Belfast Telegraph

Our divided neighbours recall a time when they lived happily side-by-side

By Rebecca Black

One of Belfast's most infamous peacelines has been recalled as a lovely shopping street where Protestants and Catholics lived happily side by side.

This is just one of the recollections gathered in a new book, Talking About the Troubles, compiled by a cross-community project.

Protestants and Catholics who live just yards away from each other but are separated by a giant peace wall on the Springfield Road have struck up friendships thanks to the Forthspring 5 Decades Project.

Run by the Forthspring Inter Community Group, the initiative has collected memories from 150 people of five decades of life in the Springfield Road area from the 1960s to present day.

Project co-ordinator Johnston Price said they started off with group discussions with people in their own areas where they felt safe and secure before bringing people together.

He stressed it was a shared history, as opposed to an agreed history.

While contributions to the book – which are about all aspects of life, from attending discos on the Maidstone prison ship to having a laugh at a TV programme disrupted by appalling tragedy – are not attributed to individuals, two people who took part spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday at the launch of the publication at Stormont.

Violet Walker from the Shankill said she felt comfortable sharing her experience of the Troubles with those from across the divide.

"I just say it as I see it," she said. "Everyone was willing to share their stories, and you know what, a lot were very similar."

Violet's little brother was shot at the tender age of 11 on the Shankill Road. Her family never found out why, and when he recovered he left Northern Ireland for good.

"A lot of people have a lot of sad stories," she said.

"I remember when the Orangemen came down Mayo Street, I was just a teenager. They were cut to pieces, one's finger was hanging off.

"I also remember doing my shopping on the Springfield Road and the older people going over to the Clonard Monastery."

Things changed enormously when the Troubles started and towering peace walls separated the one-time neighbours. Danny McGrath from the lower Falls was a child at the end of the 1960s when the Troubles started.

He had never met anyone from the Protestant community until he started training to be a chef at the Europa Hotel. Despite terrors such as the Shankill Butchers prowling the area, he regularly travelled across community lines to visit his friends. One of his friends gave him a loyalist badge to wear to protect him.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, who hosted the launch, praised the work of the community group as superior to what politicians are doing in the renewed peace talks.

Talking About The Troubles is part of Forthspring's European funded 5 Decades Project. It is available from the Forthspring Inter Community Group, 373-375 Springfield Road, Belfast, or for information, call 028 9031 3945.

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