Proud to be a Prod
By 1972 ,when I was 6 years old I had all but forgotten or at least suppressed my early years with mum and her Catholic side of the family. I started to become very aware of the fact that I was Protestant and that the Catholic people of Northern Ireland were my enemies. The troubles were reaching fever pitch as the IRA waged a savage war against the British government and Army. Various loyalist paramilitaries groups fought a brutal war against the IRA, Catholic populations and each other. To be Protestant in Northern Ireland was akin to being British in an occupied state and the Protestant people were fiercely loyal to their British roots and despised the IRA and all republicans for their unjust war against the British crown. Whilst the Protestants’ clung to their British sovereigntry and took pride in the union, their Catholic counterparts felt abandoned and 2nd class citizens in a unionist run state. An attack on the crown was an attack on the Protestant people of the North and the Protestant paramilitaries waged an indiscriminate war against the IRA and the Catholic population. Many innocent Catholics and Protestants became targets of psychopathic sectarian murder squads. Sectarian murder was almost a daily occurrence and the killings on both side perpetuated the hatred between the two ever-warring communities.
The two tribes of Northern Ireland view each other with suspicion and hatred and the death toll mounted with the blood of mainly innocent people. The grief of their families and communities fuelled the hatred. By the time I had reached my ninth birthday I was deeply proud of my Protestant heritage and took pride in the culture and traditions of the Protestant way of life. Like the vast majority of my peers I hated and mistrusted the veil Catholics and their IRA godfathers, who were responsible for the ongoing war in Northern Ireland. The view that the Protestant paramilitaries only existed to protect us from the IRA was universally accepted and in every area of my day-to-day life I was reminded that I was a Loyalist and therefore all Catholics were the enemy. But somewhere deep in my mind a little voice kept reminding me that my mum was a Catholic and this thought disgusted me. I felt I had a dirty little secret and had to hide it from everyone. This knowledge developed into hatred and before long I had rejected all feelings and emotions I had held for my mother and she became a dirty fenian in my childish mind. This was to gradually change as I grew older and I began to realise that my Catholic counterparts were really no different than me. Besides my mother was a Catholic, so therefore they couldn’t all be bad, could they?
Even the innocence of assembly in school was dominated by the divisions between us Protestants and our Catholic counterparts and hatred bred unabated. During morning assembly when it came to hymn singing, as the whole school was gathered in the presence of god, the service would turn into a vocal protest against the IRA and all things Irish. We hated the Irish and anything to do with them. When Mr Wilson, the bald headmaster stood to take assembly a silent anthem was sang among all those present.
Our wee school’s a good wee school: it’s made of sticks and plaster
The only thing wrong with it, is the baldly headed master
He goes to church on Saturday: he goes to church on Sunday
To pray to god, to give him strength
To put up with us on Monday
Even the words to a classic assembly hymn took on a very different meaning to us and further underlined our hatred of the IRA and all things Irish.
Give me bullets in my gun, keep it firing
Give me bullets in my gun I pray
Give me bullets in my gun and we’ll shoot them everyone
The members of the IRA
Sing Osanna, Sin Osanna…………
Whether Mr Wilson knew or cared what we were singing was never clear to me, but I do know he was a timid little man and always looked about nervously when he had to address the assembly. At one time a rumour spread around the school that he might be a Catholic and some of the older children took to calling him names behind his back and spreading rumours about him. On reflection this was probably why he always looked so uncomfortable.
One day after school David, Shep and I were playing on the hill outside our house when we heard a commotion coming from the direction of the shops. We quickly legged it down the hill and made our way in the direction of the noise to see what was going on. A large crowd were gathering around a woman and there was a lot of shouting and shoving and the woman who was the centre of attention looked very distressed and was crying and screaming. A couple of men dragged the woman to a lamp post on the front of the road and as she screamed, one of them produced a rope from somewhere and she was tied to the lamp post. The crowd had now worked themselves into frenzy and people were pushing and shoving each other as they verbally abused the woman and spat at her. Suddenly a UDA man stepped forward with a pair of scissors cut off most of her hair and threw it on the ground beside her feet. Before I knew what was happening a tin of red paint had appeared from somewhere and thrown over the woman and someone had produced a bag of feather’s which were thrown over her head and body and stuck all over her. When the crowd had finished someone stepped forward and placed a piece of cardboard on string around her neck with the words “Fenian Lover” painted in large red paint. Although I didn’t or couldn’t comprehend it at the time her only crime was that she had been seeing a Catholic and in the environment we now lived in this was a capital sin. The Catholics were our sworn enemies and to cross the religious barrier carried brutal consequences. Tar and Feathering of those who transgressed the rules was a common accordance in the estate and to the vast majority of people living there, it was an accepted part of life and a just punishment. Gradually the crowd began to move a away and David, Shep and I moved back a little and stared at the woman and in our childhood innocence we found the whole thing very exciting and were completely oblivious to the brutality of it all. We watched with anticipation as the crowd started to disperse and after someone had untied and released the woman, she hurried off and like red Indians we waiting for a few minutes and then followed the trail of red footprints straight to her front door and the agony that dwelled behind it.
As a child it seemed like harmless fun to me and the others, but the injustice of it still echoes through my mind and I knew that it wasn’t right. But I was living among the ultra loyalist ghettos of west Belfast and I had to toe the line. These were my people, weren’t they and to be different raised suspicion and there was no way I could ever reveal that my mother was a catholic and I was a dirty little half Fenian.