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Belfast Child: My Story- An Autobiography

Remembering the Innocent Victims

This story is dedicated to the memory of all innocent victims of the Troubles, regardless of political or religious background, including members of the British army and other security force personnel whom died as a direct result of the Troubles.

Life’s hard enough without having to worry that you will be killed or abused because you worship a different god or follow a different political system.

Life is for living – So live & let live

Since the Troubles began in the late sixties over three thousand five hundred people have lost their lives and countless more have been injured and scarred, both emotionally and physically by the events that played out in the streets of Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. For almost three decades Northern Ireland descended into a furnace of sectarian slaughter and the legacy of those years will hunt the memory of those who lived through them and hopefully the conscience of the paramilitaries who orchestrated the rivers of blood.

My autobiography Belfast Child, which tells the story of my life growing up within the heartlands of Loyalist West Belfast during the worse years of the Troubles and my secret twenty five year search for my missing Catholic mother.

My parents were a rare thing in 1960,s Belfast and ignoring the political and civil disharmony between the two warring communities, they crossed the religious barriers and against the wishes of their families and local communities they got married.

Dad came from an ultra loyalist family from the Shankill Road area of Belfast and Mum came from a Republican family from the nationalist Falls Road. It was a marriage doomed from the start and one day mum simply disappeared from our lives and we never heard from her or any of her family again. As I grew older and I began to think more and more about mum, but when I asked questions about her to family members I was told she was dead and not to mention her again. So that’s what I did, I put her out of my mind.

When I was 13 years old my beloved father died and I desperately prayed that mum would return and we could all live as a family again. But that never happened and my siblings and I were split up and went to live with various members of my dad’s family on the Shankill road.

The communities from The Shankill , The Falls and surrounding areas arguable suffered most during the Troubles , as not only were we on the “frontline” of the sectarian divide , but the paramilitaries from both sides lived and operated among us and spent their time killing each other and anyone else who got in the way. This is the backdrop to my story and my search for mum.

Times have much changed since my youth and the turbulent early years of the troubles and life is much better and less uncertain for the Children of Belfast today. Hopefully we can all put the past behind us and build a lasting peace and learn to live side by side and respect each other’s history and culture.

Please follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/bfchild66 and share my story.

Forword

Boarding the Virgin train at London Euston I ignored the day trippers and business travellers and took my seat opposite my brother David and we settled in for the three hour journey north to Preston, in Lancashire. I had been to Preston a few times on business trips previously and to be honest it hadn’t really left an impression on me. But the thought of what or who was waiting for me at the other end now filled me with apprehension and anxiety.

I was going to confront the ghosts of my past.

It was mid January and the UK was in the grip of the coldest winter in decades and outside a heavy snow was falling and the landscape was covered in a thick blanket of white. Looking out the window I watched silently as the train gathered speed and the country scenery flashed past in a blurry haze. David was snoring quietly and I was glad of the silence, I had to prepare myself for what was to come.

I took the letter out of my pocket and read the words for the thousandth time.

“Hi Stephen I hope this letter finds you well and apologies if I have the wrong Stephen Chambers?

You Obviously don’t know me but my name is Philomena Meek and although I now live in Boston USA I am orignally from the Falls Road area of Belfast. A few days ago I met a Belfast couple in the local bar (Linda & Martin Nixon) and we natrurally got talking. When I heard they were from the Shankill Road I felt goose pimples run up and down my spine. You see my sister Sara Meek married a guy from the Shankill Road, John Chambers in the late sixities and they had four children together, Margaret, Jean, David and John, whom was known as Stephen. 

At the time of the troubles were at their height and as you probably know it was unusual for Catholics and Protestants to marry, as this was frowned upon by both communities. 

The strain of coming from a mixed marriage was too much for them and they eventually separated and all the children stayed with their father John in Belfast and my sister moved to England to start a new life. The breakup was very hostile and my sister was denied access to the children and lost contact with them and has not seen or heard from any of them for the past twenty five years. In fact all contact with all members of my sister’s family was denied and we have been trying to find the children ever since. 

When I asked Martin & Linda if they knew the Chambers family I was amazed when Martin told me that he went to school with you and he knew your brother David and sisters Margaret and Jean.  Stephen I think you are my sisters Son (that makes me your aunt) and I am including my telephone number and address and would be over the moon if you would contact me. I will understand if you don’t wish to speak with me but my sister has always loved you all and has spent a lifetime searching for you. Even to know that you were all well and happy would mean the world to her. 

My address and contact details are on the back of this letter. 

Love, Philomena Meek

The letter had been given to my sister back in Belfast and had eventually found its way to me in London.

I had spent most of my life believing my mother was dead and knowing next to nothing about her. But to my amazement when I was a teenager I had learnt that she was in fact not dead, but alive and well, but due to the nature of my parents breakup and my father’s family being ultra Loyalist from the Shankill Road in Loyalist West Belfast she had been denied access to us and her memory and all traces of her had been erased from our lives’. As I grew older I began trying to find out more about my mother , but this was impossible due to that fact my father’s family refused to discuss her and I was told to let sleeping dogs sleep. When I was in my late teens I began a secret search for mum and I approached the Salvation Army and other agencies who I thought could help me find her, But due to lack of information ( I didn’t even know her maiden name) there was nothing they could do.

Now a year after receiving the letter and speaking with Philomena in Boston I was on train travelling to Preston to meet my mother for the first time in over 25 years and face the ghosts of my past.

This story was originally published on the author’s personal website: https://belfastchildis.wordpress.com/

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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4 comments

  1. Hi there,

    This is John Chambers , Belfast Child. My book: A Belfast Child is now available to order online via Amazon and other online seller. See links below for more details

    My autobiography: A Belfast Child is now available to pre-order on Amazon , launch date is 30th April.

    Image below of Book cover and outline of my story

    You can pre-order via this link on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/wzpp5ra

    Visit my blog for more info: https://tinyurl.com/wdu2r24

    @ABelfastChild1
    @bfchild66

  2. Hi,I come from a similar background,my mother was from the falls road,my father came from the village,I was brought up protestant,but I was given a catholic name.
    My mothers family were staunch republican,I was born in 1967,we both lived not far from each other,when you were on the Grosvenor road,I was at fallswater street off the falls road
    I have a similar story.
    I now live in spain withmy wife and family,I also miss a paste supper..
    I changed my name.

  3. Your fabulous on radio ulster.Your a credit.to society.im a nurse in belfast .I wept at ur story.For me the idea that stunned me was you decided to accept ur mother as she was.LOVE I’s A. Decsion..Well done…..My work now is in emotional intelligence……working with emotional well being. In children.Good luck and ur lovely.Yoor sincity shone through!!!!

  4. Hi John
    Heard u on the Nolan show an had 2 order your book!..I’m originally from lower falls Grosvenor road of West Belfast.. your story of your circumstances an growing up on the shankill an how you eventually found your mum was was gripping i can’t wait 2 read your book mate…god bless

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