They were born just as violence was erupting on our streets ... so what did the last 40 years hold for these five children?
They were the New Year babies that featured in the Belfast Telegraph decades ago, just as the Troubles were erupting across Northern Ireland. Rachel Quigley explores how the conflict shaped their lives
Published 11/01/2010 | 11:41
They were the true children of the Troubles, born into a frightened, uncertain and conflict-ravaged Northern Ireland.
A province on the verge of being ripped apart by war, murder, destruction, discrimination and violence.
They came into the world at a time when wide-scale rioting and fighting erupted on the streets of Belfast, when the civil rights movement of 1969 turned into civil disorder. Out of this the Provisional IRA was born, followed by the formation of other terrorist organisations responsible ultimately for around 3,000 murders.
When they were learning to walk and uttering their first words, Ted Heath was Prime Minister, Ian Paisley was elected to Westminster, the SDLP was born and Sinn Fein split, becoming the group we know today. The UDR was formed and the first Provisional IRA bombs exploded. Parades were banned, curfews were imposed, houses were raided, internment without trial was enforced and 13 civilians were killed in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday. It was a bleak time to be born.
Now they are the adults of peace time, living in a flourishing, more vibrant Northern Ireland. A province characterised by peace, change, prosperity and renewed hopes for the future. When violence and discrimination lies in the hands of few and is opposed by many.
They have lived through the worst of times and the best of times, seeing and experiencing things that young people should never have to. They now live in a time when the murder of one policeman dominates the headlines for days, when a suspicious device instills new fear in whole communities and the private lives of politicians become the biggest-selling stories of the year.
Now they are raising their own children, creating their own, personal history. Living lives very different to the ones their parents knew and prospering in a society which, like them, prospers around them. These are the children of the Troubles who, unlike others, have lived to tell the tale. They were children, born at Christmas or New Year, times characterised by joy, happiness and a renewed sense of hope, yet their formative years were the bleakest in the history of the province.
They are the children of the Troubles who survived and grew into adults of peace time.
Jacqueline McKay (39)born Jan 1, 1971
Lives in Belfast with her husband Tony and two children, Amy and Daniel. She says:
My parents managed to shelter me from a lot of things and the Troubles were not really spoken of in our house.
We lived near the old engineering plant, Mackies, on the Springfield Road, Belfast, which was near the peaceline and I gather there was always a lot of activity and rioting around there with people coming over from the Shankill. But again, I don’t remember any of it.
I don’t know if my parents just did a really good job of shielding me from it or if I have somehow blocked it out. But it wasn’t until much, much later that I realised how bad everything was.
The one incident that stands out in my mind is when the living room window was put in. I was lying on the floor and there was glass everywhere. Mum was lying on top of me trying to protect me from the worst of it. I knew it was a bad thing to happen but I just think all that was going on was beyond my understanding. We moved to Dunmurry when I was quite young so we were a good bit away from where most of the violence was taking place. My husband talks about it and it is like we were living on different planets. I must have just blanked it all out.
I do the same with my own children. They don’t really know much about what went on or what still goes on and that really is the way I want it to stay. Mind you, they are a bit older now so I am sure they are starting to understand it more. My son was born on New Year’s Eve in 1995 and it wasn’t that long after the IRA declared their ceasefire.
It was such a relief to know that I was bringing my first child into relative peace time, compared to what I was born into.
I just hoped that it would stay that way for the remainder of his life, and it gave me renewed confidence in raising a family here.
No matter what, though, I’d never have lived anywhere else.
I’ve always been a bit of a home bird and was never academically minded or ambitious career-wise. I just wanted to get my exams and get a job and settle down and that’s what happened.
I’ve worked in secretarial positions most of my life but am not working at the minute.
I’m happy with how my life has turned out. I have a lovely family and everything I wanted. Everyone is healthy and happy and that is the main thing.
Northern Ireland has changed a lot. You still see policemen and Land Rovers but you don’t see soldiers anymore. I wouldn’t want my kids exposed to that type of thing. There does, however, seem to be a lot of other crime now — you’re always hearing about rape or robberies, and that’s worrying. But I don’t think growing up here during the Troubles has done me any harm and I’ve never wanted to move away.
Paul White (43) born Jan ,1 1967
Lives in Belfast. Works at the city’s Metropolitan College as an employer engagement manager. He says:
I was always aware that I was a child of the Troubles. We tried to live as normal a life as possible and my parents tried to shield me from it, but politics is something I have always been avidly interested in so I was always watching the news from a young age.
We lived in west Belfast for a few years but we moved in the early Seventies towards the Lisburn Road area shortly after the Troubles erupted. I suppose my earliest memory was being at Marlborough Park during Bloody Friday — the constant bombs going off and the smoke pouring through the air. Even after we moved there were always places you couldn’t go and I was always very conscious of the places I went and the company I kept. There is now a lot more flexibility to travel around Belfast than before, more freedom. Suddenly it seems like a much bigger, more open place.
One thing that sticks out in my mind from my youth was a local policeman who lived down the road. I’d see him walking past the house several times a day and then one day he just stopped coming past. He had been murdered. That was a big thing in our area and I had a lot of friends in the security forces. We always had to look over our shoulder and watch our backs, check under the cars, things like that. But I was always proud of my friends and what they were doing for the peace situation. I contemplated going into the security forces at one time, I thought it would really give me a sense of doing something good for the community. But with the dangers it posed, plus the fact I was in a good job at the time, I didn’t want to take the risk.
I wouldn’t have my life any other way at the minute. I love my job and think I have found my vocation. Helping young people create a future for themselves, finding them employment and helping them to gain qualifications is just so rewarding, I really feel like I am making a difference in people’s lives.
The one place I have seen a big change in is local football. I am a big supporter of Linfield Football Club — I always have been. In those days there was always a lot of tension at matches and a high security presence, a big potential for violence. But now we can travel to the Brandywell in Derry or Cliftonville and years ago there was no way we could play there. I remember a match against Donegal Celtic when it was absolute mayhem. Plastic bullets were fired, people were hurt, and it was so scary. You just wouldn’t see that type of thing anymore. There is still a security presence but nowhere near what it used to be and people are there more for the football rather than the politics behind it.
And I’ve always been very proud of where I am from and of the experience of living here. I think in a way it has made me the person I am today. Being exposed to the Troubles gives you a better perspective and gets you to look at things differently. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else at any other time. I’ve always been a home bird and though I like to travel, I don’t think other places have the culture or the community spirit. We all know what Northern Ireland has been through and we have learned to rely on each other.
Big cities have no soul, but this place has a soul and a spirit and that gives you a real sense of belonging. It has a great future ahead of it, priorities are much different now and I think everyone is looking forward to a brighter, more prosperous time.
Peter Thompson (41) born Dec 29, 1969
Lives in Manchester with his fiancee Helen and works in property management. He says:
Growing up in the Waterside in Derry during the Troubles was an experience that you don’t realise the full extent of until later. At least I didn’t anyway. I was very lucky though that I was shielded from the worst of it and all credit to my parents for that. But I knew there were certain places I could not go, certain company I could not keep and other restrictions in my day-to-day life.
I say I wasn’t exposed to much but we did live next to an army barracks, so there were always armoured cars and foot soldiers with guns lurking in the garden or walking in the street. I think it was quite a while before I realised this was not the norm.
The one memory that stands out in my mind was a holiday to Portrush. It was about halfway through and we were all at the beach. When we came back everyone was fleeing the resort because the IRA had planted bombs around the arcade. We just had to grab our stuff and go, it was really scary and we were very lucky because I know a lot of people were killed that day.
It is those type of things that make me very aggrieved when I look back.
There are just certain things you cannot do when there is terrorism on your doorstep, particularly as a child, and when I went to university in Nottingham and spoke to my friends there I realised that this was not the upbringing everyone else had.
I do enjoy going back to Northern Ireland to see my family.
I have just spent a week in Derry and I have seen that it has come a long way. I think people there have moved on from politics, and no one seems to care about it as much now. People are looking to progress financially and economically and make a life for themselves. There is not the same suspicion there used to be.
I’m happy with the way my life has turned out. I’ve just got engaged so my 40th birthday was a double celebration. Despite wanting to be a fireman when I was young I’m happy with my career and can’t see myself moving back home. Still, I’d like to be wealthier and be able to have a holiday home in Donegal!
I am proud of where I am from. Ireland is a beautiful country but I am content where I am now.
I certainly wouldn’t have moved away if it wasn’t for the situation and that is something I will always be grateful for.
Noel Donnelly (38) born Dec 25, 1972
Lives in Magherafelt with wife Martine and two kids, Aaron and Anna. Works as a plumber. Twin of Kevin (below). He says:
You see what is happening around you and, of course, you don’t know any better, but once I left school I got a bit of sense and realised it wasn’t right. But you just learned to keep your head down and keep out of trouble and get on with things. ‘Don’t get involved’ I would always think.
Living in the country things weren’t as bad, but seeing men walking around with guns or in your garden or coming into your house at night, you just know this is not normal no matter how young you are, no matter how much your parents try to shield you from it. They tried their best to explain what was going on, as much as we could take in at the time, and they did their best to keep us on the right track.
I think the one thing that sticks out in my mind is when Kevin and I were 17. Kevin had just got his driver’s licence and we were out in our first spin in the car.
We’d gone into the chip shop and were coming back home when we were stopped by the police who searched us and the car and kept asking what we were doing. They said we shouldn’t have been there, but we had every right to be there and were just minding our own business. The next thing, when they finally let us go, we were stopped by the UDR. They did the same thing, searched us, searched the car. They got really aggressive with us and it was quite scary but there was nothing we could do. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but we just had to bite our tongue and put our heads down. Our parents were worried about us and didn’t know what happened or where we were.
It could have been a lot worse but at the end of the day it shouldn’t have happened. It made me really angry that we had to go through it.
I am 100% happy with how my life has turned out, I’m happy living in Northern Ireland and very happy to bring my kids up here. I never had any trouble getting a job as a plumber when I started out and thank God I still don’t. My other brother Paul lived in America for years and there was a stage when I was planning to go over there to him. But he ended up coming back before I got round to it. I’m sure my life would have been a lot different if I had gone.
Kevin Donnelly born Dec 24, 1972
Lives in Draperstown with his wife Angela and three children, Nicole, Eve and Kevan. Works in construction. He says:
I was well aware of what was going on and the situation we grew up in. Our parents always tried to keep us away from it but you know yourself what is going on — men hiding behind bushes, soldiers with guns in the garden and walking in the street. Dad used to work in Belfast so we would always be very worried about him coming home and he’d sometimes not come back until late at night because of road blocks and bomb scares and the like. Mum and dad tried to steer us away from that path, they’d tell us bits and pieces, enough so that we knew it wasn’t right and to stay well out of it.
I remember once in primary school, I think I was in P5, and I looked out and saw a helicopter landing in the field and armed soldiers getting out. I had the sense to know that it wasn’t ordinary and I think that’s the first time I realised Northern Ireland was not like other places.
Because we were in the country there were a lot of things we weren’t exposed to. Sometimes there was a lot of activity, sometimes there wasn’t. The houses were always getting ransacked. Soldiers would be coming in and out, wrecking the houses, searching for things and dragging people out of bed. It was really bad. You never forget being woken up in your bed at four or five in the morning by soldiers wielding guns, telling you to get out. I was very young when all that went on but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I don’t think growing up in the Troubles has really affected my life that much. You have no frame of reference for anything else do you?
I never had any problems or reservations about bringing my children up in Northern Ireland. It’s a completely different place to live in now. I always wanted to live here and bring my children up here. I never had problems getting a job, I took after my dad and it’s always something I wanted to do. I owe all this to my parents who made the best upbringing for us despite what was going on around us and I am happy that my children can grow up in a safer society than I did.