Tag Archives: IRA

Happy Easter (especially to all gay 14 year olds)

Paris tray rotated

My fascination with Paris dates back to the map on the tray my Granny used to carry the tea pot and cups. The tray is in my kitchen now. (Manover brand. Made in France.)

Happy Easter to you. Though it might not seem that way, I’ll admit. What with attacks on people and churches and whatever I’ve missed on the news just now. Thank goodness there are positives amidst the gloom.

Some of those appalled at seeing Notre Dame go up in flames were energised to raise funds to help rebuild three less famous historically black churches, damaged in suspected arson attacks in Louisiana, USA. Here’s Ruth Jack’s fundraising page.

There was very sad news from Derry where a young investigative journalist, author and LGBT activist Lyra McKee was shot dead, seemingly by dissident Irish Republicans. She was covering a riot in the city when shots were fired towards police officers where she was standing. As Susan McKay wrote in Lyra’s memory: “Let no one dare say that she died in the cause of Irish freedom. Lyra was Irish freedom.”

Lyra McKeeLyra – you pronounce it LEE-ra by the way – was great in various ways. She left us this Letter to my 14-year-old self that she wrote in 2014, on the subject of being a gay teenager. I’ve lifted the text from the Pensive Quill blog. Here it is:

Yesterday, I tweeted a response to the hateful homophobic comments made by a Northern Irish pastor, James McConnell. Mr McConnell said: “Two lesbians living together are not a family. They are sexual perverts playing let’s pretend.”

I said: “People like Pastor McConnell made 14 year old me feel like I was better off dead, rather than deal with the shame of being gay.”

I rarely use this blog for anything other than professional work/journalism-related matters but a number of people asked me to write a blog post summarising what I said. Someone remarked that maybe some 14 year old would read it and take hope. So I decided to write a letter to my 14 year old self, 10 years later, as a 24 year old looking back. 


“Kid,

It’s going to be okay.

I know you’re not feeling that way right now. You’re sitting in school. The other kids are making fun of you. You told the wrong person you had a crush and soon, they all knew your secret. It’s horrible. They make your life hell. They laugh at you, whisper about you and call you names. It’s not nice. And you can’t ask an adult for help because if you did that, you’d have to tell them the truth and you can’t do that. They can’t ever know your secret.

Life is so hard right now. Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you.

It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.

In a year’s time, you’re going to join a scheme that trains people your age to be journalists. I know the careers teacher suggested that as an option and you said no, because it sounded boring and all you wanted to do was write, but go with it. For the first time in your life, you will feel like you’re good at something useful. You’ll have found your calling. You’ll meet amazing people. And when the bad times come again – FYI, your first girlfriend is not “the one” and you will screw up that History exam – it will be journalism that helps you soldier on.

In two years time, you will leave school and go to a local technical college. Don’t worry – you’re going to make friends. These will be your first real friends in semi-adulthood, the people who will answer your calls at 4 O’Clock in the morning. In the years to come, you’ll only keep in touch with Gavyn and Jonny but you’ll remember the others fondly. When you’re 17, you’ll tell them your secret and they won’t mind. It will take courage but you will do it. Gavyn will become Christian and you will fear that he will hate you but one afternoon, you’ll receive a text message saying: “This changes nothing. You’ll always be my friend.” Accept him for what he is as he has accepted you.

You’ll go to university, like you always planned to, but you’ll drop out because it reminds you of school where people were cold and you had few friends. The campus is just too big and scary. But this experience will be the making of you. You’ll be making your way in the world for the first time. Through this, you will meet the people who become your best friends. They’ll help you replace all the bad memories with good ones. For the first time in your life, you will like yourself.

Three months before your 21st birthday, you will tell Mum the secret. You will be sobbing and shaking and she will be frightened because she doesn’t know what’s wrong. Christmas will be just a couple of weeks away. You have to tell her because you’ve met someone you like and you can’t live with the guilt anymore. You can’t get the words out so she says it: “Are you gay?” And you will say, “Yes Mummy, I’m so sorry.” And instead of getting mad, she will reply “Thank God you’re not pregnant”.

You will crawl into her lap, sobbing, as she holds you and tells you that you are her little girl and how could you ever think that anything would make her love you any less? You will feel like a prisoner who has been given their freedom. You will remember all the times you pleaded with God to help you because you were so afraid and you will feel so foolish because you had nothing to worry about.

You will tell your siblings. No one will mind. Mary will hug you in the food court in Castlecourt as you eat KFC together and tell you she’s so proud of you. The others will joke about how they always knew. They will all say some variation of “I love you,” “I’m so proud of you”, “This doesn’t change a thing.”

You will feel so lucky. You watched James get thrown out of his house after coming out to his parents. You were in Michael’s house the night his Mum said she would “beat the gay out of him”. You will feel guilty for being the lucky one and getting it easy in the end, even though you went through hell to get there.

You will fall in love for the first time. You will have your heart broken for the first time and you will feel like you might die of the pain. You won’t. You will get over it.
Right now, you’re wondering if you’ll ever be “normal”. You are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not going to hell. You did nothing to deserve their hate.

Life will not only get easier, it will get so much better. You will walk down the street without fear. Teenage boys you’ve never met will not throw things at you and shout names. Your friends will be the best anyone could ask for. You will be invited to parties. You will have a social life. You will be loved. People will use words like “awesome” and “cool” and “witty” to describe you and you’ll forget the times the other kids said you were “weird” and “odd” and a “lesbo”.

You will do “normal” things. You will spend time with your Mum. You will go to work and pay your bills. You will go to the cinema with your best friend every week because that’s your ritual – dinner then an action movie where things explode. You will fall in love again. You will smile every day, knowing that someone loves you as much as you love them.

Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.”

 

 

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My first memory

See – I told you it was a tank. This British Centurion tank was out during Operation Motorman. So perhaps it was a tank I saw. The photo is by Eamon Melaugh – click on the pic for more of his work.

Memory is tricky. Childhood memories even trickier.

Which memories are real. Which are from stories or photographs?

Top Boy shares his first memory with me. He was running up and down the street in from of our house. Past houses, back past houses, back past houses again, then past a house with a low white wall and a blue triangular prismatic top… (the shape details are quite extensive and go on for some time, so I’ve skipped them – funnily enough he’s now a big science fan) …then he fell over and hurt his knee. What happened next? Doesn’t remember.

Mine is one of these. I don’t know which.

1. When I was five (or thereabouts) we moved house from a more troubled to a less troubled area of Belfast. I don’t remember anything before or during the journey until we turned onto the new street. It was more shaded, quieter, greener, with trees and hedges. I remember that. Nothing before. Except maybe for…

2. Seeing my first tank. Very exciting. Big. High. Wide. Dark, maybe green but definitely spattered with white paint. On the road outside the Busy Bee shopping centre in Belfast Continue reading

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Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium, family history, history

Thank you Culture Northern Ireland

Thank you Culture Northern Ireland for giving me a £100 Amazon voucher (for winning a writing competition completing a survey). And thank you Gerry Anderson and politician Gregory Campbell for helping me spend it. Well, to be more precise – they had a row. But Continue reading

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Filed under art, media, Music, What I'm Reading

Colonel Gaddafi v Daniel O’Donnell (for the Loose Bloggers Consortium)

Gaddafi's last words: "I'll top myself if you let Daniel sing..."

Warning: Not to be let near a microphone

Has your day been disrupted? Your carefully laid plans ripped up and thrown away? Hours of preparation gone to waste? Mine was. So why am I smiling? Not at all crotchety (which is today’s theme for the Loose Bloggers Consortium)? It’s all thanks to Colonel Gaddafi.

Sure, he may have made life misery for Libyans, presided over a despotic regime of fear and sudden death, invaded neighbouring states, encouraged assassination and mass murder overseas, bombed planes, supplied semtex and weapons to the IRA, protected the killer of police officer Yvonne Fletcher and inflicted repeated noxious gas attacks on journalist visitors to his tent through constant and noisy farting.

But he wasn’t all bad.

In his last act I think he went some small way towards making up for his many and various crimes, especially those against Ireland. And I am personally grateful.

Here’s how. The other day I was due to encounter a man both much loved and much loathed. He’s variously known as “the Pride of Kincasslagh”, “wee Daniel” and the nemesis of all that is pure and decent in music. He’s one of the world’s leading pushing of that pernicious aural drug – Country and Irish music. (Worse – far worse – than the worst Country ‘n’ Western.)

His name’s Daniel O’Donnell Continue reading

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The Day I Met… Gerry Adams

He's the one in specs, paramilitary beret, no beard - an ice cream would just look silly.

(Fanfare.) It gives me great pleasure to present the next entry in the The Day I Met… competition. Here’s a taster:

I rushed through to the front to see two more extremely large “boys” wearing trench coats in a heat wave stood at the front with a third man. In trying to evacuate the premises, I nearly evacuated something else. The three at the front were close together. A shotgun with some fine buckshot might take all three out and then a run like buggery down the fields across the stream and don’t stop until I hit Larne and the boat to the mainland. It is amazing what goes through your mind when you believe you are about to be kidnapped!

The story continues below. This entry comes from… Actually I can’t tell you his name. (At least I think it’s a him.) Because he is keeping his true identity a secret. He writes about dodgy goings on in the police and the criminal justice system under the pseudynom Noble Cause Corruption. He’s a serving police officer in the UK, so Continue reading

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Filed under Guest Posts, The Day I Met... Competition

How many different words for snow, death… and farts?

Eskimos and Inuit are reputed to have many/seven/50/100 different words for snow. Though it may be a tundric myth. (And anyway, don’t we have snow, blizzard, sleet & slush – OK that’s only four, and I’m not sure about the last two.)

But anywhere with an unusually high number of different words detailing aspects of a phenomenon interests me. It evokes poetic lists. Like these from Belfast poet Michael Longley – The Ice-Cream Man.

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach:

You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before

They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road

And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.

I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren

I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,

Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,

Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,

Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,

Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

You can listen Continue reading

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Filed under art, language, poetry

Movie star actually makes a difference. Shock.

What do they know about politics? Why don’t they just stay out of it and carry on looking beautiful or tortured or smug? Actors and politics, huh?

Especially movie actors. Team America: World Police satirised them as patsies for North Korea and aggressively naive and deluded- Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and the other members of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.).

By following the rules of the Film Actor’s Guild, the world can become a better place; that handles dangerous people with talk, and reasoning; that, is the fag way. One day you’ll all look at the world us actors created and say, “wow, good going, FAG. You really made the world a better place, didntcha, FAG?”

But it’s too easy to write them all off. And puncturing thespian  self-importance would work better without the lame homophobia.

There’s a guy just died who maybe did make a difference Continue reading

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Filed under Film, politics

Paddy the Pigeon

The real deal

This is the story of World War Two hero Paddy the Pigeon from Carnlough in Northern Ireland. Unlike the Desert Fox, Mad Dog McGlinchey, Richard the Lionheart, the Border Fox, Carlos the Jackal and the Black Panthers – Paddy really does what it says on the tin. He actually is, or was, a pigeon.

But not just any pigeon. He was the speediest RAF messenger pigeon during the Normandy landings.

Fake #1

The late (as in dead, not slow) Paddy has been in the news because he’s just been honoured with a fly past near his home. A fly past of pigeons. Loads of them. No doubt local car owners were delighted.

Paddy, courtesy of his medal, has Category Three Pigeon Status. (Category One: Airborne Vermin – includes nearly all  other pigeons. Category Two: Stool Pigeons. Continue reading

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The inside story…


Crumlin Road Prison by Stephen Shaw. He's a super observant watercolourist in Belfast. Click on the pic for his online galleries. The old prison was said to be the most secure in the British Isles. It hosted many escapes and executions. A tunnel led from the jail to the courthouse opposite, which features in Blackwatertown.

Here comes the inside story of my book. It’s the brief synopsis I’m sending to agents. (Some agents prefer a different approach – longer blow by blow, chapter by chapter efforts.)

The next post will cover my recent calamities and a particularly juicy piece of gossip. But for now, have a peek inside.

Synopsis of Blackwatertown:

Blackwatertown by Paul Waters is a thriller set on the Irish border in the 1950s. The intertwining of fact and fiction is based partly on a murky episode of Ireland’s past, and partly on things discovered about my family’s own secret history.

It is the story of a reluctant and conflicted policeman called John “Jolly” Macken, who is drawn into a conspiracy, accidentally starts a war (the 1950s IRA border campaign) and inadvertently becomes a hero.

It is also the story of how complacency in a time of peace can quickly be shattered, if the underlying tensions in society are not addressed.

Jolly Macken begins with a personal crisis because of his leading role in a police action he knows is legally correct, but feels is morally wrong.

As a police officer, an RUC man, he is isolated from his fellow Irish Catholics because he serves the Crown. As a Catholic (in name anyway), he is by definition distrusted by his Protestant fellow officers and the State.

There are three main strands:

1. Macken is punished after a farcical episode of violence at the beginning, by being exiled to Blackwatertown village, a sleepy Co. Armagh backwater. He is sent there to replace the previous token Catholic officer in the district who died mysteriously. Was it an accident or murder? Were the killers fellow police officers? Will Macken be next?

2. Macken meets an unusually bewitching local girl whose bravado masks a certain innocence. However, is her innocence feigned? Will their romance endure? Is she an IRA spy or is she hiding a much darker secret?

3. Macken is caught up in a police conspiracy and cover-up that has unexpected consequences. Their fakery is so convincing that the conspirators are lauded as heroes and accidentally start a war. Macken becomes part of a web of political and personal intrigue, watching his back as genuine and imaginary sides go to war for real.

An ambiguous fourth strand weaves in and out of the action. It retains its mystery until near the end, when its true purpose and horrible identity is revealed.

As the tension and stakes mount higher, Macken is forced to choose sides when it comes to war and to his personal life. He embarks on a journey through a broken and twisted world to see if it is possible to salvage anything that is good, worthwhile and beautiful.

Blackwatertown conveys a sense of place in the tradition of Ulster writer Maurice Leitch, and is threaded through with flashes of humour reminiscent of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian Inspector Montalbano mysteries.

The story transcends time and place, but also parallels the current dangerous political situation in Northern Ireland today, and shows how a seemingly secure peace can be squandered.

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Oi! No smirking at the back there.

RUC Hastings Street garrison, Brickfields district, Belfast. 1923/24.

What a difference 30 years makes. In this police photograph from the 1920s almost no-one is smiling. I have another of new recruits to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) taken in the 1950s where nearly everyone is beaming. Two photos, two different sets of people, two different times, two different generations.

This one includes the father – my grandfather. When this post was originally published I included his name, rank and where he is in the picture. But I’ve been asked to remove the name – so I have done so.

But he’s easy to spot. The handsome one with the patrician air. (God no, not yon dopey-looking one.)

You’ll notice they’re a serious bunch. I suppose given that they’re in a tough area – the Belfast’s Brickfields police district – and that some of them will have survived World War one, the Irish War of Independence, civil war, pogroms and general rioting – it’s understandable. Or perhaps it was the rule back then. No smiling while on duty. Perhaps Smiler in the back row, left hand side, is actually squinting, not grinning.

I was struck by the contrast between this photo, and another from the mid 1950s. In the later one they’re all smiling. Including the son of the handsome one above. (I hope to put it on display shortly.) Maybe it’s because peace has broken out and war in Ireland is a sufficiently distant memory. They weren’t to know that the next round of hostilities was heading their way in a couple of years time – the IRA’s 1950s border campaign (which is the setting of my book, Blackwatertown).

So the men in this photo are the fathers or uncles of the police officers who fought in the ’50s campaign. They were a formidable bunch.

But back to 1923/24. Does anyone else remember those snake-clasp belt buckles? I remember coveting one when I was small. (Which was only the other day. Or perhaps the day before.)

Perhaps some faces in the picture are familiar. Drop me a line if you recognise anyone. (I’ve posted pictures of some other branches of the family policing tree: Dan Waters & Michael Murphy.)

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Filed under family history, history