a part time job. Not the easiest proposition with two children and no family living near enough to babysit.


So operation ‘find a job’ went into action. The Belfast Telegraph had a jobs section on a Thursday night and every job was scanned in great detail to see if anything would suit.

Nothing suited and I began to panic. The car was becoming a liability and we really couldn’t patch it together any more. Which reminds me of an embarrassing incident.

In those days, most mornings the car needed a push to get it going. Gordon cycled to work leaving me the car to do the school run, but he always started it to make sure it was ok. On this particular morning it wasn’t, so he called me out to sit in it and steer while he pushed. Still in a nightie and with a flimsy dressing gown on I got into the car. After a few minutes pushing, the engine sprung to life. Take it up to the top of the park, Gordon shouted, it will charge the battery. I did so and as I turned at the top of the road the car stalled and refused to start again. No mobile phones in those days.

I knew Gordon was on his way to work and there were two young children alone in the house. There was nothing else for it. I got out of the car and in my flimsy night clothes charged down the road, tears tripping me, trying to ignore the motorists who were wondering who was  this mad women. I swore I would take the next job I saw whether I liked it or not as long as we could get a new car.

But I digress. One evening, after all hope of finding anything suitable was fast disappearing, an advert appeared on TV. They were looking for Interviewers for BARB, the audience research department of the BBC. It seemed ideal. I could arrange it around play school, primary school and Gordon’s lunch time. And I could work in the evenings. 
I applied, got an interview and headed confidently into Broadcasting House. There must have been about 40 others there and my confidence began to wain.

I see you have two children Mrs Allan, the lady from the Beeb said, Who will look after them?

Sorry, I said, Why do you want to know?

In fact I went further and said I’m not sure you are even supposed to ask that.  Would you ask that of a man? 

Part of me was saying, shut up Ann, you want this job but I couldn’t let it go.

My children will be fine I said. Oh well I said to myself as I left the Beeb at least you got an interview. Back to buying the Belfast Tele.

You can imagine my surprise when that evening I got a phone call offering me the job.

Being an interviewer in Belfast in the troubles was problematic, to say the least. Many interviews were carried out door to door. Suspicion was rife. Was I secretly trying to find out if the household had a television licence ? 

Was I trying to find identities of those in the household? Many refused to give names which meant after doing a whole interview I couldn’t use it.  The introduction ‘I’m from the BBC ‘ didn’t always go down well as in some areas the Beeb was seen as biased against certain communities. 

Many interviews were on the street and I would park the car along side where I was interviewing and on days when I was stuck for someone ( Gordon) to keep an eye on the kids they would sit in the car.  Fifteen interviews a day for five days on a quota basis meant chasing the last two or three interviewees to fill the quota. Usually the hardest category to find. 
However there was plenty of work and I threw myself whole heartedly into it. I must have impressed the bosses as out of the blue I got a telephone call from the big boss in London, offering me the post of Assistant Supervisor for the southern half of Northern Ireland. 
This entailed being on duty two mornings a week, dealing with queries, interviewing new staff, accompanying new interviewers, but the best bit was that every two years during the time I worked for the Beeb I got a trip to London and to the BBC.

Now I have never been a good flier so on my first trip I opted to travel by boat. When I mentioned the trip to my mother she mentioned it to my aunt and they decided they would accompany me. They would shop while I ‘worked’’.  I happened to say to a friend where we were going and it turned out he was driving to London on business around the same date. He offered to take us with him so we traveled from Liverpool by car.  It was turning into quite a trip. 
It turned out to be a very stormy night. The three of us had a cabin with bunk beds. My mum and I were violently ill. I can still see my aunt, perched on a top bunk,  opening a plastic container full of tomato sandwiches and trying to get us to eat one so as ‘ to line our stomachs.’ On her third attempt I lost it and told her where to stuff her tomato sandwiches.

We arrived in London late afternoon and booked into our hotel. After the boat trip I felt like I was constantly tilting to one side. Not a great feeling. Went for a short walk outside and passed Jeremy Thorpe. The notorious M.P. Later that evening my brother who was in London on business arrived at the hotel intending to stay the night. There were no rooms available so the hotel moved an extra bed in with my mum and my aunt and my brother got mine. This was turning into a right family affair.


The next morning I left the oldies with my brother and I took the tube with my NI colleague into the city and we made our way to Broadcasting House.
 After an information session we went to a nearby Italian restaurant lunch where believe it or not I had my first Italian meal. Profiteroles for desert. What a treat.

The afternoon was spent in the special effects department in Television Centre where we were able to smash bottles over each other’s head. Made of sugar glass  of course. So interesting to see how it all worked. Costume department was next.  Beautiful period costumes made for the dramas that we were seeing on tv in the eighties. 
We then were taken to the news room where the 6 o’clock news was about to go out. We were able to sit in the  viewing gallery and watch. It was, on that occasion,  read by the late Peter Woods. Although I was unaware of it at the time it turns out that Peter Woods was a distant relation. 

On our way to the green room for dinner we passed through the Top of The Pops studio where a show was about to go out. The audience was being warmed up and the acts appearing were the Nolan sisters and I think Cliff Richard.

After a lovely dinner with an after dinner speech from a young Michael Burke we headed home by tube exhausted after a long day.

The next morning I headed back to Broadcasting House to collect my expenses for the trip and then headed off to look for a pair of white shoes for my 6 year old who was a huge Shaking Stevens fan. I actually found them and he was delighted. He loved to imitate Shaky which I know will embarrass him now.  He did a great version of Green Door. In the afternoon my mum, my aunt and me headed for the Paris theatre for a recording of a radio programme which I’ve forgotten the name of but it was hosted by Sue Cook and Clive James was on the panel.

In the evening we met up with my friends and headed off to the Savoy theatre to see Noises off.  Not sure whether it wasn’t as funny as was made out or we were unsophisticated culchies from Northern Ireland and didn’t appreciate the slapstick humour but it was a unanimous decision to leave at the interval and head back to our hotel.

Next morning we headed for the station to take the train to Holyhead where we caught the boat to Rosslare. Thankfully it was a calmer crossing than the trip over.

This was the first of two trips. If I’m self distancing for the rest of the summer I may recount the second trip when I almost bumped into Rolf Harris!








Ann Allan: Memories 25 (1977)


As we settled down on New Year’’s Day to watch Charlie and the
Chocolate factory we were unaware that the year was going to be once more dominated by violence, another workers strike and the 
emergence of the notorious Shankill butchers. Many of the IRA targets were now business men, the majority of whom were gunned down at their place of work. 


Saturday 1 January 1977

A 15 month old baby boy was killed in a car bomb explosion at Harmin Park, Glengormley, near Belfast. The car bomb had been planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and an inadequate warning given. 

I was heavily pregnant and still trying to make our new home habitable. We hadn’t exactly been given a rousing welcome to our new community. One of our neighbours( who turned out to be the bane of my life, and of others), worked out that I was a catholic. She told another neighbour that it was ‘ such a shame to see Catholics moving into the gardens’  She assumed we were both Catholic. Many years later I had to send her a solicitors letter as she started making wild accusations about us. But that’s a story for another day. 

I rarely made a visit into the city. The worry of a bomb going off and the hassle of being searched and waiting in queues to get into shops was too much to contend with at this stage of my pregnancy.

We had eventually got the storage heaters working. While it was  
great to have heat it was impossible to set them and as a result they were either belting out heat on a mild day and not enough on a cold day. However it would be another couple of years before we could afford central heating. 

Louise and her cousin were now attending play school three mornings a week. It gave me a chance to get some rest before the arrival of baby no 2. In those days there were no scans so it was a complete surprise as to whether we would produce a boy or girl.  It was difficult picking a name so on a Saturday evening a week before the birth while watching Starsky and Hutch we decided on Paul Micheal, if it was a boy.  Starskys real name. Charlotte if it was a girl. But with the amount of kicking I was convinced it would be a boy. When it came to the baptism we added on Samuel after Gordon’s dad.

On Saturday 12 March 1977 my waters broke and after a reasonably short labour Paul Michael Samuel Allan arrived. Husbands weren’t allowed in to the delivery room in those days so Gordon was phoned in the middle of ‘Match of the day ‘to say that his son had arrived.  I needed stitches and filled with gas and air I can remember to this day with some embarrassment, asking the doctor if he darned his own socks.



Friday 29 April 1977

Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), warned in a statement that if the British authorities failed to alter its policies then loyalists might have to consider taking over the administration of Northern Ireland.

This time the men at the shipyard didn’t back the strike nor did the workers at Ballylumford as Paisley couldn’t get widespread support.


Paul was baptised in St Bernadette’s.  We didn’t have a church to identify with at that time and we were not yet ready to advertise the fact that we were a mixed marriage.  Again we all came home to our new house to a cup of tea and the usual accompaniments. There were no glasses of wine or alcoholic drinks mostly cause we couldn’t have afforded them and drinking in the middle of the afternoon wasn’t the done thing.

Paul was a placid baby who continually smiled. Not sure whether this was because I didn’t fuss as much as I had done with no 1 but he still has that placid nature and smiles a lot. Okay,  so he’s 42 now!

In June of 1977 Anglia TV showed a documentary which was supposed to have aired on April Fools Day but for some reason it was delayed. It was narrated by ‘scientists ‘ who claimed that the Earth‘s surface would be unable to support life for much longer, due to pollution leading to catastrophic climate change. Physicist “Dr Carl Gerstein” (played by Richard Marner) claimed to have proposed in 1957 that there were three alternatives to this problem. The first alternative was the drastic reduction of the human population on Earth. The second alternative was the construction of vast underground shelters to house government officials and a cross section of the population until the climate had stabilised, a solution reminiscent of the finale of Dr Strangelove. It claimed scientists had already a colony on the moon and were gradually moving there.  To say I was terrified was an understatement. How could they do this and not tell us? What was going to happen to us?  I think it was the next day when it was revealed it was a delayed April fools day hoax . I was so upset I hadn’t noticed the cast list at the end. It was called Alternative 3.

On the 16 August the king of rock and roll died. As a teenager I’d watched all his films. His first film ‘Love me Tender’  was the start of many , following the same theme: boy finds girl, boy loses girl: boy serenades girl with romantic songs and wins girl back. Slushy but innocent and very appealing to adolescent girls. It wasn’t a huge  surprise to hear that he had died but such a loss. Great stage presence and wonderful voice. 


Tuesday 11 October 1977

Lenny Murphy was found guilty of possession of firearms and sentenced to 12 years in jail. [It was later revealed that Murphy was the leader of the ‘Shankill Butchers’ a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang which was responsible for the killings of at least 19 Catholic civilians.]

As in other years the IRA announced that there would be a ceasefire at Christmas. This would be broken on 13 January 1978


Ann Allan: Episode 24: Moving back to Belfast in 1976


 1976 was an eventful year in my life and another terrible year for violence. I was astounded when I checked out my usual source at CAIN and discovered just how violent it was.  1976 was the year that the young Maguire children and their mother were mowed down and killed by a car driven by an IRA member, when the car he was driving went out of control after he had been shot. This lead to the setting up of the women’s peace movement.



Sunday 4 January 1976

Six Catholic civilians from two families died as a result of two separate gun attacks by Loyalist paramilitaries.  Three members of the same family, John Reavey (24), Brian Reavey (22) and Anthony Reavey (17) were shot at their home in Greyhillan, Whitecross, County Armagh. [Anthony Reavey died on 30 January 1976.]  


Louise was now 18 months and the idea of a brother or sister was being mooted. I guess there must have been another of those Christmas parties in 1975 because around the end of January 1976 I discovered that I was pregnant again.   I didn’t feel like I had felt with Louise but every pregnancy is different and so I put it down to that. 

 Around the end of February beginning of March I realised that’s things weren’t going too well. I was advised by my consultant to carry on as usual as it would make no difference to my losing or keeping the baby.  Gordon’s mum had been summoned to look after Louise as I had a good idea what was about to happen. However it got so bad that I was soon back in casualty where I was told that I had already lost the baby. As it was very early in the pregnancy, it wasn’t as traumatic this time as I had Louise and I hadn’t felt pregnant from the start. After a small op I was home the next day and back to normal fairly quickly. 

I don’t think I have mentioned in much detail that Gordon was studying. He had left school to follow me to Belfast and as a result never completed his A levels. Being eligible for day release in the Civil Service he had completed his HNC and was now studying for a degree. This entailed two nights travelling to the Ulster university. It was hard for both of us. I had long days and long evenings. He worked long days and then had to study. So a decision was made that we should start looking for a house back in Belfast where I would be nearer friends and he’d have a shorter distance to travel.

One of my neighbours had moved to East Belfast. One day while visiting her, we went for a walk along the Upper Newtownards Rd. We passed by parks, gardens and avenues all with period style houses build in the late twenties and I knew this was were I wanted to live .

My friend also had a daughter slightly older than Louise and as a result we got the hand me downs. I wasn’t proud as we were living on one salary and every little bit helped. A visit to my friend resulted in a new wardrobe for Louise.

I found out I was pregnant again in July. On a lovely summer day in the garden of my home in Rostrevor I told my mum. I told her I was very apprehensive after what had happened and hadn’t said anything to the family. But it was out now and everyone seemed happy. 

Compared to my pregnancy with Louise, this one was a doddle. Thanks Paul.  No morning sickness and he was the right way up. 1976 was one of the hottest summers on record. Days of glorious sunshine with no rain


Friday 2 July 1976

item mark Six civilians, five Protestant and one Catholic, died as a result of a Loyalist paramilitary attack on the Ramble Inn, near Antrim, County Antrim. The attack was carried out because the public house was owned by Catholics.

In the meantime I was following up on houses in Belfast and in September of 76 saw a house that looked promising in East Belfast. We went to visit and though it needed a lot of work we could see the potential and the proximity to Gordon’s work at Veterinary Research made it ideal.  As I knew quite a lot of people in Comber at that time it quickly went round that we were thinking of moving. Lo and behold a knock on the door and we were offered the price we were going to put it on sale for and the deal was completed without estate agents involved. We were able to proceed with our dream house knowing that our own was sold.

I woke up on the morning of the move. It was early December. The temperature outside was -10 and the frost was thick on the ground. I was 6 months pregnant and I thought to myself I don’t want to go. I was warm and cosy and I knew what the day had in prospect. However I roused myself and got on with the move. 

With the help of my brothers we got moved. To say say the new house was freezing was an understatement. There was no heating and only a coal fire which took a lot of coaxing to light.  The kitchen was sparse with a sink and draining board at one end. It was filthy into the bargain and though heavily pregnant I got down to a deep clean. Bear in mind that the temperature was still hovering around -10.

We had bought 3 storage heaters from an advert in the Bel Tel. They were in Ballymena. I don’t think we realised how heavy they were. The ice actually helped as they slid across it. However they didn’t work. It was weeks before they worked. Christmas was cold that year. A year of very contrasting temperatures.


Saturday 25 December 1976

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) held a three day ceasefire over the Christmas period (25 to 27 December 1976).


References : 



Ann Allan: Memories 23

0A53743C-D669-49A5-B59C-9284B2B06421Christmas and New Year had passed quietly because of the ceasefire. It was such a great feeling to know that for a few days at least the New Year could be celebrated without fear of violence

We enjoyed Christmas in front of the television and enjoyed Some Mother’s do ‘ave em; The Generation Game with Brucie and the Mike Yarwood show.  It was a more innocent time and the programmes could be enjoyed by the whole family.

Friday 17 January 1975:

 The Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) ceasefire came to an end. Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that he would not be influenced by arguments supported by the bomb and the bullet.

Tuesday 21 January 1975:

There was a series of bomb explosions in Belfast. The attacks were carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

 Two members of the IRA were killed when a bomb they were transporting by car exploded in Victoria Street, Belfast.

I was gradually getting used to my life as a stay at home mum.  I have to be honest and admit that I found it quite tough. As an outgoing person who had thrived in the work place and enjoyed the camaraderie of coworkers it was tough.  Gordon was working in Belfast and doing night classes two nights a week so days were long.  He also worked overtime every Saturday to help us survive financially. I relished the company of my neighbours. We only had one car and we lived about a two-mile walk to the village. I was definitely fit in those days. Every afternoon the baby was wrapped up and pushed in a large ‘Princess’ pram into Comber. As well as being fit I also had a face like a beetroot. The walk in was against the wind and as soon as I got into the heat again I beamed like a Belisha beacon.  Very attractive. 

Being at that time a wishy-washy Catholic we still decided to have Louise baptised. More so that we could have a family do, than the religious aspect.  She was christened in the same robes as my mother had been baptised in.  No hotels after, just back to the house for sandwiches, mushroom patties and sausage rolls.   After that church going waned and I was a Catholic in name only. Since my treatment by the church re my wedding venue, I was very sceptical about the church and was also beginning to doubt my faith. After years of saying rosaries, attending mass and being made to go to confession, I was again questioning the hold the church had over us. I can never understand how people I know have respect for the Catholic Church. I had seen enough bowing and scraping to priests. I refuse to be one of them.

Around February I was introduced to a girl who lived in the next street. She too was breastfeeding and was a member of La Leche league.  We became friendly and to cut a long story short we ended up on Radio Ulster on the Gloria Hunniford show doing a

Portrait of British television presenter Gloria Hunniford, circa 1975. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

phone-in on the subject. A great experience. I just wish we had mobile phones in those days so that we could have recorded it. It was such a pleasure to meet Gloria before she left N.I. and became a big star. As a result of the show, we did the rounds of Ante- natal clinics encouraging other young mums to have a go. It was a great success.

In June, the local Presbyterian church advertised a beautiful baby competition.  We couldn’t resist it. We entered Louise and she won. A £5 voucher for the local chemist was the prize. We moved rather quickly when we saw the minister coming to congratulate us and to no doubt check out what services we attended.  Felt a bit guilty. No I’m lying we didn’t. I think the cute little mop cap helped.0C0BFD28-66BB-4BA4-A3C2-FE441F8D5863

In July we headed to Bunbeg for a week’s holiday. We stayed at the Ostan Gweedore in Bunbeg.  Not the most glamourous of buildings but the view and the food compensated.  It was one of George Best’s favourite hang outs though I have to say I never saw him there 43B09EF9-C2AF-4E5C-8329-D42465E3DAC8on my many visits. The Boyle family ran it as a family hotel and the beach with its wrecked boat became an iconic place to have a photo taken. My family was there, so we had some built in baby sitters – a luxury for us. Louise was in a baby walker and had a great time pushing herself along the corridors. She preferred that to walking. The views from the hotel were wonderful and as we strolled up the road to the village we were met by the smell of burning turf fires.4ACE3A68-2E4D-4164-A46E-BD41E150B0B3

One night after settling Louise we went down to the bar to find John Hume and his wife along with Paddy Devlin and Phil Coulter.  A sing-song ensued and I will always remember John Hume singing The Town I Loved So Well with Phil Coulter playing the piano. A memorable night. Again, a pity there were no mobile phones. It’s so sad to see that the hotel is lying derelict waiting for a buyer to restore it.

 Thursday 31 July 1975:

photograph of Miami Showband membersThe Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out a gun and bomb attack on the members of the Miami Showband. Three members of the band were killed and one seriously injured during the attack.

The holiday turned out to be more expensive than we thought and on return we received a letter from the bank saying we were overdrawn and the bank manager would like to see us.  Yikes!  We got a warning about being overdrawn and the need to be more careful.  So I took on a part-time job with the local newsagent, Miskellys. Every Sunday morning for 3 hours I sold the Sunday papers and got £3.00. I actually enjoyed it and felt more like a part of the community. People would now recognise me on the street and stop for a chat.  The wage from this together with my ‘dole ‘ money helped to keep us solvent.

Saturday 22 November 1975:

Three British soldiers were shot dead in a gun attack on a British Army observation post near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

Around November I got a letter to say that I had an interview to return to my job in the Civil Service. I had to go and hoped I wouldn’t be offered it but I couldn’t resist putting my best foot forward and as a result I got a letter offering me the job. I had to decide to either turn down the job or make child care arrangements and return to work. I couldn’t envisage leaving our daughter with someone I didn’t know and so I turned down the job and said goodbye to my £6.00 a week.  A few extra shifts at the newsagent helped us get through Christmas.

Christmas 1975 and Laurel and Hardy were No 2 in the Christmas charts! We were entertained on Christmas night by Christmas Day with the Stars starring Cilla Black. We headed to Warrenpoint to have Christmas dinner with the in -laws. We hoped for a quiet New Year but it was not to be.

Wednesday 31 December 1975:

item mark Three Protestant civilians were killed in a bomb attack, carried out the People’s Republican Army (PRA), a covername used by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), on the Central Bar, Gilford 

Another horrific deed to end the year!


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


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 markSix 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. A chronicle of the troubles 1973







Ann Allan:Memories No.20 1972

3 Jan 1972: The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb in Callender Street, Belfast, which injured over 60 people.

30 January 1972: Bloody Sunday refers to the shooting dead by the British Army of 13 civilians (and the wounding of another 14 people, one of whom later died) during a Civil Rights march in Derry.

I trust and hope I will never have to live through another year like 1972. It was the worst year of the troubles with a death toll of almost 500 people, half  of which were innocent citizens going about their every day business.  Belfast was a no go area as far we were concerned and we only ventured in from Comber to the city if it was absolutely necessary.
We were well settled in our chalet bungalow and the only thing missing was a washing machine and central heating. I still had to trudge to the launderette to do the weekly wash and our only heating was a coal fire. Coming home on a cold winters day the coat stayed on until the fire was lit. Eventually my dad came up trumps as he knew a central heating installer who did the job for a reasonable price. The day we returned home, opened the B809Y9front door and were greeted with a lovely warm house was a day to savour. Had to wait a bit longer for the twin tub however.
Rathgael House in Bangor was now the home of the Dept of Education. As the year went on it became a fortress with sellotape stuck on the windows in case a  bomb exploded. This was to protect us from flying glass. There were searches at the front door. Telephoned bomb scares where commonplace and would result in us being evacuated from the building, just in case. There were designated employees who searched the premises every morning on arrival and every evening before leaving to make sure nothing untoward had been left in the building.
Our move from Dundonald House to Bangor meant a change in staff and I became friendly with a girl who worked in the same office. I found myself agreeing to myself and G. going on holiday to Ibiza with her and her hubby. So from Christmas on it was save, save, save. In April, Joe Walsh tours

( remember them), were paid in full and we couldn’t wait to get away.

Saturday 5 February 1972:  Two IRA members were killed when a bomb they were planting exploded prematurely. A man died from injuries received in an explosion six days earlier.

Thursday 10 February 1972: Two British soldiers were killed in a land mine attack near Cullyhanna, County Armagh.
An IRA member was shot dead during an exchange of gunfire with RUC officers.
We were busy cultivating our little vegetable garden in Comber. Encouraged by G’s dad we sowed out lettuce, cabbage and potatoes. We looked at them with pride every morning. This was our version of the Good Life. All went well and the imagelittle plants punched their way though the soil. Not long now and we’ll be eating our own produce, we thought. But the rabbits had other ideas and we came out one Spring morning to find that apart from the potatoes there was nothing left. The Good Life worked for Tom and Barbara but not for us.


4 March 1972:The Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast was bombed without warning. Two Catholic civilians were killed and over 130 people injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) did not claim responsibility for the bomb but were universally considered to have been involved.

We flew into Ibiza around 7 July 1972. The heat smacked us on the face as soon as we stepped off the plane. A bus was waiting to take us to San Antonio abad.  We discovered our fellow travelling companions and those staying at Hostel Mallorca were a motley crew from, at that time, a deeply divided city. Some from the Shankill some from the Falls and ourselves from Comber and Bangor respectively. Did we disagree ? Hell no!  We all got on like a house on fire ending up most nights in the bar singing Irish songs including the Sash and other rebel songs.
When I say we all got on there was one fly in the ointment. My friend unbeknownst to be was a fussy eater. At meal times she turned her nose up at everything and ended up living on mainly water melon for the whole two weeks. She also didn’t like water very much so the  glass bottomed boat didn’t go down well. Secretly,  although I didn’t admit it, I wasn’t too happy with it either. A trip to the old city of Ibiza to viisit the hippy stalls caused her nose bleeds as she stumbled on a host of tiny

We did the touristy thing and went to a medieval banquet at Barbacoa Cova Santa. But she wouldn’t eat anything in case it wasn’t properly cooked. It was delicious. She did however like lying in the sun and so we took a boat trip out to Calla Bassa where I fried and spent a miserable afternoon lying on the beach.

Calle Bassa Ibiza

26 May 1972: The Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted a bomb in Oxford Street, Belfast which killed a 64 year old woman.

Warning: don’t go on holidays with someone you don’t know very  well. Two weeks can be a long time on holiday.  I checked Google and the hostel is still there although the uninterrupted view we had of the sea seems to have disappeared since 1972. The area looks tacky and not as I remember it. Back  in the seventies the Bee Gees had a home on Ibiza and we were entertained in the evenings in the local pub by the youngest brother Andy who, like his other two brothers died an early death in 1985. Andy played at night in a local night club and although I’ve heard his brothers sometimes sang with him we didn’t see them. The record being played in most night clubs in Ibiza was Seaside Shuffle. I danced with one of the group when they made an appearance at one of the clubs. Didn’t go down well with the hubby, especially as he asked if he could leave me back to my hotel.

Heading home, we arrived in Dublin airport in a thick fog ( second landing in fog). We took a couple of attempts to get down the  Captain informing us that he was going to ‘attempt‘  a landing. I had the paper bag out and was praying he would just go back to Ibiza. We almost took the old airport building with us and as a result I have only  ever flown once since and that was in a  snow storm where we circled Gatwick for 40 mins.

Newspapers took a few days to reach Ibiza in 1972. No TV. No internet. No mobile phones. No news from home for two weeks, so it was heartbreaking to arrive home to hear what had happened on what is now known as Bloody Friday. After a fortnight where we had all mixed together irrespective of religion and political alliance we were back to the reality of what life was like in NI in 1972.

In this blog I have purposely mixed the two lives that people lived in the 70″s,  the ‘life must go on attitude’ with the horror of ‘living through the troubles.’


Friday 21 July 1972: ‘ Bloody Friday’ is the name given to the events that occurred in Belfast on Friday 21 July 1972. During the afternoon of ‘Bloody Friday’ the Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted and exploded 22 bombs which, in the space of 75 minutes, killed 9 people and seriously injured approximately 130 others. In addition to the bombs there were numerous hoax warnings about other explosive devices which added to the chaos in the streets that afternoon.  A chronicle of the troubles 1972

Ann Allan: Memories No 19: 1971. Good Times, Bad Times


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 imageshots 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, imagesomething 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 imageshots 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.

'Until you remember where you put the ladder, be quiet!'
‘Until you remember where you put the ladder, be quiet!’

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. imagePersonally 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.

Ann Allan:Christmas Past and Present.🎄


Morcambe and Wise, Val Doonican, the not so politically correct Black and white Minstrel show, Noel’s presents, theses  shows entertained us at Christmas for many years. There wasn’t anything else.

Christmas is a bitter-sweet time, it brings good memories and not so good memories. My father passed away a week before Christmas in 1989 ending a year which was one of the worst of my life. To hear Adeste Fideles brings a lump to my throat as I have happy memories of him singing it with great gusto every Christmas.

But I prefer to dwell on the happy memories. Today I’m having a look back at Christmases past.  Over the years Christmas has changed for me as it does for a lot of people, every few years taking on a different way of celebrating depending on family circumstances and obligations.
In Rostrevor in the fifties, Christmas was a fairly sombre affair. We still had rationing, not that I remember much about it other than when we went shopping we took our ration book. Sugar and butter, which we needed for the Christmas cake, we got down South and smuggled them across the border. There was no hopping out to Marks and Sparks in those days, everything was made from scratch. We had a real tree with very antiquated decorations. Lights on the tree were bell-shaped, painted  with characters from Disney. There was a lot of tinsel. Decorations were like mini accordions, made of paper that unfolded and were then slung across the ceiling from wall to wall. The tree was topped with a huge orange star which I tend to remember had an orange bulb inside to light it up.image

As the younger brothers and sister arrived I took more responsibility and my role was to make the stuffing and the trifle and set the table for dinner. Carol singers came round the houses on Christmas Eve. There was a special feeling around our house at Christmas that I’ve always found hard to recapture. I think through the eyes of a child it is a magical time and that magic disappears as the reality of what life is really all about clicks in.

I was allowed to go to midnight mass at aged eleven where the choir would sing the mass in Latin and the Hallelujah chorus was glorious. On one occasion as we came out into the cold night, snow was falling and turned the village into a Christmas card. When we got home my dad would cook sausages and onion soup and then we’d put out the younger sibling’s toys.  Magical!
After the turkey dinner, washed down by all colours of lemonade, everything was called lemonade in the fifties, we played games and listened to the radio. We did have a TV from around 1955 but I don’t think there were programmes on Christmas Day.
We rarely had to buy a turkey. In fact there were often up to three hanging in the pantry. Dad was a great billiards player and always won a turkey in the local competition at Christmas. My dad being a surveyor meant we got lots of presents from local businesses, including a hamper from Fortum and Mason which arrived every year for many years. My first introduction to dates was from that hamper.
My first recollection is of Christmas Eve sitting in the kitchen listening to Radio Eireann where Jimmy O’Dea presented a programme in which we were told that Santa had just set off from Dublin.  Jimmy then gave  estimated times of his calling with ‘good little boys and girls’ over Ireland. After trying hard to stay awake I would wake up next morning to a few presents at the bottom of the bed. The excitement! An orange, some sweets and a large net stocking full of small puzzles and tiny gifts. We were made up. Compare that to tablets, iPhones and computers. I remember being told that one Christmas I awoke to find a walking -talking doll at the bottom of my bed. Instead of being delighted I threw a tantrum and sulked all day because I really wanted a pram. I believe my dad could hardly wait to see my face when I saw the doll. It was almost as big as myself and when you held its hand it walked and talked. It was not meant to kneel which is what one of my friends tried to make it do and bang! the head, the arms and the legs flew off. She ran and left me ‘holding the doll’.image
This routine continued year in year out until I got married in 1970. Then things changed. My husband Gordon’s  mum and dad had no family in Northern Ireland as his sister lived abroad, so for many years after, either they came to us on Christmas Day or we went to them. It began to feel obligatory and we weren’t free to celebrate the way we would have liked. When the children came along they wanted to stay at home and play with their toys but most years and as the in-laws got older we made the trip to Warrenpoint.

On one occasion when they were visiting us and just before they arrived we popped across the road to a neighbour’s house. After a few sherries, well maybe more than a few, I went home and put the turkey in the oven.  After many hours in the oven dinner was ready to serve. That’s a funny shaped turkey, I said to the hubby. Not much meat on the breast. Reminds me of that duck we had one New Year,  I’ll be having a word with that butcher on Monday. I scraped enough meat to put on the plates and hoped nobody would want seconds. Later on that evening while making sandwiches I turned the turkey over and discovered I’d cooked the bird upside down!

Over the years with the arrival of children Christmases were special occasions. We skimped and saved to make sure that they got what was on their Santa list. Looking back it was pretty modest compared to the grandchildren’s list.  Now I Pad pros and Mac airs are being bandied about as presents. I feel the spirit of Christmas is dead and buried. It’s now a commercial enterprise with the hype starting earlier and earlier each year. We stock up with enough food to feed a small African village and most of it gets thrown out. Do we really need 6 different vegetables and three desserts and carrot salad?  Many put themselves into debt so that their children don’t feel left out when they hear other kids boast about their presents. Being grandparents we are amazed at the money spent on presents but we are as guilty of indulging the ‘little darlings ‘as everyone else.


I make a point,  however, in not sending cards, not wrapping presents and buying a couple of goats for a needy Africa. These by the way can be bought from Oxfam or Trocaire.  So I just pull all the pressies out of a black plastic bag. Everyone sees what everyone else has got. Most satisfying.  Nothing to clear up.


However you spend Christmas I hope it’s a good one. Hopefully 2019 will be a calmer year politically. Maybe our politicians will come together and form a functioning assembly. Maybe Brexit won’t happen. Maybe Trump will be indicted. We can only hope.

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Ann Allan: Memories No 18 The Honeymoon’s Over.


Our first morning of married life in our new flat was disturbed by a phone ringing in the communal hallway. After ignoring it for a while (we weren’t in from our travels until 2.a.m.), I went to answer it. It was my mum checking that we had got home safely.  I was naïve enough to think that as a married woman (girl) my mum would stop worrying about me. Now, as a mother and grandmother, I realise that the worry never stops. Anyhow on wakening (we were too tired to wonder how the bed got made up) we realised that various bits of furniture had materialised, the wedding gifts had been unpacked and put away and the place looked quite homely.  An envelope sitting beside the bed contained a cheque for £100, a gift from G’s mum and dad.

The telegrams ( olden day texts ) were also there.  Ironically there was one from the Parish Priest who had caused me such unhappiness, wishing me all the best for the future. I wonder how he would have reacted to the fact that we are still together 48 years later.  

We headed for the city centre to buy furniture. Do you remember Donaldson and Lyttle  furniture shop? Well we headed there and for our £100 we were able to buy a wardrobe, dressing table, four Ercol dining room chairs and a small ‘ cottage’ suite. We couldn’t wait for it all to be delivered. In a week we had become an old married couple. We settled down to married life, the two of us and the mice. We weren’t aware of them until one night while watching the telly ( a black and white set from Radio Rentals) I noticed something moving in the corner of the living room. The scream I let out could only be heard by any dogs in the immediate vicinity. Suffice to say there was a large family of them and for the next few months I was reluctant to return to the flat on my own.

Meanwhile on the political front, the SDLP had come into existence. The British Army which had been welcomed by the Catholic community was now seen as the enemy and soldiers were being killed. Charlie Haughey was found guilty of importing weapons destined for Northern nationalists .

Rioting on the streets was common practice in 1970. I wouldn’t like to guess how many busses and cars were burned. Parts of Belfast began to resemble a war zone. Night life practically came to a halt. It was noticeable that the number of large groups from across the water were avoiding Belfast. So TV became the main source of entertainment. We had Morecambe and Wise, Cilla Black and Val Doonican keeping us entertained. Over the coming months there were nights of continuing riots and we fell asleep to the sound of petrol bombs and occasional gunfire.
As it was becoming difficult to be sure of crossing the city in the morning to get to our workplace, (the hubby was on the Stoney Road and I was in Dundonald House), we decided we needed a car. We headed to see the bank manager and were able to borrow the princely sum of £325 to get our new wheels. Not having a clue about cars, I left it up to the hubby. He came home with a Mini Cooper of indeterminate age and condition from Mervyn Stewart’s who were I believe in Gt.Victoria Street at the time. Like many businesses in the 70’s a bomb later destroyed the showroom.
We were over the moon with our new car. We were so excited that we offered to bring my mum and my mum-in-law to see a play in Portadown.  One of my work colleagues was appearing in it. We duly arrived to pick them up and started off to Portadown. Now they say that pride comes before a fall and we were extremely proud of our new purchase. With about 10 miles to go to our destination there was a thud followed by a scraping noise. Gordon stopped the car, got out and was gutted to find the exhaust pipe lying in the middle of the road. Oh the embarrassment! We arrived somewhat late for the production after a patch up job on the exhaust.
We settled into a routine and Saturday was shopping day. A local grocery store was the venue and the bill for my weekly shop rarely exceeded £6. No luxuries and no carry outs. Basic food and very few occasions to eat out. We had no washing machine so a couple of nights a week were spent in the launderette in Botanic Avenue. No central heating, no microwave, how did we manage? To save money, we traveled home to the parents at the weekend, got well fed and waited on.

We had the car for a couple of months and after the necessary repairs it was going great. In fact it was quite a mover. We were able to park right outside our bedroom window. The bedroom being at the front of the flat and the flat being on the ground floor. Ok, I know you all realised that. Anyhow one morning we headed off to work. I went out first. Gordon, I shouted, where did you park the car?   There was a space where are car should have been!

Morris Cooper 1970 S MkI
Morris Cooper 1970. CC !

Cars were parked on either side of the space.  Our car was gone. We phoned the police and were stunned when Gordon was asked where he had been at 2 o’clock the previous night. Apparently our car had been used as a getaway car for an armed robbery on the Antrim Road. When it was eventually returned we discovered a jemmy stuffed down behind the passenger seat. Obviously a thorough search by the RUC!

When I look back on it now we were both very young to get married.  But it wasn’t unusual, back in those days when women were still treated as second class citizens, for young women to see their future as married with a family. I even had to resign from the Civil Service on getting married and had to reapply for my job.  I think we were quite lucky in that we had both lived independently from our families for a number of years and were used to budgeting and looking after ourselves.  It must have been difficult getting married, leaving home and straight into managing a household. As we headed into 1971 we had hope that things would improve and peace would return to Northern Ireland. How wrong we were.