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Belfast Child- Chapter 8, Part 2- Uncle sam

As I pounded the Roads of Glencairn selling my sweep stakes the war raged on around me and like most people I took it in my stride. I took some pride in the face that I was contributing to the cause, by raising money for the prisoners. One morning when we were all getting ready to leave the house for school, there was a sudden commotion outside the front door and we all rushed into the front garden to see what was happening. There were loads of armed RUC personnel frantically running from door to door, evacuating the inhabitants into the field outside the community centre. Uncle Sam and Gerry gathered us all up and we went to join the dozens of other families milling about the field. After having a chat with one of the local leaders we heard Uncle Sam explain to Gerry that the IRA had planted a bomb under the car of one of our neighbours, who was a member of the UDR ( Ulster Defence Regiment ) .

This news sent waves of fear and anger through the gathered crowd. How dare the IRA enter our estate in the dead of night and try to kill one of our people. Apparently the man in question had left the house to check the car over before dropping his children at school and going through his normal security checks had discovered the bomb under the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Had he been less vigilant the bomb would have gone off killing not only him, but also his three children and anyone else in the vicinity. This relisation filled everyone gathered with outrage and resentment and once again our hatred of the IRA and their Catholic supporters was justified.

After they were sure that everyone in the immediate vicinity was evacuated, the army bomb disposal unit sent a robot in to detonate the bomb and we all watched in awe as the ground below us shook violently and the robot along with large sections of the car was blown high into the sky to smithereens. We were all kept of school that day and naturally the talk was of how close we had been to being caught up in the bomb that morning and possibly being killed. Wee Sam and I knew the children of the man in question and often played with them after school, so it was with sadness that a few days later we watched them pack their belongings onto a removal van and drive out of the estate never to be seen again.

Like Wee Sam, David and Pickle I felt an immense hatred towards Catholics and Nationalists that day and longed for the day I would be old enough to take up arms and join the war against the IRA and their Catholic supporters. Although I was too young to understand the complexities of the conflict between us and the nationalists I understood that we hadn’t started this war and all the pain and suffering in Northern Ireland was a direct result of the IRA and nationalist call for a united Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Protestants were a remnant of colonial Britain and we clung to our sovernty like a comfort blanket and the IRA & nationalists were trying to rip our blanket away from us. We felt abandoned and Britain seemed to have turn her back on us The Americans and wider outside world sympathised with the romantic notion of a United Ireland and offered us no support. No one seemed to understand our position and we were living under the brutal, daily menace of the most brutal terrorist organisation of the century and this isolation feed the fears of the loyalist and ensured a steady stream of new recruits for the loyalist paramilitary groups.

During the mid 70s relationships between the two warring sides had reached a new low and innocent people from both sides became legitimate targets in tit-for-tat murder campaign like never before, between the nationalists and loyalist paramilitaries. The violence was out of control and as a child I watched in horror and disgust as the nightly news told of the latest IRA atrocity, as the death toll mounted. Like most of the people around me I rejoiced when news of an IRA or other republican member being killed or even better executed came through and I mourned the passing of any loyalist killed. I hated Catholics with a passion and blamed them on all the troubles of our country and like all around me I saw them as my natural enemy. In response to the increase of IRA atrocities and through self-preservation the loyalist paramilitaries, with the blessing of their people, stepped up the campaign and the streets of Belfast flowed with the blood of the innocent and guilty alike.

Among the countless act of brutality by the various paramilitary groups during this time, the actions of a loyalist death squad call “The Shankill Butchers” effected me mostly and haunted the conscience of the loyalist population of Belfast. The Butchers were a loyalist death squad, lead by a psychopathic killer called Lenny Murphy and during the summer of 75 – 77 they stalked the streets of catholic West Belfast, leaving a trial of unimaginable death and destruction in their wake. They would drive to a Catholic area of the city in a black taxi and pick up an unsuspecting passenger, with the sole intention of torturing and eventually killing them and putting them out of their misery. Although Catholics were mostly their intended targets, Protestants were lifted in Catholic area and mistakenly killed because the Butchers thought they were Catholics. Countless innocent people were taken to a derelict house on the Shankill Road and after hours of brutal, mindless torture they would be killed and their wasted bodies would be driven through the Shankill Road towards Glencairn, where they would be dumped outside the community centre o surrounding areas. The community centre was just down the road from our house and on at least three occasions Wee Sam and I were among the first to stumble across the mutilated bodies and the images would haunt me for years to come. On another occasion we had been playing in a new block of flats being built and suddenly we heard David yelling from another part of the building site. We all rushed to see what was happening and stopped dead in our tracks when we came to the room David had yelled from. The first thing that struck me was that all of the walls and large areas of the floor were splattered with blood and a chair in the middle of the round was surrounded by a puddle of blood and what looked like pieces of human flesh. On one of the walls, a bloody handprint left a trail of blood as it slide down the wall into another pool of blood. Although I was only 11 at the time, I knew I was standing in a room that had been used to torture someone and along with the others I turned on my heel, yelled and legged it all the way home. That night Uncle Sam informed us that we were not to play in the flats again, which we all happily agreed with and nothing more was said about the matter. Whilst The Shankill Butchers carried out their murder’s I was hanging about with a friend called John Jackson, who lived in the middle of the estate. It was a well known fact that the butchers dumped their bodies outside the community centre and not only was this just down the road from our house, I had to pass it on the way home.

On dark winter nights I use to be terrified when it was time for me to go home and I dreaded the walk up the dark deserted hill. Before setting off with a heavy heart, I would find myself a suitable large stick or tree branch as a weapon and nervously make my way up the hill and through the dark streets of the estate and home. The right hand side of the Road was lined with old people’s homes and well lit, until they came to an end and there was a large field that travelled upwards into the mountains and whatever was watching me from the darkness. The field was just across from the community centre and when I got to this area my heart would be thumping in my chest and my senses would be focused on what was going on around me. Most frightening of all was when I heard the unmistakable sound of a black taxi, crawling up the hill towards me. As the taxi drew closer I would brace myself and move to the opposite side of the Road. The only problem with that I now had to walk straight past the community centre, where countless mutilated bodies had been dumped and this frightened the life out of me. Rather than walk past the community centre I would duck behind a bush or tree and hide until the taxi had passed and then I would run the rest of the way home up the middle of the road, yelling in terror. I must have looked a right sight, but I was out of my mind with fear and didn’t give a shit how I looked.

As the butcher death toll mounted leading community leaders demanded that loyalist godfathers reined them in, but the butchers had become a law unto themselves and a liability to the loyalist cause. Apart from the problems they were causing the loyalist leaders, the IRA had issues various death threats against the butchers and they were all living on borrowed time. For Murphy the end came on 16th November 1982. , when an IRA hit squad ambushed and assassinated him, as he visited his girlfriend in Glencairn. For years afterwards rumours circulated that the UDA and/or other loyalist paramilitaries, tired Glencairn was one of the most violent and tightly controlled areas of protestant West Belfast and nothing happened without the top paramilitaries giving their permission or knowing about it. Murphy was given a full UVF funeral and through time other members off the Shankill Butcher’s met with equally violent ends.

About John Chambers

Profile photo of John Chambers
John Chambers is from Belfast , but now lives in the North West of England. He is the author of Belfast Child, which is about his life growing up within the heartlands of Loyalist West Belfast and his life long search for my missing Catholic mother. He also blogs and posts articles mainly on Current Affairs, War & History and posts daily on key events in the Troubles and Deaths due to the conflict in N.I. You can follow him at https://belfastchildis.wordpress.com/

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