The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

West Belfast - the Past, Present and Future

Ten years an activist: a personal take on one's life

Picture of me during the height of the conflict,
taken at St Finians School, Falls Road, 1979, age nine

Davy Carlin • 6 July 2006

It has now been exactly ten years since I had happened upon a small Socialist table in Belfast city centre. Then, a short while later, I had walked into a meeting of people counted on one hand, and who were not known in real terms, outside of those ranks. Indeed they were unknown and completely irrelevant to the activist and political world as I had sat there and listened to that first talk before going home and looking up a dictionary on the list of words I had needed to seek meanings to. This, as the talk of the Proletariat and Historical Materialism, and much like, although relevant, it was complete Double Dutch to a working class lad like myself.

Such a situation had taught me that when I had started to write, to write in a way that was real and could relate practically to working class people and their everyday thoughts and lives.

And so I was to talk of, and to write of, the situations of daily and political life but within each such article to provide a political message.

I write to relate to the masses, rather than to write to be read solely by intellects or to talk over the heads of ordinary people.

In relation to the once Belfast SWP and six or so years on from walking into that room, we were then to be at the forefront of a mass Anti War Movement.

Then, I had left, for reasons recorded elsewhere, and I had been told at that time that if I was to leave the SWP then I would become irrelevant, similar as others that had left. Yet as has materialised, and as I had predicted, it is they who had become in very real terms, once again, as irrelevant as had been the case at that first meeting.

This is unfortunate, as it holds good individual activists, but their actions, which I had argued against at the time, in part, directed this outcome

As the last two years, as recorded and played out, has shown that while they have organised absolutely nothing new onto the streets of Belfast, it though has seen me with others in the continuance of still mass and historic Movements and working class victories.

The various reasonings for this can be found on the link provided, as I state and account such, as essential lessons for activists need to be learnt from this if we are to move forward.

This link is the definitive link of my two years since leaving the once termed Belfast SWP, indeed within it one can both read, see pictures and find links to all those actions and much more seen on the streets of Belfast since then.

This online Diary indeed was a continuance of this West Belfast Blanket series which had accounted for my time with the Belfast SWP, and the Blanket as a whole holds all the definitive links of that time, while the online Diary holds the accounts of my first two years since leaving the Belfast SWP. Indeed within each there are also accounts of my thoughts and memories of my Childhood as a black kid growing up within the heart of West Belfast and the War during the height of that Conflict, 1970's and 80s'.

I shall be doing one more article for this online Diary in a few months time, and that will be the final entry. Similar this is the final entry for the West Belfast series, and also attached here is a picture of me as a kid.

The third part of this trilogy, (and to tie it all together is my book), and so within all three, that is, the West Belfast series, my online Diary and the book, they will give that definitive account of my life (my first 35 years on this earth) and my activism, from the height of war through to the peace and that present process.

I will then begin the write and account for the next part of my life and activism in another online project, via the Blanket.

Well over the last few years I have done lengthy interviews on TV for those who wanted to interview me about my life growing up in West Belfast, this from NVTV through to the BBC, then I had did various radio interviews around the globe for those who had wanted to interview me solely about my activism.

Yet it was an interview by a student who had wanted to interview me - about me in that entirety, past, present and future, which had made me think of my life to date, and therefore it is on that past, present and future that I finish of this West Belfast series.

As I look back on my thirty five years on this earth there had been many ups and downs, indeed growing up within a war as a child and various additional situations had made life in those early days at times unbearable. But, I survived, just, this when many I had known unfortunately had not.

And so on the twenty fifth anniversary of the Hunger strikes I had again went up to Black Mountain and as I had stated in my online diary (in the May edition).

Having moved originally from the 'Murph estate down to the Lower Falls in the mid seventies, we then eventually moved to the Twinbrook estate of Bobby Sands (Hunger Striker), at the start of the 80s. Although one of the reasons for the move was for a new modern house, in large part though, it was also to get the kids away from it all (away from the heart of the war being played out within the Murph and Lower Falls).

Twinbrook then was in the countryside and a far cry from the lower Falls. Yet it had turned out to be a case of from the frying pan into the fire. It was only a short time, as a child, before I was once again looking into yet more friends, neighbours, and children coffins, seeing more mangled bodies and those lumps of meat that where once walking, talking and living. Also smelling that nauseating smell of burning and burnt flesh and much more - through to banging my bin-lid on the news of Bobby Sands death, before a short time later, looking upon his face as he lay in his coffin in his home.

It was not long after Bobby Sands death and others locally that I had went back to the Murph. On doing so I had went back upon Black Mountain one evening and sat and listened to the war and all the events below.

Then it had started to rain ever so lightly and with that I knelt up upon my knees with my arms out stretched, and looked up to the heavens as the rain slowly came down and soothed my skin, and in part my mind. And with that, and from that position, and from the very depths of my soul, from the very core of my being I let out the most almighty and heart wrenching cry which echoed not only around the streets below, but I believed around the city of Belfast.

As a child, I had no gun - but nevertheless, I too was fighting a war.

This time though I had not gone up alone, Marie and a few relatives had went up with me for a picnic and to enjoy the heat-wave we were getting. And as they sat there and sunbathed or chased our wee dog around the fields I had once again looked out upon the city of my birth, and upon the streets of my childhood.

Then one of those situations happened that have become in recent years quite regular for me. Indeed on that point I had mentioned before of the nauseating De Ja Vu and predicting experiences, amongst other such. Yet I will say that despite having been quite disorganised in many practical areas of life, I though in recent times have found skills of mind that some may find hard to understand. Indeed, as much clears in very recent years, such senses and abilities have and are becoming more enhanced and more focused.

This particular situation though falls into my 'as if it where pre written' category, and this is one of the very mildest of things that indeed happens so often that it now no longer phases me. Some may find this interesting while some may find it weird but nevertheless I account for it as but a very small and milder snippet of such regular and more powerful experiences.

For the last few months prior and about once every week when I had got up in the mornings at differing times and opened my blinds, a large sea bird came and landed on the backyard fence at the exact time I opened the blinds, and it just sat there for a while staring at me before flying off. This of course is not unusual in itself, even though the bird was quite a distance from the sea and perhaps comes there for scraps of food people may feed it, but let me return to upon Black Mountain.

And so as Marie and relatives were playing or sunbathing and chin wagging, it is hard to explain but everything went quiet as I sat and stared out upon the streets below. Then for no reason I felt a single tear beginning to run down my face which I was surprised at as I was not feeling any such emotions, and with that I had breathed in. And as the tear ran down my face and hung on my chin, I, in my mind had decided - and I don't know why -that I was only to breath out when the tear fell. With that I moved my head forward and when I thought I could hold my breath no longer the tear drop fell upon Black Mountain and with that three things happened.

Firstly I let out a huge gasp of air that I could almost see and with that I then again heard Maire's and the other voices around me. At that same time I heard a shrill from above and close by, and as I looked up a sea bird and I am sure it was the one that I had seen regular, was circling directly above me. It did so for a few moments before then flying out towards the sea. Since that day I have not seen the bird, although it may still come in the mornings but I no longer see it, but more importantly and the reason for this account is that since then I feel as if something has been lifted of me, a burden or a heavy weight that I was carrying inside of me.

As stated such things and very more overt and regularly occurring situations happen, and some would find such interesting as I do, and indeed have come to study and know that there is much that we do not understand about our minds and indeed our very existence.

Again other people may see such as weird, yet I remember thinking as a kid that if you were to talk to God then it would be praying but if you went around telling everyone that God was talking to you then you would probably be locked up.
And so, it really depends on how one looks at things and what angle you wish to come at it. For me I look at all angles both in politics and now equally so on the fundamental questions of and on life.

Looking back to childhood I had dreamt of a time in which I could travel and see the world and of being a great sports person.

Yet with six kids or so in a small bedroom with the daily brutality and discrimination by the Unionist and British state, with being labelled as a failure by the state as a child, I therefore like many others had seen such dreams as being but dreams. Indeed all such against oneself was also coupled with the real poverty that had seen us being provided with the EU yellow canned food through to the hand me down clothes, yet we were meant to be living in the affluent and Western World.
Such aspirations and thoughts throughout ones dreams in youth, I had wanted to do, albeit with such travel I had thought being pure fantasy. Yet when I had looked back on the past thirty five years as I talked to that young student I actually was surprised as to what I have both done in my life and many of the historic situations I had been involved in or witnessed to.

Indeed with such a childhood, and a working class kid with mild dyslexia much was against me. Yet I had a loving and large extended family and indeed as a black kid growing up in a white working class neighbourhood who were at the forefront of the Irish war, I indeed had many friends.

Yet starting off in childhood each of my streets that I had moved to as a child holds figures and events of history.

In Ballymurphy a young Gerry Adams had lived a few doors away from me, also my grandfather Jim Carlin (I was born on the 4th of October 1970 and I lived with my grandmother and grandfather for my first several years) was in the Ballymurphy Tenants Association (BTA) in those earliest of years along with Frank Cahill, the brother of veteran Republican Joe Cahill. At times the BTA had held its meetings in our home where my mum would serve up tea and biscuits and would also have helped out at some of the social functions etc organised by the BTA. My home was also where people would come into our garden in large numbers to pray as their sons and daughters went of to defend the Murph, and so my Gran became known as the Rosary woman.

Indeed I had at times quite a strict Catholic and religious upbringing. I was also an altar boy in Clonard Monastery during the late seventies and early eighties and was always the 'Wise man' in the nativity plays at Xmas. I had also went to St Finians Christian brothers school on the Falls Road. On moving to Sevastopol street with our house 'held' for us, as was the norm then, I had learnt that a person who had lived in my childhood home previous to myself, that of 6 Sevastopol Street was a man now famous in the annals of Republican history, his name was Seamus Twomey. He had gone on to become a renowned IRA leader and its chief of staff. He was involved in the now infamous escape from Mountjoy prison where he was airlifted out by helicopter.

A few doors down from our house was the Sinn Fein Head Quarters where one could see that picture of when Gerry Adams had stood at the window to the cheering crowds on his first election victory.

I had also amongst much I had seen there, seen Ronnie Bunting being shot. Ronnie Bunting was the son of Major Ronald Bunting, a one-time aide to Ian Paisley. He was a once Belfast commander and a senior chief on staff of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) while having also been a founder member of the IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party). Bunting was to be the only Protestant to be interned without trail in 1972. He was eventually killed after several attempts on his life along with Noel Lyttle in 1980.

Then after that I had moved to Twinbrook and it was the Workers Party this time with the now General Secretary John Lowry in my street. Yet it wasn't long after arriving there that I was looking upon the face of Bobby Sands at his Twinbrook home, an image that went around the world.

On top of that during the War I had experiences ranging from seeing death close up through to my family and me, we believe, having a narrow escape from the Shankill butchers. And of course there was the Brits brutality to oneself as detailed elsewhere, as well as other things I had to suffer.

Such events and persons I would read about and watch at times on screen as I grew up. Yet despite coming from such a background it was nevertheless but a matter of time that many of those same faces and many others that I had seen on screen in youth, I would then be sitting around tables or sharing platforms or TV and radio studios with. Some such in the process of debate and discussion while in other cases in the search for resolutions.

Indeed two decades or so later from sitting upon Black Mountain at the height of the 1981 Irish hunger strikes as a child, I had in the political activist scene pushed forward and reached out on many matters.

Some of such activism is briefly outlined below, but can be read in full throughout the Blanket or on my online diary and throughout the links provided within it

  1. I had played a key local role that had mobilised the largest Anti-Sectarian rally in the North's history, and I had also organised with others walkouts of workers against previous attacks and threats, both by loyalists and Republicans, at the time in the late nineties.
  2. I was to be a founding member, organiser and spokesperson of both the Belfast Anti War Movement and the Stop the War Coalition, that had, amongst all other actions, mobilised the largest such Anti War march and Movement ever seen in the North of Ireland.
  3. I was to be the founding member, Chair, and Spokesperson of the Anti Racism Network, that became a Movement that had seen amongst many actions us mobilising the largest such Anti Racism rallies and marches ever seen in the North of Ireland.
  4. I was to be a founding member and Chair of the events committee of the Northern Ireland Make Poverty History Movement. A Movement that had seen us mobilise the largest such Anti Poverty rally seen in the North while in tandem both mobilising and inspiring the largest such mobilisation from the isle of Ireland to an International protest.
  5. Apart from this I had been a spokesperson and local organiser for the termed 'Historic' Falls and Shankill march.
  6. I had with others initiated and played a key role which had seen the unprecedented backing down of a Irish minister against deportations while another similar type victory occurred that had seen, as termed then, 'a historic victory' won in the re-instalment of a trade unionist.
  7. I had also been on the Red Branch Committee (Branch 8 NIPSA) that was at the forefront of the most important workers' struggle in 20 years. I had also within that time ensured all such publicity of our actions was carried within the mainstream media and facilitated such interviews between journalist contacts and Branch 8 at the time.

This as we as a rank and file branch were at the forefront in seeing thousands of civil servants walkout and march through the streets in actions that were called illegal and wildcat. Indeed our influence and respect (as one branch) was to the extent that the then British Minister publicly singled out and condemned our branch, this out of the whole civil service before directing their resources against us.

Such local events and more I was to the forefront in, this notwithstanding the Anti Capitalist movement and the local and International protests and discussions I partook in, from Belfast to Genoa and Geneva.

Yet throughout such it had seen me debate and discuss on TV and radio, people such as Mayors, through to leadership and senior figures from the UUP and the SDLP.

I had shared similar platforms and debates with leading and senior figures of Sinn Fein through to senior figures of the DUP.

Indeed reared in the 'Republican heartlands,' I had sat around tables with those ranging from the Loyalist Combined Command and Commission through to having spoken at a loyalist conference that had seen the then British Secretary of state in attendance at it.

I had debated professors, academics and scholars on various shows across the globe, this a working class lad with mild dyslexia from West Belfast, and had held my own in many people's views.

I had rallied thousands from upon platforms and had been flown to London to be interviewed live in front of millions as part of Black history month.

I have been interviewed around the world and my writings have been and are requested, quoted and collected by many organisations and individuals the world over.

In all of such I have found much support visible and otherwise from within every aspect of civic society.

Indeed I would never have thought such as I had knelt upon my knees almost 25 years ago as a child, wanting so much to end the pain inside.

Yet I had since then got off my knees and vowed never again to bow my head to such injustices and inequalities of unionist discrimination and such unjust British state governance and brutality.

And so I work today via many avenues to ensure another generation does not have to bear the brunt of such injustice, brutality and discrimination as I had done.

Indeed as that child that was labelled a failure by the state, brutalised by the state, had felt that I could take no more, and much more, I could never have thought that I would have been able to have had such a profound impact that had both touched and changed many peoples lives for the better, as I am told. I know of so many who had so much to give, but injustice, discrimination, inequality and death, had meant they were afforded little avenue to seek such.

Yet inequality and injustice exists still today and all us visible and otherwise, step by step, presently, need to effect that change for the betterment of all our children and citizens.

Another of my dreams as a child, as stated, was to travel and indeed I have and will continue to do so as I have a thirst for such.

For oneself I had been in the civil service all through the nineties and up to a year or so ago when I had left. I had worked myself up to a T/P position of Executive Officer and with much work and overtime I therefore secured that dream.

From the Americas to Africa, from virtually ever country in Western Europe and in the years ahead, Asia, I had travelled to dozens of countries the world over. I had back-packed, cruised, cycled, rambled, skied, raved and chilled and in doing so I have breathed in differing cultures, traditions and experiences of all our peoples that make up the human race.

Finally I had wanted to achieve well at sport and as a youth I had played a major Gaelic final in Casement Park, a major Soccer final at Windsor Park, as well as in major Northern Basketball and Handball finals. I had also played on Premier League footballs grounds both in Scotland and England.

I had also stood on winner's podiums in Northern finals ranging from table tennis, and athletics through to school choir of the year and a disco dancing Champion!
I had also been in a film called 'For the greater Good' with your man from the Professionals, Martin Shaw, in the late eighties, and I am also soon to be an author.

Indeed I have done everything that I had as a child ever dreamt of doing, and more, but thought I would never have the chance to. On doing that interview I had began to realise how much I had packed into my still young thirty-five years on this earth.

What for the future?

Well, firstly, on travel, in the years ahead my partner and I intend to travel to the further reaches of our planet and explore and visit people and cultures that would not be the norm for holiday destinations.

And also to finalise one further ambition which is to gallop beautiful horses along a golden beach and through clear waters in a far off land, and to facilitate that in the years ahead we will take up horse riding classes.

On sport, well my partner and I are keen walkers, cyclists, and swimmers and have joined a gym, which we attend twice weekly. We are in early August to again do the Race Against Racism at the opening of the West Belfast Feile, with a view of travelling somewhere and to incorporate a half marathon into our schedule at some stage.

On the personal, well I am to start back to college and University, with this year studying two new languages. Indeed, by the end of my thirty-ninth birthday I wish to be fluent in several languages, to have graduated and achieved a Professional qualification and a progressive career, and to have learnt to play the piano, all of which I will do. My partner is also to gain further qualifications in a continuance on from last year, as well as holding down other roles and vocations.

Busy few years!

As I had said before, learning should be life long and both self taught and established, and one is never too old to go back to study.

Yet to do so, the resources, facilities and opportunities need to be there, both for young and old and including for those driven into the conflict, and that therefore brings me on to my future and that political activism.

Firstly, I start by saying that I have found, in very real terms, that in many cases the pen is weightier than the sword. Secondly with my experiences in life I now know if I am to be Categorised then I stand in the ranks of the Libertarian Socialists, indeed a growing force in Ireland, this as opposed to Authoritarian Socialism.

Many who get involved in politics for the long haul will eventually come to their own understandings of what they wish to embrace, this both throughout life experiences and political activism.

Such activism as I have long stated is not about people in collectives and rag clothes digging up the earth in some field to be self sufficient, indeed it is about real politics, it is about as I have long stated, practiced and argued, the here and now.

It is about trying to change people's lives for the better while moving forward with your own, if that is possible.

I believe in a fundamentally different world and a different system, yet rather than attempt to create a reality I have always sought to deal with the reality with that new country and world in mind at all times.

I thirst for knowledge and the understanding of many things and so I am finding that I read and study such in detail. Indeed I always question and seek to find answers too many things.

For me in the time ahead the primacy of my activism will be on writing and working specific activism and campaigning, this both on local and International issues.
I also seek to become a more established and complete writer while pushing forward on such issues for essential change.

In that regard many of my writings in the years to come will be here on the Blanket, and a new Blog, possibly in a while ahead.

I also see the Just Books Collective as an essential activist avenue and provision, and urge full support for this from across the Movement. As I stated recently,
Just Books Collective will be having a launch shortly of a new initiative

Short term and long term thinking has went into this, from providing an online radical and labour bookstore through to seeking to provide in the longer term, new premises, a social meeting space, internet access, a multi-lingual resource library, as well as a projector for showing films. We hope to open the centre as a practical commemoration of the Spanish revolution.

Similarly another essential avenue is the Conway Mill on the Falls Road, indeed we have seen the vast resources being lauded and poured into expensive venues for the people who can afford them in Belfast, while such essential venues like the Conway Mill being ignored for the people that need them.

This is a situation that needs to change as so to provide such facilities and opportunities for those having grown up in such working class areas, and who in many ways faced the brunt of the war, children and adults alike.

While one seeks and works for fundamental change there is much progressive change that still needs be won and to happen, and therefore it means there is still much to do.

And so I leave the West Belfast series with one more small snippet of my life back then, as I return to my childhood and the Falls road of the late seventies.

With a scarf around my head and little black hands sticking out of the sleeves of my jumper, I did not realise that I was not fully covered, but it didn't matter. We rocked and rocked on the large van as it swayed to and fro seeking to turn it over before setting it alight. One of the older boys told me to get back but I wanted to be part of turning it over, I wanted the barricades and road blocks up before those 'Black Bastards' came.

I rocked the van with many other of the older boys with my tiny child hands before one of the boys removed me to the side. I stood there wide eyed, covered in dirt and smelling of burning tyres and more, as I looked up and down the Road waiting for those hateful Brits.

As I did my anger built and my adrenaline grew as I held bottle and brick in hand watching all unfold before me.

I could feel the sheer anger burning in the back of my throat, as I waited once again for them to come. I was but a child, but had lived already to date, the life of a wronged man.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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19 July 2006

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West Belfast - The Past, the Present and the Future
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