Saturday, 20 November 2010
Counting the bombs on Bloody Friday
Image Copyright Belfast Telegraph (used with permission)
I was eight years old and playing with my mates in the street. It was in the middle of the summer holidays. To me a boy who hated school, the summer holidays were heaven. The lazy summer days were spent with my mates acting out our imaginations, creating games to play out of nothing. From collecting ladybirds from the Ormeau Park to playing football to holding our own Wimbledon tennis tournament using a gable wall with a chalk line drawn across it as a net, the summer holidays were a soft haze of endless wonder. So many times I wanted to freeze time as I was lying in Ormeau Park breathing in as much as I could, the smell of the freshly cut grass.
It was afternoon when the first bomb went off. This was no big deal at all to Belfast folk and as I played in the street with my mates Smicker and Marty, we took very little notice of it and carried on with our games. By 1972 the people of Belfast had become desensitised to hearing bomb-blasts reverberating across the city. It was now simply part of life and Belfast folk simply got on with things living in hope that perhaps the eejits who were fighting would one day stop.
Within minutes of the first bomb another one was felt in the ground beneath us. That was two bombs in very quick succession? That was a bit odd to the point that it was worth a "Wow, there's another one!" comment from Me, Smicker and Marty. Regardless we carried on with our games. Then another bomb, and another one...and another. The bombs and their resulting Earth shudders kept on and on with only a few minutes in between them. By now people were coming out of their houses onto the street to discuss what was going on with their neighbours. My mother was by now tuned into the "Police Messages" on the radio and reporting anything to the neighbours out in the street. The Police radio frequency signal was right at the end of the dial on normal radios and everyone used to illegally 'tap' into police radio conversations as a source of entertainment when there was nothing good on television.
After many bomb blasts, which we were feeling in the ground beneath our feet, Smicker, Marty and I were beginning to count them while wondering what the hell was actually happening. That amount of explosions was very unusual - even for Belfast. When people were out in the street you knew something serious was going on. We began counting the explosions;
"Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen..."
As the ground shook we kept counting. Smicker then remarked, "that's nineteen so far".
"Shite! It's only eighteen" I replied.
"Nineteen!" Smicker shouted.
"Eighteen!" I said desperately wanting to be right.
We argued bitterly, the two of us desperately wanting prove he was the best bomb-counter. We were now pushing each other around, the intensity and rage building and building. This was looking to be a fight or a "fair dig"...and as a series of twenty-two bombs (the actual number) sent Belfast into trauma on the 21st July 1972, historically known as "Bloody Friday" both Smicker and I were by now fighting and wrestling on the ground, punching seven bells out of each other.
"It's fuckin' Eighteen!"
"Nineteen, ya bastard!"
In a moment of tragic yet humorous irony, two eight year old boys were rolling on the ground, fighting over exactly how many IRA bombs were exploding throughout Belfast. Two small Belfast kids fighting against a backdrop of devastating death and carnage resulting in the senseless killing of nine human beings and injuring another one hundred and thirty - the vast majority of these people being innocent civilians - you know, those ordinary folk who wanted NOTHING to do with killing, injuring and maiming other people? You know those decent people who lived, worked and raised families?
As I argued that it was eighteen explosions and Smicker raged about the total being nineteen, we were unaware that it was in actual fact twenty-two bombs which both traumatised and ripped the soul out of the people of Belfast. Smicker and I were wrong with our counting...but then as proved with the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, two wrongs don't make a right.