FOR THE CHILD I WAS
May 1980. Belfast. I had just turned ten years old. It was the time of the funerals for the hunger strikers.
Four men in military uniform, wearing berets, scarves and dark sunglasses stood out from the crowd. The coffin, draped with the tricolour, stood on supports.
One of the masked men called out an order. The crowd fell silent. The other three masked men stood to attention along the side of the coffin and pulled out pistols and pointed them, at 45-degree angles, into the sky. The leader called out again and the three masked men fired the first volley. They fired two more volleys. The cortege moved off like a boat half submerged in a river of bubbling heads that were flowing, as far as the eye could see, both up and down the Andersonstown road, in the direction of Milltown cemetery.
After the funeral the rioting began. Cars were siphoned, barricades were set up, milk bottles were filled with petrol and the openings were stuffed with rags. Roars from people and plastic bullet guns sounded out all through the night.
In the morning I had to travel by myself, in a black taxi, to school, St. Galls, on Clonard Street. It was a thirty minute ride down the falls road. All my six older brothers had gone to that school and so I had to go there too.
The black taxis are owned by IRA men that have gotten out of prison so they weren't hijacked and used to fortify barricades. We weaved in and out through burning buses and broken-through barricades. Huge fires burned on the road and thick black fumes rose up from the wreckage. Alert rioters were still eager at street corners, jerking their heads out to survey the traffic.
The funerals continued, as did the rioting. I remember one man lighting the rag stuffed into the opening of a milk bottle full of petrol and running toward the road. He gripped the bottle by the neck turning it upside down in his attempt to throw it. Flaming petrol spilt all over him. His friends laughed as he frantically tried to put himself out.
"Ye feckin' edjit, do ye not know how t'throw a petrol bomb." Nobody was looking toward the road. One of his friends then ran towards the road and lobbed a petrol bomb at a jeep.
One of the funerals was hijacked by the police. The IRA men firing the volleys were chased through backstreets and the rioting began to give them cover to escape. The paving stones from the driveway at the back of our house were ripped up and smashed, by frenzied rioters, into manageable missiles.
Our semi-detached house backed onto a car park. You could run from the car park through the side of the house and out into the estate. The passageway was too narrow for a police land rover to get through, so it was well used as an escape route for the rioters. My sister Helen and myself were in the living room when a group of men came bolting across the car park. A police land rover was right on their tail. The rioters ran through the passageway at the side of the house and the land rover sped up the back path and jammed on the brakes right at the living room window. Helen and myself dived onto the floor. There was no one else in. We then crawled quickly out to the kitchen, where the curtains were always closed, and we lay on the floor. The police jumped out of the rover. We could hear the rioters still outside the kitchen window, talking nervously. Then we heard the police shouting from farther up the path, as well as the police that had come up the back driveway. It was a trap. The police were waiting on them; they had the rioters hemmed in between the outer gable of the house and the eight-foot wall separating our house from our neighbour's.
We lay there for about twenty minutes listening to the dull sound of rifle butts striking the rioters, yells then moans, and all the way through was the voice of mockery. All went quiet then, and we heard the sound of the rioters being dragged silently off to the jeeps.
The funerals continued. The rioting continued. And I continued travelling, by myself, in the black taxi past the drive-through cinema every morning, on my way to school.
I see that child me, looking out through the window of the black taxi, weaving in and out through burning buses and broken-through barricades as huge fires burned on the road and thick black fumes rose up from the wreckage with alert rioters still eager at the street corners of my mind and I wink at that child and say, Fair play till' ye, fair fuckin' play t'ye!
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