(four short stories)
I never dreamt that I would ever have a walled garden. When it happened, it fed my imagination like unexpected thunder and lightning. Here are some of the happenings I imagined while sitting at my desk writing and dreaming. Hope you like them as much as I’ve enjoyed watching them come to life in my mind.
I can remember when I was young walking hand in hand with my mother up Clonard street to the Clonard novena on a Thursday night. The promise of a chip and juice down in Fusco’s always done the trick, I would sit like an angel not disrupting anything in the monastery during the novena. To look at me no one would have ever guessed what I was really like; I must have put my mother and father’s heads away when I was small. Remembering the trees that lined Clonard street in the 1950’s I was once again a little girl walking past them and wondering what it would be like to live inside a tree, silly thought perhaps, but still a thought all the same. Better to think and feel than just to let it all pass you by or worse still to walk by and not to imagine!……… All this beauty and history on our doorsteps.
Wee Sammy Millar and Gerard O Hagan downed tools at exactly 5pm on the Friday before Christmas. Neither had a watch between them but the new Monastery bells rang out confirming the hour of the day. The date was December 18th, 1912. It was a freezing day and both men were numb from head to toe. Their hands were blistered and sore carrying the heavy black granite rocks, some so large they were back-breaking to move and it took both of them to position the rocks on the double layer they had already cemented along the first 80 feet of the 300 foot wall they were building to seal off the garden between the Monastery and the back of Ross’s Mill.
They checked that all the tools, buckets, spades, and the wheelbarrows were put in the tin hut where they took their lunch and locked it up for the night. Sammy had a chesty cough and he feared he would not be fit for work on the Monday but would stay in bed over the weekend to try and get better for next week. He had promised the family a fat goose from one of the farms up Divis Mountain for their Christmas dinner, something they never missed out on and looked forward to, it was a sort of Christmas ritual in the Millar house-hold.
Sammy and his wife Clara had 10 children and Clara worked in Ross Mill. She worked part time in the drying out room. Sammy’s eldest son Ned was to his first wife Rose who died in childbirth. Ned was married to a girl from Colligan Street also called Rose where they both lived with her mother. They were married a few years and had known from the beginning of their marriage that Rose could not have children. This was of great disappointment to them both but specially to Rose as she was an only child and longed sorely for motherhood. In their tiny scullery Rose was gutting the herons she bought that morning in the market for dinner. Meanwhile a few streets away something was happening that would change the course of all their lives.
In a backyard toilet 14-year-old Sarah Jones was giving birth to a baby boy. Sarah worked in Conway Mill and one of the many mornings she was late for work her boss called her into his office where he threatened to sack her for bad time keeping; unless she would do him a favour! Sarah was like most girls of that age, naive and trusting of older people, especially those in authority, and when he asked her to lift her skirt, she was embarrassed because she was wearing no knickers. After raping her he coldly told her to dry her eyes, tossed her a coin and told her to go to the Falls baths and get herself washed. She dried her eyes on the hem of her tattered skirt and hurried off before anyone would ask where she was going.
Even after the bath with carbolic soap Sarah didn’t feel clean. She never felt clean again. Ever! Now standing with her hands pushing against the small dark toilet wall in the backyard of her house she pushed and heaved and without a single scream for fear of being heard by a neighbour she delivered into the world a baby boy.
Her 6 brothers and her father were out working so she was safe for the moment from being found out by them. She had a pair of scissors she’d stolen from the mill wrapped in a cloth that would cut the umbilical cord and separate her from this baby for life. She knew about cutting the cord from listening to women in the street who would congregate on summer nights telling stories of childbirth and deaths, wakes and such things in the early 20th century Belfast.
One story that had stuck in her mind was about Mrs Kelly’s dead baby and how hard the delivery had been in her front upstairs bedroom. Sarah remembered every detail and every time it was retold Mrs Kelly still cried. She always blessed nurse Peel for her kindness in removing the baby and getting it buried in the poor ground up at Milltown Cemetery for them because Mr Kelly wasn’t working, and this was their tenth child. They couldn’t afford a burial. Nurse Peel was thought of as a saint round the Clonard area. Sarah remembered Mrs Kelly saying that as nurse Peel was cutting the cord with scissors, she felt a strange empty feeling. Sarah now wondered if she would feel that same emptiness as she would do to herself as nurse Peel did to Mrs Kelly.
Sarah’s father and brothers didn’t usually come out to use the toilet in the bad weather unless it was to sit, they kept a large tin bucket beside the coalhole in the scullery which each in turn, when it was almost full, would empty down the drain; only Sarah used the outdoor toilet regardless of the weather so she was sure she would not be disturbed on this terrible occasion even if they were too come home early. She had hung on the back of the door an old discoloured pillowcase with some newspapers inside; she knew there was no way she could keep this poor baby even if she had wanted too.
It was Friday and her brothers and father would be found in Maguire’s for a pint of porter after their weeks work. So, after cleaning herself with the toilet water and carbolic soap she placed the baby into the pillowcase. Moving swiftly through the scullery to the kitchen she listened at the front door for the sound of footsteps or voices fearing that someone might observe the bloodstained pillowcase and enquire what was inside it. She recognised a familiar voice and waited until ma Johnson passed; she was talking to a boy going from door to door selling sticks; their house was in darkness and he walked by oblivious to the drama that had just moments earlier taken place.
The only thought in Sarah’s head was to leave this baby where she was certain it would not be found, at least until it was too late. No one would be near the wall being built until Monday morning, or so she thought! She gently laid the pillowcase containing the baby on the cold, frozen ground behind the wall and just before scuttering away into an eternal nightmare she remembered what Mrs Kelly had told the other women about nurse Peel baptising her baby in case it wouldn’t be admitted into heaven; she irreverently muttered the words “I baptise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”.
At the same time, Sammy Millar, realising he had forgotten his lunch box that still had a few spoons of tea and some milk left inside it, went all the way back to get it; it would not go to waste in his house over the week-end. He brought his youngest son Sean with him to hold his cold hand in case he should slip or fall. Cautiously they walked over the rubble that lay along the building site and at times young Sean leading his feverish father and steadying him, slipped himself on the now icy snow. To the young boy it felt like he was leader of an expedition going along a dangerous mountain track, he was having the time of his life on this short journey. Sean lit the matches for his father as he fumbled with his keys, unlocking the hut and afterwards relocking it. As they turned to go back, a star shot across the black sky above; Sammy thought he heard a baby’s cry. “Listen, son, what was that?”
“A cat, da, maybe it’s caught up in the wire”
“Go look behind the wall”
The boy obeyed and jumped over the wall missing the pillowcase by an inch. “Da, it’s a cat in a cloth bag and its moving, its alive”
“Don’t touch it son, leave it to me” he called out in the dark and he moved cautiously over the bricks he and Gerard O Hagan had earlier cemented together.
“My God, what is it?” he whispered to himself, then told Sean to step aside in case it would bite or claw him. Cautiously cutting the pillowcase open down the middle with his pocket pen knife he jumped up straight pushed Sean behind him to shield him from the horrific sight of a bloodied baby with the umbilical cord glued to the material with clots of blood. Instantly the baby cried out. Shivering and in the freezing cold Sammy was brought tears with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. For a split-second Sammy didn’t see this poor baby boy instead he saw his own dear child that had died along with its mother. Sammy took of his coat and wrapped it tightly around the baby and for a second the crying ceased. Recognising that this baby wouldn’t survive much longer in the cold they hurried of to somewhere warm.
The snow thickened and young Sean scouted in front for any hidden holes along the site until they reached the street. The gas lamps were all lite. Mr Green the lamps lighter was always punctual, noted for not missing a single day’s work of lighting the lamps in the Clonard area. He could be seen carrying the ladders on the side of his bike through every street in this small enclave. The heavy snow camouflaged the fact that Sammy wasn’t wearing a coat. Instead of going home they went to Ned and Roses house in Colligan street; Sammy had sworn Sean to secrecy and sent him ahead to have the hall door open and to make sure there were no visitors in the house. Sean, not yet old enough to be wearing long trousers felt keenly minute by minute that he had reached a kind of manhood to have been trusted with all these grown up responsibilities!
The fire was blazing with turf packed to the chimney and the damper was pulled out; Friday night was Rosie’s bath night and the tin tub had already been laid in front of the fire and four buckets full of hot water already poured in; the curtains were firmly closed with no gap for peering eyes or a draft to invade the privacy of Rose’s bath time. The front door was locked. Sean banged twice and shouted ‘Ned, Ned, open up quick it me and da!’ The banging startled Ned as he began emptying the fifth bucket into the tub. Sammy reached the door just as Ned unlocked it and stumbled across the floor almost dropping the baby into the bath. The thick snow falling onto the oilcloth that carpeted the flood became a slippery mess of liquid.
‘Lock the door lock the dammed door’ Sammy shouted and Ned, startled, obeyed.
Rose cried out ‘what in the name of God is happening here?’
Ned put his arm around her as his father put the blood stained pillowcase and its contents into the bath of water……………everyone in unison cried out ‘Oh my God, oh my God’ as the blood softened in the hot water and the tiny baby began to move and cry out……….it’s eyes opened and it seemed to look around at everyone! Rose knelt and began to pray as she bathed the baby gently. Sammy flopped down on the armchair and after taking deep breaths began to explain how this had all happened.
As Rose lifted the baby into her arms, she felt a love she had never felt before in her life not even to her dying day! At first, she wasn’t paying attention to what Sammy was saying she was so caught up in the emotion of holding this new-born baby tight to her heart. The baby, who ever owned it, had stolen Rose’s heart. She looked at Ned and then at Sammy as he said directly to her; ‘Whoever owns this baby left it there to die and has no right to it’ he went on to say that Ned and Rose should keep it and tell no one how they got it. They sent Sean to nurse Peels house in Fort street to say there was an emergency and could she come quickly. Nurse Peel was the local mid-wife in the area and was known for her compassion and kindness at all hours of the day and night. She arrived promptly and was told the whole story. Under the circumstances she fully agreed with their plan that Rose and Ned should keep the baby and because she knew Rose well, she knew the baby would be well loved and cared for. This was a secret between these five people that would never be spoken of again until the day Rose died!
The baby was Christened Noel and he grew into a handsome lad who took care of his parents and never once did he disappoint them in any of his endeavours; especially when he broke the news to them that he felt he had a vocation for the priesthood. They lived only a few streets away from the Clonard Monastery where he would play and pray daily. How he loved climbing the big wall at the bottom of the Monastery garden that his granda Sammy had helped to build, and where unknown to him he was found. He felt a pride about his grandfather building the wall and his friends would tease him about how some of the granite rocks stuck out a bit, but he would answer back that it was deliberate on his grand-fathers part because he knew that he would one day climb over the wall and that the rocks that stuck out would make it easier for him. He had great fun at that wall all the years of his growing up. The wall was like a map, at different points building it Sammy had marked significant days in the life of the area. Noel told all his friends that his grandfather had marked, the 18th of December 1912 the halfway mark on the second layer to remember that he had been given the good news on that spot that his first grandchild had been born. That grandchild was Noel.
The 18th of December was always a miserable day for Sarah Jones. She never came to terms with what she had done; and because she hadn’t heard any news of a baby being found she always assumed that because of the heavy snow that lasted for a fortnight that the pillowcase containing the baby had been either embedded somehow under the loose clay around the foundations of the wall or that it had been unknowingly shovelled up and dumped by the workmen on the site, the following week. Either scenario suited Sarah’s conscience most days for the first few years afterwards. Sarah herself was only a child after all and a terrible wrong had been inflicted on her. She never told anyone her story and had no regrets about her actions that December evening. She had blocked out the rape. She didn’t know it was rape, only that it was wrong. A terrible wrong. But when she was in her late 20’s it all began to suffice, and she became withdrawn and seldom went out. She never married, she never had a boyfriend even though she was very good looking and had many admirers. She was a wonderful aunt to all her 23 nephews and nieces. She read almost every book housed in the Carnegie Falls Road Library and spent most of her time there. Neighbours stopped bothering with Sarah as they considered her odd and then there was the drink.
The house always had a stash of porter bottles hidden somewhere. After her father died, the brothers didn’t call much. Sarah was alone. Only the past now was her companion. All the wondering ‘what ifs. And the drinking increased from nights into nights and days. Life was increasingly becoming a burden for Sarah. Drunk with porter and guilt she would begin to grieve for the little boy she had left to die alone. Until one night, after a failed attempt at gassing herself, she knew she had to unburden and free herself if she was to ever to go to heaven; for this was the way she thought. In the clear light of a New Year’s Day she promised herself that she would go and confess her sin. But to whom? Not anyone from St Pauls for she knew them all too well, how could she go there to St Pauls and tell that. She could never look any of the priests there in the eye again if they knew her sin, even though they were sworn to secrecy and could not repeat what she would tell them. She already knew that but, it was just them knowing that bothered her. So, she prepared herself to go to confession in Clonard Monastery where they would not know her or anything about her. She rehearsed many many times how she would explain it all. Then on a Saturday morning in December, remembering his birthday was near, she plucked up the courage to enter the bottom confessional.
“Bless me father for I have sinned” she spluttered out though the marsh wire that separated her from the young priest, Father Millar. He sat patiently with his head bowed. She told him about the rape and even told him the name of her rapist, he lifted his head slightly in shock as he knew this man and used to play football with his son Edward, they were classmates in St Galls. Sarah quietly sobbed, conscious that she might be overheard outside the confessional box; but just now she didn’t care she just wanted to put things right with God.
Eventually she told the priest about how she left the baby for dead, knowing no one would be around the wall untill the Monday, and how she heard nothing in the following weeks about a baby being found alive or dead. She told him she was glad and never tried to find out what had happened to the baby, that all she wanted was to forget it had ever happened. Not meaning to say the date or year, it came flowing out and she found that she wanted to say these details because she needed to talk about the baby to someone after all.
It was safe to talk about it here in the confessional box. She needed this; she had always needed this but had never realised it until now. It was like the valve in the wheel of a bicycle being punctured and all the air gushing out; there was no stopping it; it had taken all these years before the owner could begin to repair it. The relief was unexpected and liberating. Sarah was given Absolution and for her penance he told her to say a decade of the rosary for the baby’s father that he would be forgiven also.
Outside of the confessional Sarah knelt and began her penance for her rapist as the priest had told her to do! As the priest left the confessional almost an hour later, he observed Sarah kneeling in deep, silent contemplation, and recognising her by the green silk scarf she wore over the ginger ringlets that gave a unfashionable childish look to a woman of her age.
Father Millar had arrived in Clonard just three weeks previously; he was with the Limerick dioceses of the Redemptorist community and because his mother was dying and had only a short time left to live he requested a temporary transfer to be near her. That evening after hearing confessions as he returned to his mother in Colligan street he couldn’t get what Sarah had confessed to him out of his mind. Thinking of the terrible life she must have had and the death the poor baby had had he felt a chill in his bones. He missed the coincidence of where the baby had been left.
His mother Rose’s condition had weakened considerably since that morning and death was only a matter of hours away. The downstairs back room where Rose lay was dimly lit by the gas light on the back wall; she indicated with her hand that she had something important to say to Noel. He lowered his head and leaned his ear as near to her mouth as was possible. In slight whispers she told him the secret she did not want to take to her grave. She needed to share it with him, to confess to him the story of his birth that had been kept a secret from the day he was carried in her front door.
“Noel, it’s your birthday on Monday, my dear dear boy, your father and me loved you from the day you were born, when your grandfather carried you in to us wrapped in his coat, in from the freezing cold and the ice and snow, you were the greatest Christmas present imaginable. Did you ever wonder why you had no brothers or sisters, son? I couldn’t have any children. God sent you to us that night”.
Noel sat listening with his head bent feeling his mother’s shortened breaths warm on his cheek; it felt like earlier in the confessional for some reason, but he could not fathom why. “She left you in the cold in a pillowcase covered with blood behind the Clonard wall that your granda was building. Your granda forgot his lunch box and went back for it and there you were in the dark crying like a little kitten. He brought you here for us to love you, and we did! We never told you because nothing was ever legal about us keeping you and we were afraid that your mother, the woman who gave birth to you, would find out we had you and come and take you from us and we could never let that happen………forgive us Noel for not telling you and forgive her, she had to be a local woman to have left you there………….forgive us all, tell me: say it to me, say that you forgive me”.
The confession from earlier from that woman came banging on Noel’s head like a hatchet………….he couldn’t believe what he had just been told. Closing his eyes, he held his dying mothers two hands and as he went to whisper to her she drew her final breath………and she was gone. His mother was dead. He walked to the front door and watched the snow fall; as children played in the street.
In 1911 there was a lot of talk of a coming uprising in Ireland. Nationalism was no longer a hidden force. It had become prominent with the rise of the Fenian movement. All 32 counties of Ireland were under the control of the British since they had invaded the country and ruled by murder, threats, division, bribery and corruption 700 year previously. Belfast was an unsafe place to live if you were a Catholic due to the ever-growing division between the Catholic and Protestant population. Catholics tended to stay in their own areas; the Royal Irish Constabulary were the policing force of the time, the majority of which belonged to the Catholic faith, some of whom would have aspired to the unity of Ireland as well.
Constable Con Marley was from the Governor Road and had been friends with Sammy Millar since childhood; they played together in the Dunville Park and made their first confessions in St Peters on the same day. He was a cousin of Sammy’s first wife Rose and had even did best man at their wedding. There was a close bond between both men. Occasionally if Con was on duty about the Springfield Road he would walk round for a chat with Sammy as he worked building the Clonard wall. One day, a Tuesday, as Sammy was sitting on the wall having his lunch, Con cautiously stepped over the uneven ground towards him beckoning him with a nod of the head to come inside the workman’s hut. After closing the door to ensure that Gerard O Hagan wouldn’t hear their conversation Con pulled from under his uniform a gun. A Webley. The armoury of the R.I.C.
“You might need this one day soon” whispered Con as he handed the gun to Sammy.
“Do you think so?” Sammy replied.
“Yes, there’s talk in the Barracks of meetings all over”
“Will it not be missed?”
“No, I’ve made sure of that’ and he smiled and walked out from the hut and went to sort out a dead donkey up at the Springfield dam.
The Webley was parcelled up inside a sack cloth with some waterproof sheeting. They were on the eighth double row of the wall and when Gerard O Hagan went to load the wheelbarrow with rocks, Sammy placed the gun neatly between two rocks and covered it lightly with cement. The gun remained there until it was accidently discovered by two boys climbing the wall many years later: This is what happened.
It was 1922 and civil war was raging all over Ireland, except in six of the nine counties of Ulster of which Belfast was the largest area. When news of Michael Collins’ death reached Belfast there was chaos, fear and sadness everywhere. People were standing in the tiny streets talking about what might happen next. There was utter confusion and extreme anxiety. In Belfast the Catholic people, had so much already to contend with, because they were the minority within a sectarian and artificial statelet; or as many of them said they were ‘Lambs lead to the slaughter’ and the blame was put on Collins, with good reason!
Five months later and still oblivious to all the sectarian tensions directed at the Clonard area two nine -year-old boys were climbing the bottom outer wall of Clonard Monastery when one of them, Mickey Flynn, who was known as ginger bap and sometimes freckle face, gripped a loose rock half way up the wall which unsteadied him and caused him to fall backwards to the ground leaving his left ankle twisted and painful. It did not deter Mickey from trying again to master the wall, for now he was certain that something was hidden behind the rock to make it stand out so much from the wall.
Standing this time on Paul Mc Garry’s shoulders he reached for the loose rock and manoeuvring it from side to side with extreme caution he eventually managed to remove it from the wall. There was a loud thud as the rock hit the ground sending shivers up both boys’ spines; the sound not unsimilar to a dead body being dropped from a height, but the boys were not to know of such things, just yet! Mickey, blindly feeling inside the hole, found the gun wrapped in a piece of rag that had been hidden there years before by Sammy Millar who had since died and had neither trusted nor burdened anyone with this particular secret.
Ironically, Mickey would die in Canada almost fifteen years later climbing the Rockies. But for now, on this cold, damp January evening those two boys were so proud of their find. They could not believe their luck. A gun after-all and a real gun at that was a mind blowing find for any nine-year-old. Their instinct was to find a safe hiding place for the gun but first they must put the rock back in case who ever had hidden the gun would notice that the rock was missing, and there would be consequences. Both boys were no strangers to hidings with a belt!
They needed to find a new hiding place for the gun and to return the rock to the wall; the latter being the more difficult! They hid the gun under a hawthorn bush near-by intending to find a better hide-out for it after they put the rock back. The rock was just too heavy for Mickey to hold while standing on Paul’s shoulders. After several attempts they decided to get help.
The help was in the form of Paddy Healy’s donkey. The donkey, called Joey, was a pleasant enough animal, unlike its owner who was always known to be an angry man. The reason being that he was jilted at the altar by wee Jeanie Wilson with the skelly eyes from up the Springfield. He trolled the little streets around the Clonard area with Joey and his cart, shouting for rags or potato skins for which he kept a bucket hanging from the back of the cart, in exchange for a single piece of delph, usually a cup or a bowl, depending on the amount of rags or potato skins given. The one thing Pat Healy had in his favour was that he was good to Joey and kept him in a stable up at the ‘Flush’ on the Springfield road. Every night at 6 o’ clock as St Pauls, St Peters and Clonard bells rang out Pat would make his way up the road to check that Joey was okay. To do so he had to pass wee Jeanie’s house and would always glance across the road in hope of seeing her. He never lost hope of her changing her mind.
His nightly routine was the same, always the same; afterwards he’d head down to The Long Bar in Lesson street for three bottles of porter; he’d drink one in the bar and bring the other two home, one for himself and one for Mrs Healy, his mother.
All three sets of Chapel bells rang out and Paddy was spotted by the two boys making his way up the Springfield. It would be an hour before he would cut back through the little streets of Clonard making his way to the Long Bar in Lesson street. The boys stood at the corner of Colligan street facing the Barracks as he passed them without a glance. All was clear for the two boys to borrow Joey for half an hour. It was a straight-forward mission. What could go wrong?
By nature, Joey was a lazy sort of donkey and he obeyed his masters voice only! Joey and Paddy both had a stubborn streak and were not inclined to respond to pressure from anyone, even Paddy’s mother who was secretly glad she did not have to share her son with a wife, for she knew plenty her own age, who were put into second place because of a wife and children. At her time in life she was surely a lucky woman who didn’t even need to use the pawn shop, ever!
Out of breath the boys reached the stable to find Joey already bedded for the night. The bar across the stable’s half door needed oiling; they were not to know that there was a knack in unbarring it. While Mickey leaped over the half door Paul continued to manoeuvre the bar because they would need the door opened to lead Joey out, or so they thought. But Joey was not for being led anywhere. He was a donkey of habit, like his owner, he was not for being moved!
“We should have brought a carrot or some cabbage or potato skins to lead him by the nose” whispered Mickey, as though he didn’t want Joey to hear. They both then attempted to roll the donkey sideways to force him up on his legs, but to no avail, the donkey refused to move and began to bray, low at first then gradually louder. The boys were afraid that someone walking a dog might hear so they tried to silence Joey by holding his mouth shut, but at this Joey struct out with his hind legs sending poor Paul against the water trough and injuring his back. Mickey helped Paul to his feet and decided to have a rethink about borrowing Joey but they gave it one more try and this time Mickey was head butted by the animal and so they both agreed to return back quickly to the Wall. They left the door to the stable open because they couldn’t get the bar to go back into the slot, their thinking was that no matter what, the donkey would move for no one, so there was no fear of Paddy returning to an empty stable in the morning.
On their way back to the wall Mickey remarked how clear the sky was and how the full moon had lit up everywhere along the Springfield road. The street lighting in Clonard wasn’t great at times but tonight the moon’s light lit up even the narrow entries at the back of all the little streets where dogs lay guarding the back doors of every house. The brightness of the moon might prove to be a disadvantage to them in case they would be seen putting the rock back or recognised retrieving the gun.
At last they reached the wall. Out of breath and excited they had agreed to leave the rock where it had fallen on the ground, but something was wrong; the rock had disappeared. In the moon light they gasped, the rock was back in the wall. They were dumb founded. How could this be? Then turning they scurried to the Hawthorne bush where they had left the gun only to find it was gone!
Had it not been that the sack cloth, the gun was wrapped in, was tied onto the bush where the boys had earlier hidden it, they may have thought this was all a dream. At that exact moment the boys heard a noise like a donkey’s braying and were startled to see a star dart across the dark sky as the full moon shed its light upon the wall.
Next day, Paddy and Joey were doing their rounds as the boys stood at the corner of Colligan street when another strange thing occurred, and it was this: Joey stopped on the road in line where the boys stood smoking at the corner and did what he had never did before (as he was a donkey of routine and discipline) he emptied his bowels there and then, looked sideways at the boys, brayed loudly and in military fashion, if there is such a thing for a donkey to do, he then marched on as Paddy holding on to the side of the cart gave a dirty look to the boys.
The gun was never recovered and neither boy told their story to anyone least they be thought of as mad!
The Tar & Feathers
Tina was a lovely red haired and freckled faced 16-year old who had always longed, from childhood, to have a boyfriend; a real boy-friend, not just a friend who was a boy, but someone she could be romantic with. She would look out her bedroom window at night and envy all the young couples stroll down or up the Springfield road hand in hand or with arms arounds each other. She felt the two things that kept her from having a boyfriend were the colour of her hair and her freckles. She also had what were known in Belfast as ‘buck teeth’ and she wore glasses as well. Next week she was getting the braces taken of her front teeth and decided not to wear her glasses, except in work. She worked in the Tyrone clothing factory down off the Donegal road where she walked to and from every day. Unlike the other girls she knew on their way to work, Tina got no wolf whistles from passing vans or men on the building sites.
The day finally arrived when her braces were removed, it hadn’t made a big difference to her teeth but the relief of being freed from the braces made a big psychological difference to how Tina now felt about her looks. She became emboldened and decided to dye her hair, regardless of what her parents would say; she knew for certain that they would disapprove, and make her feel bad, she always felt bad not only about her looks, but the person she was as well, the real Tina. But she was almost seventeen now and all her friends had boyfriends and one even got married just before Christmas, her mother said it was a shotgun wedding, but Tina was naive and didn’t fully understand what that meant!
She wasn’t brave enough to buy a bright blond dye with peroxide in it and settled instead for a honey blond rinse which turned out well leaving Tina confident and happy with her new look. On New Year’s Eve 1969 Tina had nowhere to go and no one to go out with. Her new look came too late for the season. She called to her friend Sadie’s house to see what she was doing that night. Sadie answered the door holding a paint brush with red paint dripping from it. What an awful shade of red Tina thought to herself; Sadie explained she and her boyfriend Tom were painting her bed-room and that was a good excuse to get her parents approval for him to be alone with her in her room.
“Red for passion” Sadie told Tina in a whisper.
“Red for danger, you mean” Tina whispered back and giggled as she walked away hiding the hurt of being on her own once more and especially now at this important night of the year.
All her other friends went to parties and dances in St Pauls with their boyfriends. Tina sat behind the curtains in her bedroom dreaming and making promises to herself that 1970 would be the year where she would get a real boyfriend and fall madly in love and be truly happy for once! Sitting alone in her bedroom she listened to Roy Orbison ‘In Dreams’ and she longed so much for Love!
With her new look, on returning to work after the Christmas holidays, she was befriended by some new girlfriends. Angela, who lived on the Shankill began walking home each evening with Tina, they both found that they had similar interests in music and magazines and off course…………boys. Angela’s brother was in the British Army and was stationed in Aldershot. Tina didn’t know too much about politics at that time and although she was aware that in the Clonard area, especially after the burning of Bombay street and the shooting dead of young Gerard McAuley, that the people of the area had no time for the British Army or anyone who supported them. It was an unwritten rule that you just didn’t speak to the British Army. Anyway, Angela invited Tina to an army dance inside the barracks at Northumberland street on Tuesday night. Tina agreed to go but knew not to mention it at home or to any of her friends from Clonard.
Tina had no make-up, but that was no problem as Angela made her face up during their lunch break the afternoon of the dance. Green eye shadow and Peppermint Kiss lip stick. Tina was transformed. She looked modern and Angela brought into work a navy mini skirt that would go well with the white knee socking Tina had got at Christmas. She was so excited. But a niggling doubt kept coming into spoil her joy. They agreed to meet at 7pm outside the main gates of the barracks. It was January and there was no lighting in Northumberland Street, the lighting stopped when you left the main Falls Road. This suited Tina as no one would see her, or so she thought, as she made her way up to the barrack gates. It could be dangerous if you were seen to be fraternising with the British soldiers
Once inside the barracks Tina left all doubts behind; the atmosphere was electric; she had never experienced anything like this before. It was her first disco. The coloured lights flashed on and off and her bra lit up as the green light hit her on the dance floor, but for just a moment she couldn’t have cared less who saw her bra but quickly remembered the size of her knickers and didn’t want them to light up………….they would not have looked so good even though the light gave a surreal look to everyone’s underwear, she didn’t think anything could make her big knickers look good. She tactfully kept dancing outside of the green light. She danced the night away with at least 3 different soldiers, one of whom she was sure was an African who’s teeth looked surreal under the lights. It was wild and wonderful and then off course there was the slow dances; Tina’s sensuality suddenly awoke. She surrendered to feelings of excitement as a warmth run through her body that overtook her expectations of this evening.
Angela introduced her to Dave who was tall and handsome. Gazing into her eyes he said “Hey blondie what’s your name?” He and Tina clicked instantly under the flashing lights on that dance floor and a flood of magic electricity drew their bodies together with magnetic force. Maybe it was too soon, but Tina felt she was in love before the dance was even over. Love at first sight; for her anyway! Outside the barracks he took her hand and cautiously walked her part of the way home. They were the only couple to walk in the direction of the Falls road.
Having a boy take her hand felt wonderful and to be walked partly home from a dance was even better. She had dreamt this scene over and over as she watched couples from behind the curtains in her room and now it was her turn. She put the thought, that there might be unpleasant consequences out of her mind because he wasn’t in uniform and no one could tell that he was a British soldier by just looking at him. Anyway, what was so wrong about finding romance in Belfast 1970!
They ventured cautiously along the little path between Ross’s Mill and the Monastery wall that led into Clonard street; stopping every few yards to kiss. She had never been kissed like that before and it was so overwhelming that she thought she was going to melt on the spot. His kisses were sweet and became longer and longer. What had she been missing all her life? The moment had arrived, her moment was here, but still it felt like forbidden fruit for some unknown reason to Tina. She tried to put this thought out of her mind because this new experience was beyond words and she was taken unawares by the thrill of it all. A silly fleeting feeling of foreboding would not change her desire to be romanced or even loved; she would not let self-doubt take anything away from these moments of pleasure.
The hair dye and make-up had transformed not only her appearance but also her confidence. She felt new, different, exciting and for once, interesting and pleasing to the opposite sex. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; everyone said that! She would never be without make-up again she thought to herself as the young lovers moved alone the wall now wet with the hard rain. “Oh my God” she cried out in whispered ecstasy as his hands touched the bare flesh under her mini-skirt. She had only ever imagined the gentle force which was un-virgining her!
His name was Dave Smythe and neither of them had pen nor paper or even a telephone number to get in touch; telephones were scarce in Belfast and Tina’s mother would usually go to a phone box on the Falls Road to ring for the doctor when needed. Dave promised to contact her through Angela the following day at work. It was so hard to walk away from him, she wished he could come home and stay with her forever.
Tina’s mother was sitting poking the dying embers in the hearth; it was past mid-night and she was concerned because Tina had never stayed out this late before. Soaked to the skin when she reached home Tina hurried up-stairs before her mother could see the state of her with the mini-skirt and minus her knickers; though the mother couldn’t have known she was wearing no knickers but still the thought was in Tina’s head because the skirt was so short.
Angela didn’t show up for work the following day. This made Tina nervous and anxious because there was no one in work she could talk to about the night before. She couldn’t tell Sadie that she had been to a soldiers’ disco and had fallen in love with one. What would happen if anyone found out, she wondered; at this stage in the troubles Tina could not have foreseen the consequences of going with a soldier; if she had known she would have run away there and then; or would she have?
That evening Angela called to Tina’s house. She was nervous about being in the Clonard area in the dark. Tina grabbed her Duffle coat from the hall and walked quickly to the wall at Clonard with Angela. By the light of the moon Tina could make out the tall silhouette of someone leaning, smoking a cigarette against the wall mid-way down the narrow pathway. Tina’s heart leapt and both girls hurried along until she was wrapped in Dave’s arms. As Angela left them she shouted back to Tina that she’d see her in work the following day.
The only safe place they could be seen together was inside Dave’s barracks at Northumberland street. After being searched at the gate he took her to a small out-building that in earlier times was used by the night watchman to take a break. Inside was dark and smelt of ‘old musty junk’. On the floor there was a grey army type blanket that felt rough on her bare skin as he gently lowered her naked body placing her head on his overcoat that he’d made into a pillow.
At first they tried not to make noise, but, the moaning, such loud moaning echoed as each moan ended and another was began! His warm nakedness on top of her young soft flesh was enough to satisfy all her needs in that small out-building on the coldest January night in Belfast 1970.
Dave lit up a cigarette as they lay side by side; Tine opened her mouth to catch the smoke blown gently into her face; they didn’t hear the three bursts of gun fire from near-by Leesons street or the ambulance that screeched moments later. They were oblivious to the turmoil developing a few streets away.
It was eleven o clock when they ventured out from the barracks. The soldier on guard duty gave a hand signal indicating it was safe for them to go. “All’s clear” he whispered in his Welsh accent. Dave winked at him in acknowledgment. Holding hands they moved swiftly towards Conway street without noticing two girls who were following them from a distance.
It was hard saying good night. Tina didn’t want to go home. She was a new person now, a different person than the girl who left home earlier, she was now complete, a woman, and a woman in love! Dave gave her a phone number to ring him the following night and she put it into her duffle coat pocket for safe keeping. He left her half-way down the pathway at the wall and watched until she was on Clonard street. She turned to wave back at him but he was nowhere to be seen.
When she opened the front door of her house her mother and father were waiting. She knew that meant trouble. Big trouble. She lied to them saying that she’d been with Angela listening to records in her room. They knew she was lying. They were afraid for her. They handed her a leaflet that was circulated in the area about local girls fraternising with soldiers. “Is this about you Tina, are you one of these girls”? She didn’t want to lie anymore to them and ran upstairs crying. Her mother followed and sat on the bed with her. “Has anyone seen you with him, Tina” she asked. Tina nodded and said she didn’t think so.
Her mother explained how dangerous it would be if she was found out. Tina just sobbed and told her mother she was in love and his name was Dave. Her mother’s disapproval could not be contained, she lashed out in explicit language and leaving Tina sobbing she turned at the bedroom door and said “Sometimes a mother has to be cruel to be kind, Tina, no good can come of this, no good!”
It was a long sleepless night for Tina but she could no longer do what her parents wanted her to do just because they said so! She was a woman now and had someone to love her and that would make everything different in her life! She decided not to go to work, instead, she pretended to go to work as usual and went into town to make the phone call to Dave and to tell him what was happening and that she would leave home to be with him. Annoyingly the phone just kept ringing; finally convincing herself that there must be a fault on the line.
She spent most of the day in St Mary’s Chapel in Chapel Lane. After walking round and doing the Stations of the Cross she lit six candles, they were 3 pence each and although she hadn’t the money to pay for them she promised God she’d pay next time she was there!
Walking back home up the Falls road as she approached the traffic lights at the corner of Northumberland street her eyes lit up when she spotted an army foot patrol. She hoped that Dave might be one of them; she listened hoping to hear her name called out. But, no name calling, no Dave, just her heart racing with fear or excitement, she knew not which; she was dreading getting home!
After dinner she put on some make-up and left home closing the door quietly behind her. As she made her way down the little narrow path at the wall, she noticed a group of girls standing beside the tree trunk that faced the wall mid-way down the path. The pathway was lit up by the moon and it was slippery and hard because of the frost. She became anxious as she approached where the group were gathered. There seemed an eerie silence that should have alerted Tina to the danger she was about to encounter. But all she could think about was getting to the Barracks to see Dave.
Up close she didn’t recognise any of them. “Hey, Tina, brit lover” were the only words she heard as she was grabbed from behind and pinned to the tree trunk. She yelled out, confused and helpless, as a stocking was shoved into her mouth. Struggling to break free one of them told her to keep still and make it easy for herself; she kept struggling until she felt the wet paint soak her head and run down her face and over her legs. She put her head down to avoid the paint going into her eyes and mouth. Then the strangest thing happened. A calmness come over her. Her body stopped all resistance to the violent act being inflicted on her. What was happening she didn’t know, she had never heard of the words ‘Tarred and Feathered’ but she did understand that it had something to do with Dave. With loving a British Soldier. They tied a poster around her neck, it read: Brit Lover.
The deed done; operation successful; active service completed for the night. Was this a punishment? Or a deterrent? Or both! Who were they?
In the casualty the red paint was still dripping from her hair. Red paint. That awful shade of red. Red for passion. Red for danger!
Stranger still, when Tina’s hair grew back it was blond.
There were always stories and rumours about ghosts in the Clonard area. One ghost story in particular had been given authenticity when a young girl known only as wee Jeanie was caught smoking at the back of the Clonard wall. Frightened of a beating with her father’s belt she told that a small girl with a hump on her back gave her the cigarette because she agreed to help the little girl find her mother. Wee Jeanie had a great imagination and could make the impossible seem plausible.
The origin of the original story is unknown, but it went something like this: A baby was born out of wedlock to a young girl called Kitty from the Pound Loney and it was born dead. Her father wrapped it in a large, soft red piece of cloth that his own mother had wrapped all her ten babies in after they were each born in her back bedroom. He took the nameless baby and buried it so no one would ever know that Kitty had given birth; the poor dead baby had a hump on its back. Kitty had never held the baby in her arms, nor had she been allowed to open her eyes to see its poor deformed body. The only thing she knew for sure was that it was a girl.
Her father shed no tears as he buried his first grandchild in an unmarked grave alongside the Clonard garden wall. It was said that Kitty would walk the streets every night throughout the whole of December at midnight trying to find her baby and always ending up at the Clonard wall where she could be seen talking to someone that no one else could see.
Years later people would tell stories about seeing a little girl standing crying for her mother at the back of the Clonard garden wall; they all said she had a hump on her back and that it was Kitty from the Pound Loney’s wee baby.
People loved telling the story and used it to frighten their own children from hanging about with bad company at the back of the Clonard wall late at night. One night wee Jeanie herself witnessed the strangest of happenings long after she had made up the story of the little girl giving her the cigarette, and this is it. Honestly!
Wee Jeanie went to the annual Clonard New Year’s Eve Ceoli and taking the short cut back home before mid-night along the icy pathway at the Clonard wall she lagged behind her friends, Toe McArdle, Christy Williams and Sarah Green, because she had twisted her ankle up dancing the Hay Makers Jig. Wee Jeanie was a great Irish dancer and had won many medals in feis’s all over the North. Toe McArdle was her dancing partner, mainly because they were both the same size; five foot and one inch exactly.
Toe and the others didn’t notice wee Jeanie’s disappearance until they reached Conway street at the end of the pathway. They went on to Toe’s house for a bit of a party thinking wee Jeanie would follow. As it happened, she had slid on the ice and banged her head against the Clonard wall rendering her unconscious for an unknown amount of time. Her body became cold and stiff. She tried desperately to open her eyes but they kept closing; she moaned and tried to shout out but no sound passed through her lips. The cold still air generated an atmospheric silence that seemed unreal to Wee Jeanie as she lay there helpless.
As fireworks began welcoming the new year in, wee Jeanie wondered if she would survive the next hour. Unusually, at that exact moment, a crowd of crows circled above her……… she wondered what they were doing out at this hour of night. They were flying so low she thought they looked like they were waiting for something to happen; was it something to do with herself that they were waiting for?
Finally, after slipping in and out of consciousness, her eyes focused into the deep blackness of the sky and with the moons light and it’s company of dazzling stars and low flying birds as a backdrop, the scene which was about to be played out on the icy stage, was in perfect keeping with the storyline.
Suddenly a surge of warmth passed over wee Jeanie as she felt the softness of a cloth across her body. Through her blurred vision it looked like a red flannel sheet and standing above her was a young girl and she was crying and smiling at the same time.
Wee Jeanie tried to speak but she couldn’t, she tried to lift her arm but it wouldn’t move; it felt like a rock of ice and lay heavy by her side; she could barely think and wasn’t sure if this was all a bad dream or reality. Where were the others and who was this child standing smiling with tears in her eyes over her? Then the little girl spoke to her, not in words, no, no words were uttered, instead it was telepathic. Somehow wee Jeanie understood what the child was asking! The child asked wee Jeanie if she knew where her mammy was, she asked with such sadness that wee Jeanie felt a tear run down her face!
Wee Jeanie uttering her reply softly told her that she didn’t know who her mammy was and that she hadn’t seen anyone other than her 3 friends who had went on and left her there. The child cried soundlessly and wee Jeanie responded in painful whispers ‘help me and I’ll help you look for your mammy ’.
Wee Jeanie felt every sharp bump of the uneven ground below her as she was being dragged along the narrow pathway. In her irrational logic she thought she was being sandpapered down from head through to her now bare legs. Her head was banging and with each bang her eyes involuntary opened and closed again. What was happening to her? To where was she being taken? The moon was her guiding light and the explosion of more fireworks in the sky reassured her that she was still in the land of the living.
Eventually the dragging sensation stopped and again wee Jeanie slipped in and out of consciousness. She didn’t know where exactly she was but she did know she was no longer beside the wall. It had been over two hours since she slid on the pathway before she was discovered by nurse Peel who was on her way home after delivering the first baby born on that Sunday 1st January 1950.
Nurse Peel recognised the serious condition wee Jeanie was in and ran as fast as she could to the main road for help, checking the outside of every house on her way past for signs of a telephone line; but there were none. She spotted headlights coming up the Falls road towards her and so she ran out waving her white nurse’s apron. It turned out to be an undertaker on his way to the Royal hospital to pick up a corpse; handy enough nurse Peel thought and not a moment too soon either.
The hospital doctor explained to wee Jeanie’s mother that she was lucky to have survived the severe drop in temperature over-night. He remarked that if she hadn’t been found by nurse Peel at that time she may have died from the cold. Even another hour may have been fatal. She may not have regained consciousness, he explained. Wee Jeanie’s mother turned pure white at the thought of losing her daughter.
Her broken arm and broken leg would heal, but sadly her recollection of what had happened could not so easily be mended. He also explained that she was concussed and may be confused for a few days about what had in fact happened to her and how she had managed to crawl from the wall out onto the street. His theory was that, surely no one would have trailed her out from where she had fallen and just left her for someone else to find lying on the street in such a serious condition.
Wee Jeanie’s new year resolution was that she was never ever going to make up stories again about anything; in case they came true. Right now she didn’t know what the truth of that night was. If she told the whole story to anyone they just wouldn’t believe her, especially what she thought she saw as she lay on the road and it was this: As everything came to a halt on the road she again felt a warmth move across her body and opening her eyes she saw the red blanket that was keeping her warm (and alive) She still did not know where it had come from, but was grateful anyway. She tried to raise her head a little and was able to see the child standing there still crying, and indeed she still bore a hump on her little back, but, wee Jeanie saw something else far more frightening.
Behind the little girl stood at least another 10 or 11 small children, a mixture of boys and girls. Wee Jeanie screamed inwardly at the thought of what that could mean.
She swore to herself that she’d never walk past the wall again but it turned out she did and it was for this reason. Exactly 12 weeks after her accident a knock came to her front door and it was nurse Peel enquiring how she was now. Her mother wasn’t at home so wee Jeanie didn’t bring the nurse in for a cup of tea and a biscuit as her mother would have done, so all the talking was happened on the doorstep. As nurse Peel turned to walk away she pulled from her big bag something wrapped in brown paper. She said to wee Jeanie, “I’ve washed it but didn’t manage to get the blood stains out completely, whoever found you first, put this over you, and it saved your life, give it back if you can”.
Wee Jeanie, pulled open the brown paper to find the large red blanket……..carefully folded. Without delay she made her was across the street to the wall and to the exact spot where she saw the little girl; she reverently placed the blanket on the spot and offered up a prayer for all the children who might have been buried there.