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 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. 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.

Thank you for your support on my YouTube channel and on my Chatter account. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.






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.

Patricia Cole: The Arrogance of Youth

My mother Patricia Cole passed away in 2006. I came across this ‘blog’ in which she described her time in London at the height of the war in 1944. I was amazed at how her style of writing was so like my own. I hope you enjoy it. I know she would have been delighted to see her words in print.”

We were interviewed in Belfast – good secretarial qualifications and a broad education were required – we satisfied the requirements. It was in early Spring 1944 and the four of us, the three Bradley sisters and myself ‘ imbued with the spirit of youth and adventure’ arrived in London to join the staff of the American Forces Network.

The journey via Larne -Stranraer-London was a nightmare.’ U-boats ‘ bobbed up and down as the ship made its way down the lough. We listened with racing hearts as the Captain gave instructions as timageo what to do if the ship’s bell sounded four times.  Getting into a life jacket was a difficult and uncomfortable manoeuvre. The train journey was no different as just outside London the train stopped. We were informed that an air raid was in progress and it was then that I began to have doubts about leaving a comfortable home and a reasonably good job.

At Euston station we were met by a representative of the Women’s Voluntary Service who had arranged accommodation for Una, Joan, Norah and myself. We were taken by underground to Oxford Street by a Mrs Slator.  Standing at the top of the escalator looking down at that moving steel animal I was petrified. ‘ Be sure to step on, don’t catch your foot ‘ advised Mrs Slator. I can still remember the fear and that stayed with me for almost a year after I arrived in the war-torn, doodle bugged London.image

We had promised our loved ones that we would stay together and we were lucky. Motherly Mrs Slator escorted us to Muswell Hill and into a big comfortable bedroom containing a double bed and two stretcher beds. We must have been asleep for hours when the dreadful drone of the air raid siren awoke us. Mrs Slater was yelling for us to either go to the garden shelter or scramble under the stairs.

My kindly old aunt had given me a small Pond’s cold cream jar filled with ‘holy water.’ It had been a source of embarrassment to me when I opened my case for security when getting on the boat. At three o clock that morning it became a comfort to all of us, the Slater family included, even though they were Church Of England.image

The following morning we took a bus to Marble Arch and walked to the side entrance of the Grosvenor House Hotel. The Americans had taken over the back portion of the premises. We entered a reception room where there were quite a number of other girls. Una and Joan, being older and more sophisticated, were delegated their duties quite early. Norah and I waited and waited and to our horror we were informed that a miscalculation had resulted in an over recruitment of personnel. I felt absolute despair for the first time in my young life.

Is your journey really necessary?   This was the slogan we read as the stations flashed by. We were en route to Manchester. For two weeks we had slept under the stairs or out in the shelters as merciless flying machines crossed over Muswell Hill. It would take too much space to relate our misfortunes, suffice to say we all had suffered enough.image

How we got tickets for the train remains a mystery. There was a ban on travel  – no homeward sailing from the Mainland and only a distance of sixty miles from London. We arrived in Manchester at 12.30 a.m.having missed our connection at Crewe. The other passengers, mostly Army and Navy personnel, disappeared quickly leaving us girls standing on an empty platform in the middle of a city were all transport ceased at 11.00pm.

Una remembered that her mother had sent a Christmas card every year to an Uncle Frank who lived in Blackley. We were rather tentative about turning up on the this man’s doorstep but decided we had no option. Listening to our conversation, an elderly lady porter interrupted. ‘ Not tonight dears, you will have to do with the night shelter.’

She walked with us to the entrance of the shelter and we followed her up a bare stone stairway. We paid one shilling each for a bed and were shown into a long stone covered room, much like a dormitory. The four of us occupied one cubicle sitting on our cases and hoping we would still be alive in the morning. We imagethought of home and how arrogant we had been when we had been cautioned about our undertaking. It was the worst night of my life. We were offered numerous swigs from bottles of what we presumed to be wine. When we refused we were admonished for ‘ being too good for the likes of us’

We left at six a.m. It was almost dawn. After a wash in the station washroom and as it was Sunday, like good convent girls we looked for a church. We sat at the back, noting that it was full of soldiers. A priest was delivering a sermon in what we took to be Polish. In the comfort of the church, knowing that here we were safe, we all fell asleep.

I was awakened by an old Priest shaking my shoulder. He asked were we were going so early in the morning. imageUna told him we were heading for Blackley and asked him if by any chance he knew a Dr Frank McGlade.  ‘ Is it Frank you’re looking for? Sure I know him well. Doesn’t half of Manchester know Frank.’ Within the hour  we were driving up to Old Road, Blackley and into the motherly arms of a silver- haired Scottish lady. Dr.McGlade was friendly but a little distant. Next morning we were quizzed about leaving London. After hearing our story, he rose from the table and rang the authorities in the Grosvenor hotel in London. They admitted that the two of us had been overlooked and that they had tried to contact us to see if we were safe.

It was then that the stern Irishman who had fought in India became a second father to four exhausted Irish girls. We were unable to travel home so we were offered accommodation with this lovely couple and we set about finding jobs. As I had been a law secretary back home I began work with Howard Pink and Co. Solicitors.

It was November or December before the ban on travel was lifted. We immediately applied for tickets but with the demand out weighing the supply we had to spend  Christmas in Manchester.  In the first week of 1945 we sailed for home. Ironically we were treated as ‘ heroines.’ Only our families were told the true story of our wild adventure. Letters were censored in those days so they never knew the truth until we arrived home.

Broadcasting House London
Broadcasting House

Three months later an advert appeared in the now defunct Northern Whig looking for secretaries for the BBC in Belfast. I was interviewed and three weeks later received a letter asking me to present myself at the BBC in London. This time my mother insisted that my brother accompanied me to make sure that both my job and my accommodation were secure. I spent four and a half wonderful years in the Drama Department of the B.B.C. in Broadcasting House,  but that is another story. I was also on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace on VJ day. There was much laughter and singing as the country celebrated being at peace once again.


Ann Allan: Memories No. 17 The Wedding


On the 18 August 1970 the day before the wedding, I had recovered sufficiently from my attack of jaundice to go ahead and get married.  I thought I was ok about the ceremony being in Belfast, but on that morning contemplating the fact that I couldn’t leave to get married from my childhood home I was overcome with grief. Sitting at the breakfast table bawling my eyes out my mother thought I was having second thoughts about the wedding. I think it was a build up, of all that had happened coming up to the big day. I reassured her that all was ok, it was just an attack of nerves. I had to head for Belfast in the early afternoon and I had also to make sure that I had everything I needed with me. I couldn’t just hop back to Rostrevor. We had a ‘viewing the presents night’ the previous night and due to the generosity of my guests I had enough tea sets, toasters and Pyrex casseroles to open my own store. Well before the days of Ikea.  I also had some beautiful pieces of Waterford Crystal all of which remain intact to this day.

There was no hen-do. They weren’t the done thing in those days but there was a stag night. It had taken place in the Rose and Crown on the Ormeau Road a few nights earlier. Thankfully I wasn’t there to witness the aftermath which I believe was quite ‘lively.’ The groom and his best man JT slept over in a friends flat and I believe had breakfast in the nearby Wellington Park Hotel. No nerves there.
The morning of the wedding, Wednesday 19 August was warm and sunny. There was only myself and my two bridesmaids in the flat. Unlike today’s brides, there was no hairdresser, no make up artist and no spray tan. I applied my own makeup and you would have hardly noticed that the whites of my eyes were still slightly yellow. 😀  The flowers arrived on time. The cars were at the front door. All I needed was my dad. He arrived in the nick of time with my little sister. An army checkpoint had delayed him. I came downstairs to the front door. The little old lady from the flat downstairs was the only one there to see me on my way. I know if we had been at home the villagers would have been out to see the bride departing.

The city had been quiet for a few weeks. Rubber bullets had been fired for the first time at the beginning of August. The British Home Secretary had threatened to impose direct rule if agreed reform measures were not carried out. Sound familiar? Not much has changed in 48 years. Hard to believe.
As we made our way up the Crumlin Road to the Holy Cross Church at Ardoyne we were escorted by two army Saracens out on patrol. In my wildest imagination I hadn’t anticipated having an escort to the church, especially from the army.  When I stepped out of the car, Gordon’s Uncle Billy was waiting with his cine camera. Billy and his wife Chrissie were the only two of the Scottish contingent to brave the situation and travel to Belfast. Not sure whether it was the fact that Gordon had succumbed to the charms of a Catholic that put them off or the situation in Belfast but the Allan side was under- represented. However thanks to Billy the wedding was recorded for posterity and I’m going to let you have a look.

As I tried to say my wedding vows I teared up and it was obvious to the congregation I was very emotional. After all we had been through we were finally here. My little sister who was kneeling behind burst into tears and had to be consoled by one of the officiating priests. I learned afterwards that my wedding caused controversy within the clergy in Ardoyne. Why? Because Fr. Marcellus gave communion, both bread and wine, to Gordon. It was unknown in those days for a Protestant to receive communion and some were not happy about it. I think it confused the congregation even more. Some must have been wondering what foot he actually kicked with. God knows what Granny Fallis, a card-carrying Baptist must have made of it but the old girl said nout and appeared to enjoy the day.


The reception was lovely. Everyone enjoyed their meal of dover sole, lamb and raspberries in Curaçao. Not together of course. Everyone but me, that is. I still couldn’t eat and had to be content with an omelette. There was no after party. To entertain the guests my lovely cousin Siubhán played the harp beautifully. No disco, no dancing and no late night.

Gordon had been treated to drinks all afternoon and by 6 pm he was ‘rightly’  I decided it was time to leave. My going away outfit was made by my mother in law. A dress with a jacket. She was a wonderful dressmaker. As I was leaving one of my aunts came over to say goodbye. ‘ We’ll be praying for you’ she said. I pictured the guests falling on their knees and offering a decade of the rosary after we left.

We were leaving on the midnight flight to London that evening.  Yes there was one from Aldergrove in those days. It cost £5 for a return ticket.  We waited in my aunt’s house on the Glen Road where Gordon got something to help sober him up. I didn’t mind flying then but I was a bit nervous and wondered if it was an omen when lightning hit the plane on the way over. We arrived in London after two in the morning. By the time we got to our hotel on the Cromwell road it was nearly three. To say the hotel was underwhelming would be an understatement. There was no lift and our room was on the third floor. No en-suite and the room was basic to say the least. But the next morning we discovered that there was a coloured TV in the lounge and we’d never seen one before.  We were very impressed and wondered if we would ever have one ourselves. We spent a few days sight-seeing and went to see Paint your Wagon in the cinema at Leicester Square.

'Oh, those are just for show. We don't have electricity.'
‘Oh, those are just for show. We don’t have electricity.’

On day three we headed for the train at Victoria Station. We were going to Calais on the hovercraft from Dover and then by coach to Ostend. That was a strange experience. We were flying along on the top of the waves but couldn’t see out. We were strapped into our seats and weren’t allowed to move for the 30 mins. With a lot of others, we piled on to a coach that would take us to Ostend. The driver called out the names of the passengers to make sure we were all there. As I had booked in my maiden name that was the one he read out. It was 1970 and the looks we got were hilarious. We both looked very young which added to the interest of our fellow passengers.

Ostend was probably an unusual choice for a honeymoon but it was picturesque and I loved it. We traveled into Holland for a day and the weather was lovely. We also visited a beer festival which featured the ‘dancing waters’ Don’t ask! The trip to Ostend cost £15 each and that included transport and hotel !

The honeymoon was soon over and we headed home. Northern Ireland was shrouded in autumn mists when we arrived home.  That was 48 years ago, I’m not sure it has totally emerged from them yet.


Ann Allan: Memories No 16. The Best Laid Plans…


imageSo the wedding was moving from the country to the big smoke. Ok, Belfast. But there were a lot of pea soupers in those days. Some nights the fog/smog was so bad that you could see little in front of you. However I digress. The focus had shifted and new plans had to be made. The new church had been booked as had the new hotel but that was it. In those days deposits were unusual and so cancelling the original hotel hadn’t been a problem. ( If you haven’t read Memories 15 you won’t have a clue what I’m on about! )

The original hotel I had picked for my reception, Ballyedmond Castle Hotel was raised to the ground by a firebomb left by the IRA in 1979. I was so sorry that I hadn’t been able to bring my guests there. Rostrevor was minus another hotel yet again, the Great Northern Hotel also having  been destroyed by a firebomb in 1978. My sister in law had her wedding in the Great Northern. Such a beautiful setting, backed by the woods and the mountains and sitting by the edge of the sea. What a waste! Today fifty years later Rostrevor has no hotel, though plans have been drawn up and awaiting investors. The destruction of two well-loved hotels didn’t bring us any closer to a United Ireland. But I’m digressing again. Great Northern Hotel Rostrevor
At the  beginning of July the wedding preparations were put in motion for the second time. Invitations were printed and sent out. Most guests were surprised at the venue but didn’t comment.

With my parents living in Rostrevor, a good two hours drive in those days from Belfast, it was left to me to make most of the arrangements. I was given the name of an organist who, if I remember rightly, lived in Brompton Park. We had no transport in those days so we made our way up the Crumlin road on a bus. Thankfully it was a peaceful day and we were lucky to get there and back without any trouble.  We picked a few hymns. Panis Angelicus is the only one I remember. I would walk up the aisle to Handel’s Largo and we would walk down to Mendelson’s Wedding march.

Photos were next. There was a photographer in Church Lane that I had passed many times so he was duly booked. There was little discussion as to what photos should be taken and as a result there was not one photo taken in the church, apart from signing the register. The photographer was unused to photographing in a Catholic Church and was unaware of protocol. I laughed later when Fr.Marcellus said that he could have stood on his shoulders to get a good photo if he had wanted.

On Friday 3rd June 1970 a curfew was imposed on the Falls road. This was to last 24 hours while the Army carried out searches looking for weapons. Five civilians were killed. The curfew was broken by women from Andersonstown marching into the area with supplies.

Meanwhile I was getting on with my wedding plans but fate seemed to be playing its part. Gordon had been complaining of not feeling well. He had a very sore throat and felt generally unwell. He was perspiring at night so much so that the bed needed changing every night. He was diagnosed as having glandular fever. Unfit to look after himself ( he was so weak ) and with his parents away on holiday for two weeks, my mum accepted the role of carer and Gordon moved into my family home. My mum had to look after him for the fortnight and it looked  as if he would not be fit enough to get married.

However, totally on my own in Belfast and being the eternal optimist I carried on with the arrangements. There was a flower shop opposite the Europa Hotel. We chose fresh sweet-pea head bands for the bridesmaids and my little sister was to carry a ball made up of sweet-pea. I chose white and yellow roses for my bouquet. I wrote to Gordon every day telling him how the plans were going but there was one event I didn’t mention.image

I was in my flat one evening when I got a shout from one of my flat mates that I had a visitor. He was at the front door. I went downstairs to find an old friend waiting for me. He said that he heard that I was getting married. He asked me to reconsider. I laughed and asked why I would do that. To this day I’m not sure exactly what was said but I know the gist was that he loved me, always would and that I should marry him. I told him I was very flattered but Gordon was the one for me and the wedding would be going ahead. I didn’t see him again for another 7 years.  Didn’t think it was what G needed to know at that time but I told him later.

On August 11 1970 Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed by the I.RA. when they set off a booby trap bomb planted in a car near Crossmaglen.

Two weeks to go to the wedding. Time to go with the parents to Dunadry Inn to finalise the menu. The cost of the menu was two guineas. Guineas were faded out after the introduction of decimalisation in 1971. There were 100 guests and this menu was one of the dearer ones. I returned there on my thirty-fifth  wedding anniversary with the menu but they were unable to replicate it for the same price.image

Transport had to be arranged to take the guests from Rostrevor to Belfast and then onto the hotel. Not everyone had a car in those days but those that had cars offered lifts and the local taxi firm had all its taxis booked for the day. It was then that it dawned on me that with all my arrangements and distractions I hadn’t ordered any cars to take the bridal party to the ceremony so fingers crossed I set off to find a firm with the date free.  Wilton cars on the Crumlin Road came up trumps and a ‘ princess limousine ‘ was duly booked. A call to Ormo bakery on the Ormeau Road guaranteed that a cake would be delivered to the hotel on the day before the wedding.

Flat hunting was also a priority. We wanted something unfurnished and I was lucky after scanning the Belfast Telegraph night after night to find a suitable ground floor flat in Wolseley Street. For £28 a month we would get one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. There was, at that stage, no mention of the sitting tenants that inhabited our new home. But we learned to live with them –mice! The only piece of furniture we had was a bed ( we had our priorities right ). It had been standing in the hall of my flat and as soon as the deal was done it was carried by four male friends from Fitzroy Avenue to Wolseley street.  Gordon was getting his strength back and it looked as if nothing could stop us now.

In 1970 I had to resign from my job in the Civil Service and reapply for it again. I had about 10 days from resigning to the wedding day so on my leaving day a party was held in a local hostelry. I had been on antibiotics for some infection or other and didn’t realise that drink and the pills don’t mix. I woke up the next morning with yellow eyes, sick as a dog and my parents arrived to take me home. Jaundice was the diagnosis!!! Bed rest was recommended.  The wedding was once again in jeopardy.image  Panis Angelicus

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: Memories No.14 Across The Divide

My engagement was a low-key affair. I was happy that Gordon had at last been accepted by my parents but there was no party or champagne corks popping. We celebrated over a cup of tea and I was ecstatic. No more hiding and jumping over sea walls. It was out in the open and the last four years and the angry words were more or less forgotten. However, I still had to meet and introduce Gordon to the extended family.

The extended family included three maidenly aunts, one of which was a nun. They were polite on hearing the imagenews but I could hear the prayers for my soul echoing around the village. I was the first to stray, the first to cross the religious divide and the first in recent times at least to marry a non catholic.  I say in recent times as it’s a bit ironic that years later when researching my ancestors I discovered that the Coles were from Somerset. We were Protestant and we were planters,  arriving in Enniskillen in the 16th century.  Sometime after the 17th Century there must also have been some liaison with the local Catholics and the family split.

We soon realised that Gordon’s family were dubious about the match but were slightly more subtle in their approach. On one occasion when Gordon was in his family home alone, there was a knock at the door. He was surprised to see the local Presbyterian minister at the door. An unusual occurrence. Turned out that he was there to try to talk Gordon out of marrying a Catholic. He got short shrift. I had thought I had been accepted but there was that underlying doubt apparently. However they also accepted me into the  family and were wonderful in -laws.

We returned to work and friends and colleagues were delighted with the news. We were ‘adopted’ by the ladies in the canteen and I hopefully can admit without fear of arrest at this stage, we got very good value for our money every day. We both looked like twelve-year olds and in need of a good feed. They were determined we wouldn’t go hungry while saving to get married. I’m not sure we would have eaten so well if it hadn’t been for them.

In 1969 it was still the practice to have a ‘bottom drawer ‘ so any extra money over the next year went to buying linens, and small items needed to set up home. No such luxury of having a home already set up with dishwashers and washing machines. We either went to the launderette in Botanic Ave or carried the dirty washing home at the weekend where it was washed and ironed ready for another week.

August of 1969 was a frightening time. We were living in Fitzroy Avenue. The second week of August was particularly frightening. There was rumour and counter rumour in Belfast. Rumours that the Catholic community was going to be attacked were countered by more rumours that the IRA was going to defend the Catholics and attack the Protestants. Suffice to say all hell broke loose and we lay in bed over the next few nights listening to the gunfire and the sound of petrol bombs hitting their target. The following mornings palls of acrid smoke hung over the city. Bombay Street had been raised to the ground along with others. Refugee camps were set up along the border due to approximately 6000 fleeing from Northern Ireland. The rest of the year was troubled. Rioting in the Shankill, due to a decision to disband the B Specials, resulted in the death of the first policeman.

We headed home to the country at the weekend for a break and on our return we were diverted down the Falls Road. We saw barricades at the end of many streets. made up of burnt out cars and busses. We were scared that our bus would be hijacked but we were lucky. For the first time we  saw the British Army on the streets of Belfast. They had been called in to defend the Catholics on the Falls and in Ardoyne. Little did we know they would be here for the next thirty years.

During the summer of 1969 Gordon’s niece who was born in Jordan became ill with an undiagnosed illness. She was about 10 months old. She came home to Northern Ireland with her mum and her sister but was admitted to the Royal Sick Children’s Hospital on the Falls Road. The family stayed in Warrenpoint as travelling to the city wasn’t safe.  As it wasn’t possible for her mum to visit, Gordon and I went to the hospital every evening to feed her and settle her in bed. Not exactly the safest place to be visiting but thankfully she recovered and was soon on her way back to Jordan.
In September 1969 the first ‘peace wall’ was erected. This was to be a temporary structure to separate the rival factions. Over 40 years and they have been replaced by permanent structures. In my job as a Housing Officer, I have visited homes on both sides of the divide. No difference in the people on either side other than the religion they were born in to. Same worries, same day-to-day problems. Life made unbearable by the intolerance of some members of one community to the other. I had hoped by now a new generation would have brought about change but it’s slow, very slow, one step forward and two steps back.
But life went on. We were less enthusiastic about going out in the evenings. The groups stopped coming to Belfast. The city was deserted at night. TV became a source of entertainment. We had great friends in those days and had many good times. I remember on one occasion Gordon borrowed his dad’s car to collect a very good friend who was returning from working in London. En- route to home he  revealed a small package which contained LSD.  Stop the car, I shouted. We came to an abrupt halt. Ok, I said, hand it over or we drive to the nearest police station. He duly handed it over and I threw it into the hedge. I like to think I stopped him before things got out of hand. That is the closest I’ve ever been to a banned substance in my life. We still laugh about it to this day and he remains one of my closest friends. Plus he was our best man.  Love you JT.

In 1969 we had the moon landings. Didn’t go down to well when I didn’t go into work the following day as I stayed up waiting for Neill Armstrong to take that giant step for mankind.  The staff officer wasn’t as impressed as I was. Now it’s a big conspiracy theory . Was it real or was it a fake? Conspiracy theorists have been prolific in their theories. All I know is that it was exciting and I firmly believed it at the time. But then I believed that people walked faster in the olden days because of  seeing those old cine films. I also believed that there was an upstairs in a plane for smokers. So I’m easily fooled.

Next time we are into the 70’s and life in Northern Ireland deteriorates even more and I have to stand up to the local Parish Priest.