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.


Ann Allan: Memories No 13 Getting the Ring.

At the beginning of 1969 the introduction of the Age of Majority Act was the signal for our decision  to plan our engagement.  By the end of the year we would be able to get married without parental permission. Up until now twenty one was the age of consent so we couldn’t have got married without permission from a parent. When I think back it was just as well it happened then or we would probably have been married at Gretna Green as elopement seemed to be the only answer. I’m not sure Gordon ever proposed to me it was just something we drifted into. The most romantic thing he ever said to me in those days was that I was like a fungus … I grew on him. Well he is a Virologist


My mother suspected something was up.  Could have been the Bride’s magazine in my weekend case that gave the game away.  My father was unaware of the seriousness of the romance but I think he would have rejected any possible suitors until I was at least 30 and it still wouldn’t have been a prod or so I thought. He suspected I was still going out with Gordon and I had to listen to him lecturing me about the dangers of a mixed marriage. Being a devout Catholic he was against divorce and contraception and anticipated all sorts of problems.  It wasn’t his fault,  it was how he had been brought up. Contraception and divorce were wrong. Says a lot for how he thought my romance would survive. When I finally broached the subject and asked if I could bring Gordon to meet him he refused. I eventually got through to him how serious the romance was but he steadfastly held his views. This led to many heated arguments.

In the late sixties I attended a Manfred Mann concert.  I think it was 1969. It was in the Floral Hall and was a freezing night as I recall but the hubby-to-be borrowed the father’s car and we drove up the Antrim Road in style. He was supposed to be playing badminton in Newry but I gave him five shillings towards the petrol and he diverted to Belfast. Mike D’Abo had taken over from lead singer Paul Jones.floralhall2historygallery

The hall was beautiful and I remember the ceiling in particular but at nineteen I didn’t appreciate its grandeur. I was in front of the stage and more interested in the group. Not sure whether we went outside for a ciggie or a snog but the doorman wouldn’t let us back in again. We ended up listening to the rest of the concert though an open window at the side of the building. I can now appreciate its Art Deco style and would love to see it restored to its former glory.  We have some beautiful Art Deco buildings in Belfast going to wreck and ruin. Another one is the Bank of Ireland in Royal Avenue. Shame on Belfast City Council. Another observation from those days of the Floral Hall, the Astor and the Orpheus. All religions mixed together and nobody queried what religion you were. Venues like this tend to encourage integration.


Meanwhile we were getting on with our plans to get engaged. The first big problem was how we could afford it. Gordon’s monthly salary was £28, mine around £26. Out of that we had to pay our rent, electric, food and bus fares, clothe ourselves and entertain ourselves. So we decided to split the cost. The ring cost £60 so saving £5 per month each we could get engaged in June.  Looking back on it now we looked like two twelve-year olds as we headed into Brownes in Church Lane to choose the ring.   But we were streetwise and able to look after ourselves having flown the nest at such a young age.

Unfortunately the troubles were still brewing in the background

The People’s Democracy marches were being attacked by both police and loyalists. This resulted in the formation of ‘ Free Derry’  as the residents sealed off the Bogside in order to protect themselves.

Terence O ‘Neill tried to make concessions to the Civil Rights movement but Loyalists called for his resignation and he resigned.  Such a pity.  He did his best.

Following the explosion at the Silent Valley there was a second explosion at a water pipeline carrying supplies to Belfast. [It was later established that the bomb was planted by Loyalists who were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). Much of Belfast was without water following the latest explosion] Cain . Chronicles of the Troubles.

Although most of the violence came from the Loyalists in 1969 it wouldn’t be long until the violence was coming from both sides.

Despite the violence ‘operation save for an engagement ring ‘ was underway.  On a beautiful sunny day in June, we drove G’s granny back to Limavady.  She had been staying in Warrenpoint with the family. Much as we loved her she was a staunch Baptist so there was no watching TV on a Sunday and no Sunday newspapers so we were quite happy to bring her back to Eventide Gardens.  We detoured to Belfast on the way home making use of having the family car. The ring had been chosen previously and it was being sized. We needed to pick it up.  We stopped in High Street on double yellow lines hoping to quickly collect our purchase in R A Browne in Church Lane.  ‘Oi, you can’t park there’ came a voice.  Yes, there were traffic wardens in Belfast in 1969.  We explained that we were going to get engaged, that our parents were unaware and we needed to get back with the car.  ‘Ok,’ he said , ‘off you go, I’ll give you 15 minutes.’   He did. We collected the ring and headed back to break the news to the two families who were unaware of what was about to hit them. I couldn’t stop smiling and admiring my ring all the way back to the Point.

image The first stop was G’s house where the news was accepted with good grace.  Despite the hugs and kisses there was a definite holding back. I knew they were having doubts about this Catholic interloper. Later I heard that G’s mother had been counselled by friends that there would be loads of children as I wouldn’t practice contraception. We would be living from hand to mouth apparently feeding and clothing these imaginary kids. But the announcement went reasonably well. The biggie was still to come.

Gordon dropped me off at my house. I decided it was better that I told them on my own. My mum was in the kitchen and I showed her my ring.  I can’t honestly say she was over the moon but she didn’t explode. My dad was in the back yard and I went out showed him the ring and told him I was engaged. ‘ I don’t want to see it’ he said. ‘ I want nothing to do with it’ he said. ‘ I don’t want to hear about it’ he said.  I was heartbroken but determined not to let him see.  ‘Fine’ I said.  Things were very cool for the next 24 hours.  We barely spoke to each other.

At 3pm the next day Gordon called for me in his dad’s car.  As was normal he didn’t come in.  ‘Go and tell G. to come in’ my mother said.  I looked at her in amazement. ‘Take him up to the sitting room and introduce him to your father’ she said. My legs turned to jelly and I felt my heart speed up.  ‘Do as you are told’ she said,’ it will be fine’  Gordon was reluctant to come in but after a bit of persuasion he agreed.  ‘This is Gordon’ I said.   Well!  If he didn’t shake him by the hand, ask him to sit down and start chatting as if he was a long lost friend. I was flabbergasted, in fact my flabber had never been so gasted.  Daddy had been brought a watch from Hong Kong which had somehow managed to evade customs.  We were told not to talk about it, so we knew that Gordon had been accepted when he was immediately shown and told the story about the watch.

imageIn a few minutes the preceding four years meant nothing.  I have no real idea what my mother said to my dad that changed his mind.  But I have an inkling that the fact that on two occasions they had nearly lost me may have been a factor. My parents accepted Gordon whole heartedly into the family that day and that was how it remained.  However there were others who hadn’t given up on trying to separate us. Tell you about that next time.


Ann Allan: Memories No 12: Tension Rises in Northern Ireland

We have reached 1967/68 in my ongoing saga.  In 1967 my favourite pirate radio station Radio Caroline was outlawed.  In America thousands were protesting about the war in Vietnam. Flower power was everywhere and Scott McKenzie was singing about ‘going to San Francisco.’   In the Middle East,  Israel went to war with Syria,  Egypt and Jordan now called the ‘six day war.’  My sister-in – law and her family were evacuated from Beirut.  I remember talk of another world war.   It was a scary time and there was talk of petrol rationing because of the oil embargo.

In Autumn of 1968 I decided to go and visit my friend Moira who was now at college in Nottingham. I had enough to pay the air fare and I remember asking my mum for some spending money. She gave me £3 and that plus the £2 I had already,  lasted me the weekend. I left in the evening from Aldergrove ( now Belfast International airport). I got a fright when I saw that the plane had propellers and looked a lot different from the jet I had flown in to France. We had to fly to Dublin pick up passengers and then continue our journey to Nottingham. I remember taking the hand of a poor man sitting beside me and holding on like grim death during take offs and landings.  Spent the weekend at a party! Got a bus back to Castledonington on the Sunday night in thick fog to find we were being bussed to Birmingham. Arrived back late to find Gordon waiting for me on the tarmac. That was the arrival area in those days.

The romance was still going strong.  We were living in Belfast and we both went home on the bus to Rostrevor and Warrenpoint every weekend.  With none of today’s communication devices available Rostrevor seemed a long way away.  What a rush it was to get from Dundonald on a Friday evening to Gt. Victoria street station. There, with a lot of other commuters we took the bus to Newry.  In those days the express stopped in Hillsborough, Dromore, and Banbridge. The M1 was completed in 1968 and that made the trip a little quicker.

'That's my dad...Director of Homeland Security.' ‘That’s my dad…Director of Homeland Security.’

Of course when we got to Newry my dad was usually waiting to bring me home to Rostrevor.  Gordon had to wait for a connection as we couldn’t be seen together. We spent weekends like two MI5 agents syncronising times and places to meet.  On one occasion we saw my dad’s car coming and Gordon flung himself over the shore wall. Thankfully the tide was out. On a Sunday evening I would be left back up to Newry to get the bus back to Belfast, cases full of clean laundry, packet soups and always a couple of tins of Heinz sponge puddings.  Unknown to my parents, Gordon and I would then stand outside the old Ardmore Hotel ( now the police station) and hitch a lift back to the city. On one occasion when I wasn’t going back, Gordon and JT hitched a lift only to find it was with three of the Moody Blues who were on their way from Dublin to Belfast. Very nice lads was the verdict. They were a big group in 1968. I wouldn’t recommend hitching these days but it was grand in those days and it saved the bus fare.IMG_2439
My days in Dundonald House were taking its toll on my health. Not used to central heating I was having tonsillitis every few months. My absences were being noted by the ‘ establishment ‘ branch ( now Human Resources) and it was decided there was nothing else for it but to have the tonsils out. Not a nice prospect when you are 18. I was admitted to the Mater hospital for a tonsillectomy. It was my first time in the Mater and I can remember the resemblance to an old workhouse. I awoke after my op trying to climb up the Venetian blinds that covered the window beside my bed. It was hard to swallow and when I did it was hospital cartoonlike swallowing razor blades. I had few visitors as travel wasn’t easy in those days but Gordon was there come hail or shine. I went home four days later to recover. I weighed 6 stone and 7 lbs. The good thing about having my op was that my mum seeing how devoted Gordon was during my recuperation softened a bit and allowed Gordon to phone and to call when my dad wasn’t there.

It shows how naive we were in 1968 when we didn’t even notice when one of the girls in the flat became pregnant. We were conscious of the fact that she was putting on weight but put it down to eating too much. When she didn’t return after a weekend home we became aware of her condition. It was a warning to the rest of us. Some of my flat mates were shocked as pre -marital sex was frowned upon in 1968. I’m saying nothing!!  When my mum heard about the goings on there were suggestions that I should get a transfer to Newry and come back home. No way José was my reply.

It was a great time. We had parties, we went to the Astor the Orpheus, and the Queen’s hops.  We  went to see all the visiting groups who came to the ABC and to the Floral Hall. We ate out at restaurants like The Cotter’s Kitchen, The Skandia and the Wimpy Bar. We had by 1968 moved to Fitzroy Avenue.  Only one of the original girls from St. Paul’s Hostel in Bryson Street remained so we teamed up with two girls from Derry and moved in to our new accommodation. By coincidence the flat above us became vacant and Gordon,  JT and two of our friends from Warrenpoint  decided to rent it. It was a grand arrangement. I did a lot of cooking if I remember rightly.
There had been simmering tensions in NI since 1964 which we were completely oblivious to, wrapped up as we were in our own little world. Ian Paisley had set up the UPV in April of 66 and the UVF declared war on the IRA in the same year. A Protestant and two Catholics were killed by the UVF but we were still unaware of the deteriorating situation.

It was brought home what was happening  when in October the two Derry girls returned after the weekend back home where a civil rights march had taken place. They told us of  how  the civil rights march had been stopped and how they had seen marchers beaten by the police. They became active in the People’s Democracy group and were at Burntollet when it was ambushed.
In those days it was the UVF doing the bombing and I remember the night the Silent Valley reservoir was bombed. The noise was heard in Belfast and it was terrifying. I never dreamed  that the ‘troubles ‘ would last for thirty year and I would bring up two children during that time. I believe it could have been sorted out in the late 60’s had people been more magnanimous and agreed that equality was necessary. Personally I feel that Ian Paisley bore a large responsibility for the violence of the following thirty years.

Meanwhile Gordon and I had decided we would get married. Brilliant idea seeing that the age of consent was 21 and my father hadn’t even met my intended but I’ll tell you next time how that all panned out.


Ann Allan: Memories No 11 London Here we Come.


1967: Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association founded in Belfast


In September 1967 I agreed to go on a holiday to London with one of my flat mates. Her sister lived in Clapham and she was very happy to put us up for the fortnight. My romance was still going strong but the temptation to see London was so great that I was able to leave him for a couple of weeks. We booked our tickets on the Belfast to Heysham ferry. I think it was around £3 for a return but we were unaware when we booked that we only got a seat out on the deck. However, it was a lovely September night and although we were unable to sleep it was a pleasant crossing. We arrived at Heysham early in the morning and were herded on to a train that would take us to London’s Euston station. If I remember rightly the carriage had to reverse to Morecambe to couple up with our train.IMG_2409

We were running on adrenalin and by the time we had arrived in London we had neither eaten nor slept for eighteen hours. But it didn’t matter. We were overawed by the iconic sights we were seeing as we made our way in a London cab to our destination. We passed the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace and it felt unreal. We were in London in the sixties and it was going to be brilliant. It was the summer of love, flower power  the Beatles and Carnaby Street. On arrival at Eileen’s sisters house we collapsed from sheer exhaustion and slept for 3 or 4 hours. On wakening we were so disoriented that we hadn’t a clue where we where. But on hearing a radio broadcasting from the capitol we realised where we where. It all seemed so unreal to two 18 year olds from
Belfast. The following day we couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring. We got directions to the nearest tube station and the route we should take into the centre of London. So we left from the tube station at Camden town on the Northern line, passing through Goodge St and Warren St and changing at Tottenham court on the central line. This took us to Oxford Circus and central London. We headed for Oxford St and were amazed at the number of people and the different nationalities we encountered.


Laughing I said to my friend “we’ll never meet anyone we know here in the middle of Oxford Street. ”  Two minutes later we met a young man from Newry who was working at Broadcasting house.  He was as surprised as I was. We had been friends back home during our school days. His name was Edgar Martin and he went onto work for the Beeb in Belfast.
The mini skirt was just becoming fashionable in Northern Ireland in 1967 but the problem was that with stockings and suspenders they were neither modest nor practical to wear. So it was with great excitement we purchased our first pair of tights in one of Oxford street’s  large department stores. Oh the joy of dispensing with the roll on and stockings and the great feeling of comfort with tights. I brought my mum a pair even though they were quite expensive. No more worrying about going upstairs with someone trying to look up your skirt. No more looking for a button or threepenny bit ( ladies of a certain age will understand ) and our bottoms were a lot warmer. Not so sure it went down well with the male population. Mary Quant had a lot to answer.338B76DF-B635-4183-A94B-3512DF80EE80

We spent our days visiting the tourist sites and became experts at using the underground. We got caught on two occasions without a ticket. Funds were running low but we pleaded ignorance and got away with it. I loved the underground. The smell and the rush of air as a train was coming. The convenience of getting around. Not so sure I’d feel the same today.

Carnaby street in the 60s was one of my favourite places. The smell of incense, the strange fashions, the music playing. It all added up to create a wonderful sense of the change that was happening in the sixties.  As I said it was the era of flower power, hippies and free love.  We felt we were so part of the scene . I visited it again many years later but it had changed. Much more commercialised and contrived.
I had my first ever real curry in London. Unfortunately my only experience of a curry was a Vesta curry so I was unprepared for the heat. I had set out to meet my best friend Moira who was living in London at the time. Imagine, negotiating my way round London on my own. She took me to an authentic Indian restaurant and ordered a Vindaloo. I really thought I was going to die. I didn’ t realise that drinking water actually made it worse and with streaming eyes and lobster red faces we both gave up and headed for a Wimpy.

A visit to London had to include a visit to a club. The Whisky a ‘gogo in Wardour St. ( I believe it is now an Irish pub) was decided on.  I ‘m not sure we got in there and I think we ended up in the Marquee club. From what I remember it  was bright and garish with a lot of red plastic chairs. I’m surprised at 18 we were allowed in. We sat down and I think we had an nonalcoholic drink. A young man of African descent sat down beside me and started chatting. He told me he was an African prince. His father was a king back in Nigeria and he was in London looking for a wife.  Although I don’t think I was the one he was looking for the title of Princess Ann was quite appealing.


A visit to Epson where I lost a shilling on a horse was another highlight. It was the first and last time I have ever been to a race course but it was exciting even though a shilling was a lot to lose in 1967.
After an exhilarating fortnight it was time to head back to Belfast. The gods and the weather, however, were not on our side on the way home. A force 8 gale meant that sitting out on the deck wasn’t possible so we were allowed inside. I spent most of the night lying on the floor in the ladies being sick and praying that the boat would sink. When we reached the lough and the boat stopped swaying it was like heaven.

IMG_2408As I was going home to Rostrevor (there was only one phone call home in the two weeks so, I had to see the parents), I had to make my way from the docks to Gt. Victoria St in order to catch a bus to Newry.  I think I had enough  money left to get a taxi to the station. I must have dropped off to sleep on the bus because I awoke to see two young boys on their way to school gazing at me over the edge of the seat. One was asking the other if he thought I was dead. By the time I reached home I was beginning to wish I was but it was worth itevery minute of it.  And mum loved her tights.

Ann Allan: Memories No 10 Belfast in the late 60’s

Thinking back on my days in Belfast in the late sixties brought back many memories as to how alive the city was in those days. After my spell in East Belfast, myself and a few of my friends moved to the university area. Thanks to a sub from my father, we were able to put a months deposit on a flat in Cromwell Road. I think it was a tenner. It was a peculiar setup with us renting the ground and second floor and three other girls had the first floor. The landlady was a buxom woman from Donaghadee, a staunch Presbyterian with a pint-sized husband who followed at heel, occasionally muttering ‘yes dear’. It was obvious within a week we were not suitable tenants. However we had signed a six month lease and we were going nowhere.IMG_0131

Our local drinking hole was the Regency Hotel and many nights saw us heading out for a drink. Unlike today’s youth I had my first drink at 17 and that was either a Dubonnet and white lemonade or a Babysham.2904192609_775c066f0e_o
One of our ex Lord Mayors, Dixie Gilmore had a shop on the corner of Lawrence Street. We lived royally on Cadbury’s smash, vegetable roll and baked beans from Dixie’s shop. His beautiful Sri Lankan wife would let us owe a penny or two till the end of the month if our money ran out.  Dixie became Lord Mayor in 1987.

Belfast had many good restaurants in the sixties. When payday came around we treated ourselves at the Quic Snac in Shaftesbury Square ( wonderful omelettes). A newly opened restaurant opposite the Black Man called the Scandia was the ‘in’ place to go and the Chicken Maryland and the Strawberry Pavlova ‘ were to die for’. I still miss the Skandia. Other popular eating places were the Chalet D’Or (gorgeous pork chops).  Cotters Kitchen ( great home cooking) and the Wimpey Bar in Wellington Place.

UnknownTheir hamburgers and their waffles were delicious. I think they were the first place to introduce tomato sauce in a plastic tomato. Oh! The sophistication. McD’s were such a disappointment when they arrived. Tasteless meat in cardboard.

Lots of groups visited Belfast in those few years before the troubles started. Older readers will remember Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky,  Mick and Tich, the Troggs, Merseybeats, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Manfred Mann and Cream. The Beach Boys, Gene Pitney I could go on and on.

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When there were no groups playing this was the era of the show band. The Astor and the Orpheus echoed to the beat of all the big bands , such as the Freshmen, the Hilton Showband and The Miami Showband ( many members tragically murmured in 1975). I think Monday night was Astor night and Tuesday and Thursday were Orpheus nights. Wednesday night was the Queens Hop in the student union.

E1FE0443-D879-4C7C-8A5C-B650867DE977 2DE092C34-0DF1-40DD-BC21-10013B8E6547 2Which reminds me of something and I blush even thinking about it. Surprisingly while the future hubby was still at school in Newry and I was up in Belfast I did have a few admirers. One such admirer invited me to a Queens hop and with permission from my beloved I agreed to go. On the day of the hop I’d had a temporary tooth fitted and set off for the hop feeling that it was quite secure.  (Why have teeth played such a big part in my life? ) While dancing with my date I noticed he was looking at me peculiarly. As  I leaned over to ask what the problem was, my temporary tooth became dislodged and fell on the floor. I felt the colour rise and madly searched the floor for my tooth. It wasn’t hard to see cause in those days they used ultra violet light for effect. The down side was that it showed up everything white including white underwear and yes, a false white tooth. Can you imagine the effect every time I had smiled, my one tooth had been shining like a beacon. No need to ask If ever saw Gerry again. No, not that Gerry!images

On another occasion, heading out to the Regency for a drink, I wasn’t ready when everyone started to leave. Just out of a bath ( there were no showers in flats in those days) I hastily pulled on a dress with buttons that opened down the front. No bra. Well I was only 7 stone in those days. Sitting in the Regency I stretched over to lift my drink and the buttons popped and I did my one and only topless to my fellow companions.  Oops!!  When not out enjoying what the city had to offer we often sat up at night playing whist and poker. Falling into bed at 2 a.m and hearing the alarm go off at 7 am to get up for work or uni. was no joke. Zombie like I crossed the city normally missing the signing in book at work by a few minutes.

Towards the end of our tenancy agreement one of my friends who was at the  art college decided to have a music session in the flat. Unfortunately it went round the art college like wildfire. Yes,  we managed in those days without Twitter. I think it was called face to face communication. So many turned up they were singing out in the street. Bodhráns, guitars, tin whistles. Boy the craic was ninety. It was like St Patrick’s Day in the Holyland. ( A student enclave in Belfast for readers not familiar with the Holylands). Mrs H was phoned by an irate neighbour and she arrived next morning to find a couple of her armchairs halfway up Cromwell Road and about six squatters of indeterminate character sleeping off hangovers in the front ‘parlour’. We were given our marching orders. The shame of it. Still we were young and within a few days we had secured a new home.  I hope she managed to get rid of all those discarded milk bottles in the back yard! We moved in to a beautiful flat in India street,  above the late John Anderson, a well known hairdresser in the sixties in Belfast.  Another chapter of my  live had begun.

Ann Allan: Memories No 9 Welcome to the real world.

Over the next eight months there were many clandestine meetings. At the weekends I would return home to Rostrevor.  A trip to Newry on a Saturday afternoon was spent in Foster’s coffee lounge. Fosters was a family department store with a lovely restaurant. Russian tea was very much in fashion. It was basically black tea served with lemon but we thought at seventeen we were very sophisticated and so Russian tea became the drink to be seen with. They also served the most delicious lemon meringue pie. Many happy hours were spent there, planning IMG_0223for the future. Saturday evenings were spent at the local cinema, the Aurora. The owner, George Tinnelly, was an old romantic and knowing our story allowed me to hide in the shop in the foyer until Gordon arrived, just in case my dad was on the prowl. He became a facilitator for our Saturday nights over the next few years.

Life  was difficult at the weekends. There was constant scrutiny as to where I was going and who I was going with and I had to plan my meetings with Gordon with military precision. Back in Belfast in 1966 there were few means of corresponding. The hostel had a phone but it was always in use.  Phone boxes were not always IMG_0226available or had large queues of people waiting to make a call.  Writing was the other means of correspondence. So we started writing to each other. I still have those letters. Reading back on them now I see how immature we were during that first year. However I still read them from time to time and they bring back such happy memories.

Over the next eight months before Gordon moved to Belfast we managed to see each other at least once during the week. During the week Gordon would borrow his dad’s car to go and play badminton. Now I know this is not legal but he learned how to put the mileage clock on the car back and he then headed for Belfast. His dad thought he was playing badminton locally. I couldn’t wait until the next morning to check the news and be reassured that there were no accidents the previous night. On one occasion he met a car coming towards him on the wrong side of the motorway. Scary times.  I was earning the princely sum of £29 per month so  I supplied the ten shillings for the petrol. Many a night was spent at Shaw’s Bridge sitting in his dad’s Wolsey Hornet. Other nights we went to concerts or the ‘hops’ at the students union. On one occasion he took a mutual friend from Newry with him. We went to see Cream at the students union. The concert ran late and her mother became concerned. She rang my mother and explained that her daughter had gone to a concert with Gordon and Ann in Belfast. Merry hell broke out.


Apparently there were phone calls to the hostel but as it was after midnight no one answered.  But come the morning I got a right earful and more pressure to break up with Gordon.There were many incidences like that but we were a real couple now and no one was going to break us up.

I was working in Dundonald House at that time.  I had arrived straight from school and was totally bewildered with the officialdom present in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It was quite stifling. Many employees were ex army officials and ran their sections                                                                                        like a regiment. My Head of Section came in to work in uniform one day a week ( she belonged to some section of the Territorial army ) but it was off-putting in a work environment. I was also told that she had prided herself in having an all Protestant section until I arrived and upset the apple cart. Such was the ethos in NI in the late sixties. Sexual harassment was also a big problem but there were no laws in those days and most of us had to put up with it. On many occasions I had to fight off older men in positions of power who thought it ok to chase you round the office and in some cases pin you down on your desk. Inappropriate comments were common place. I remember one particular gentlemen ( I use the term gentleman loosely) who I dreaded. He took a shine to me and would send for me to come to his office. He was badly injured in the war and was disfigured. He would leer over the desk and ask me for a kiss. Thankfully he couldn’t move very quickly and so it was possible to move out of his way when he lunged at me. But it was not a pleasant situation and complaining to higher ups was greeted with ‘There’s life in the old boy yet’. Sexual harassment was not treated with any seriousness in the 60’s or 70’s.

I grew up quickly back in those days. I began to get restless living in a hostel. Myself and a few friends I had made started looking around for a flat. We reckoned that there would be a good social life in the University area and so we moved to Cromwell Road. Not long after our move we got to go to our first formal as a couple. One of my flat mates attended the Art College and Gordon and I accompanied her to the annual formal. My dress was a beautiful green sateen with the price tag of £6 and I loved it. I think I got a few more formals out of it. Oh to be that weight again! Looking at the photo now we look like twelve year olds! IMG_0211

When Gordon  moved up to Belfast in July of 67 and he found a flat nearby we had no choice but to become adults living in the real world. Budgeting, cooking and cleaning.  But we were still only 18 and despite all the opposition to our romance we had some good times before the troubles started.

*If you have been a victim of sexual harassment and need confidential advice please click here