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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Childhood - West Belfast, Race, Class and 'Irishness'. {Part 3}


West Belfast, a childhood voyage of conflict {Part 2 -The Blanket}
A Personal voyage of Taboo {Part 1- The Blanket}

Davy Carlin • July 26, 2003

Part 4 shall be on Nationalism, in which I hold no belief, on Republicanism, in which I can understand many of its traditional values, on ' defined' Socialist Republicanism, in which I again can understand many of its traditional values and hold a lot of support and understanding for. This shall again be done in the context of childhood and my experiences, this all in relation to my political understanding today as a defined Socialist {Revolutionary}


During the recent Easter break myself and my partner Marie and our wee dog Carlice, went for a dander up the mountains. Although we live in Turf Lodge in West Belfast we are but a ten-minute walk to sit down on the side of Black Mountain and are then able to overlook the city of Belfast. This Easter was a particularly good few weeks in regard to the weather as we had plenty of sunshine and sitting on the side of the mountain with a few sandwiches and the sun beating down drew our attention to our surroundings, and how much of it we really take for granted. Both Marie and I have a love for the outdoors, nature and the environment; this has been with Marie for a long time but has only recently grown on myself. I find myself lost in thought at times when sitting there, or indeed when I go for a walk, yet the unfortunate thing is that the beautiful mountain on which we sit is being quarried away to nothing.

RACE and 'IRISH NESS' {Practical experiences}

Yet as we sat on the side of Black Mountain overlooking the 'Turf' {Turf Lodge} and the 'Murph' {Ballymurphy}, looking into the distance we could see the surrounding mountains and the Belfast loch. Marie, who is a good artist, sat and sketched as Carlice, on his extended lead, went to explore his surroundings. As for me, I stared into the distance and in the security of my peaceful and happy surroundings I again took the opportunity to revisit the Belfast of my childhood.

It was 1979. 'Republican News Mr, 'Republican News Misses', 'ask your Ma or Da do they want the Republican News', as I went from door to door in the Divis flats area. {Although An Phoblacht and the Republican News amalgamated just prior we still called it Republican News} I got my papers from a big friendly grater known to me as Big Bingo. It always struck me that many of the people were either big: Big Bingo, Big Jim Burns, Big Paddy Murphy etc, or they were wee: wee Sean, wee Paddy, wee Kevin. If not, they were called by a part of the anatomy such as fingers, bones, knuckles, etc, or a creature, mousy, pigeon, pigsy etc. This in many ways is still reflective today in working class areas. Yet these terminologies or nicknames given because of size, appearance, shortening of names or whatever, have on many cases carried through from childhood to adult life. For me though my nicknames preteen have long since gone. The names were more as a matter of featured identification rather that any racist connotations similar to that of, 'mousey' or 'hammerhead' given to others that I knew. So for those kids who knew me slightly I became known in some childhood circles simply as 'the painted boy', 'the chocolate boy' or similar.

Therefore the pigment of my skin dictated my childhood nickname amongst such circles, in that childhood naïve context it was not used in a racist manner as amongst us kids then; curiosity would have been the limit to a perceived racial understanding. Yet some nicknames I would have thought would have been hurtful to the recipient. The whole race issue was only really brought into any form of distinction to me as per my previous article {West Belfast a childhood voyage of conflict} by the state. Before that I never really recognised any difference as it was never really raised, and when it was, it was but curiosity and not in a violent and racist manner as which happened via the British and state forces. This quickly intensified my belief and understanding that perhaps I was different and different in an inferior way. Yet I am reminded of the film 'the Jerk' I believe it was called, a comedy, with Steve Martin, who is a white child brought up in a black family who on adulthood is told by his parents something along the lines of, 'Son we have some news for you, you are different,' 'What do you mean different? 'Son go look in the mirror, you are white'. To which Steve Martin voices amazement. I am not saying this is the way it was for me as I could see I was black {Brown}{or could the give away have been my Afro hair, such a source of childhood amusement where I could bounce things of it or hide things in it without easy detection.}. I am saying it because it made little difference to those around me; therefore it made little difference to me, if people can see what I mean. It was when the state forces intervened and singled me out during my childhood in respect to my 'race' that I then developed a belief that I had a difference, a difference that really mattered and with that I believe throughout childhood made me feel more inferior to those around me.

My answer to those in later life and indeed to myself at times, in respect to race, was that I was a member of the only race, that of the human race, yet it was little comfort against the violent racial abuse. I say violent not only in the verbal sense but on two occasions in the physical sense, again in relation to the state forces. On one of those occasions during the late seventies I was hospitalised. I told my mum and stepfather that I fell out of a tree collecting conkers {chestnuts} or something to that effect. I had a lot of trouble with my neck thereafter and it was intensified when 3 or four years later I was hospitalised again, preteen with a hurly stick across the neck and then again a few years later hospitalised after 'DM boots danced' on my face, neck and body by some looking for fun. Again in reference to the state I believed to give the real truth would have had long term consequences with state harassment to my family as I knew what my families reaction would have been. Like many during those days one had at times only to endure for the greater good and well being of ones loved ones, there is nothing more to be said on that topic other than this, that even from an early age I could understand how anger could turn then into intense hatred. I see similar situations on faces of children and others around the globe due to various states actions and interventions today, with the Iraq US/UK occupation, learning lessons from here and Palestine for example, I believe far from over.

The issue of race and racial identity to me through my childhood and beyond although intensified by the vicious state force racism of some, identity to me at that time was more community aligned. This in relation to my class, the political situation and affiliation of my extended family {most would have been Sinn Fein supporters, others IRSP, others Workers Party, while a few others again had no interest or had other beliefs} but in the main most had Republican / Socialist sympathies in those days. My final direction of a perceived identity was influenced by both Catholicism and by Irishness, cultural or otherwise. The Catholicism was through intense religious doctrine at home, school and church, not withstanding being an altar boy and personal tuition, while on the Irishness I was always in the company of Irish speakers and frequented both Irish speaking homes as well as the Gaeltacht {Irish speaking district in Donegal}. I also played hurling and Gaelic football for various teams {the 'English' sport of soccer was not allowed to be played in our Primary school to an extent that when you were playing Gaelic football and dribbled the ball on the ground as in soccer for more that a few seconds, you would hear Brother Christopher scream in his Southern accent 'Pick up da ball, pick up da ball, no foreign games here'}. I was also fond of the Irish dancing and attended regularly also a Ceili or ceilidh depending on how one may spell it. One can see then that in the community in which I was raised and which I still now live many influences, material, spiritual, cultural and political through childhood created an atmosphere were a particular understanding of society through those experience drew ones mind in particular directions, reflective though, although in differing ways of present society as a whole.

The sun was now getting warmer sitting on the side of Blacks mountain and as I looked up the mountain I remembered the walks up it with my Grandfather or with my uncle Seamus and his lurchers {across between a greyhound and a whippet I believe} when I was a kid.

I thought again in relation to racial identity and the articles in relation to that about myself, which have over time been carried in the press in the last few years. Some in the local press others in the National press such as an article in a Sunday newspaper a while back about racists threats I had received. Yet it was the lead front page article in the Irish News which had my picture on the front page with a title that stated 'Black Irishman hits out on Gardai Siochanna {Guard of peace} Racism' that I thought about. The article came from an incident in which I was travelling from the North of Ireland to the South in which the bus was stopped at the border. The police came on to the bus and went straight to the back of the bus and first asked a young Chinese girl for her passport then asked me. It was such a blatant sign of singling us out because of the colour of our skin. I refused to show any identification as such was the blatantness of their approach and refused to leave the bus stating that I was an Irish citizen {in a broad West Belfast accent}. It was also brilliant to see the support I received from other citizens on the bus. So we had the bizarre sight of the bus getting a police escort several strong all the way from the boarder into Dublin city because I had refused to be singled out for identification. Yet I again found out that day that for 'some', although I have no belief in Nationalism, identity and belonging to this Nation state was presumed on the premise of 'race' - 'colour' as was that 'Irishness'. Which is reflected I believe in the one question I am always asked eventually when I meet someone, which is 'Where are you from'? To which I reply depending where I am either in Ireland or abroad. 'Ireland, Belfast or Turf Lodge', to which the reply is almost always, 'No I meant where are you 'really', from'. To me that question had always begun to answer another question, that of my Nationalist and Irish identity, and my ascending perceived racial identity over a 'perceived Nation state one'. This young understanding through experience helped lay the base for a more concrete understanding of my 'race' and its relation to my 'class', through that upbringing of National and Irish identity.


Yet this article on Race and Class and 'Irishness' is but a practical piece on my experiences, for a more theoretical piece on Race and Class and its history and development read my article entitled The Politic of Race', {Archive section the Blanket}.

SOLIDARITY -CLASS AND THE STATE

We had returned to our wee spot on the side of the mountain, it was but a few days after we had returned from a protest in Geneva Switzerland and Evian France where the G8 had been meeting. We had had much support and solidarity from many organisations, groups and individuals before we left Belfast to go to the protests. Yet as Marie and I and several others took off from W/Belfast to our destination of firstly Geneva, Switzerland, we were doing it against the backdrop of the magnificent demonstrations a few months prior against the war. On our touch down in Geneva we were met firstly by manned tanks on the runway then on the several minute walk from our plane all the way through the terminal through to passport control and beyond, it was lined completely all the way with troops. It was a surreal experience with those eyes attempting to stare you out, one thought then that it was almost inevitable to be pulled out from amongst those others going to passport control. Even at our last G8 protest, which we were at in Genoa where the state {and supported by states} had moved then to murdering activists in our movement, we were met by only a handful of cops. After making our way by various methods we eventually got off 'our train' to the scene of 'Italian cops' {with some English and American accents} stating through their radios, 'The Irish have arrived', or words to that effect. So with what looked like half the Swiss army greeting us at the airport in Geneva we pondered as to what confrontations were to lay ahead, of course it was an intimidatory show to show their potential clout but nevertheless it could also set ones mindset for inevitable confrontation with the state.

I have seen then on the various protests how the state will use intimidation, violence and the murdering of its own citizens as it has done here. I have see how states will help other states to learn their methods, for example the Irish police have been 'observers' at the last several international mobilisations to gain experiences, given the fact they are hosting a number of International summits in the months ahead, {with the WEF which was to be hosted in Dublin later this year now cancelled, must have got a whiff of the mobilisations being prepared against them} or the two thousand or so German police who were put in the front line in Switzerland, one state learning from and helping another. I have seen also how the state attempts to set one against the other and not content with that will actively attempt to further split particular groups and organisations with quite similar beliefs, as and when it is in the state interest. I have found increasingly also how they use agent provocateurs which was quite noticeable in Genoa and increasingly so in Geneva, to attempt to damage and tar a movement.

Yet such is used also to sow confusion, is he/she one, and is he /she not. A recent experience was at the Hillsborough demonstration against US President George Bushes visit while another was in Genoa when we were at one stage lead down a street and then found ourselves completely surrounded by the cops at all avenues and out numbered. In that situation it was decided if we could we would attempt to retreat in strength {to fight another day} and if that meant negotiation then so be it. We were after a long time able to negotiate our way out past the police but as we were coming out a young man in a mask and armed with an iron bar attempted to move towards police lines. The police armed to teeth were already attempting to take a swipe at the odd person going by. So while comrades argued with him to stop until our comrades came through he still continued to move forward. Whether he was agent provocateur or an Italian youth wanting to get stuck in I knew that whomever he was, for our comrades to come through safely, for a period, he would need to be incapacitated. Our comrades came through safely.

In Geneva I witnessed, also like Genoa, that when most activists leave the state lets the police run riot even more so than the brutality that they have already inflicted. The blood soaked Schoolhouse in Genoa soaked deep in the blood of peace activists' right up to the high ceilings or the masked police running riot with grenades and rubber bullet guns through Geneva/ and near Evian. Just like this state, with its long history, seeped in state brutality, like the smashing of skulls and brutality on the Ormeau or the Garvaghy Roads. Or its collusion in targeting and again murdering {like Genoa} of its citizens, including children in the North of Ireland, has with many others instances shown me in real experience that the state and its various wings will use and be allowed to use any means necessarily in the perceived interest of the state. It is therefore on the basis of Internationalism where working class people working in unity and solidarity, can therefore provide the lever for delivering real and fundamental change. As opposed to that of the International based and inter nation state supported ruling class interest, motivated both economically and politically and driven by terror and brutality. Such internationalism in solidarity should also be built for and replicated locally in 'United Fronts', or coalitions where the problem does not lay within the diversity of our organisations, but that our strengths are together directed towards our collective problem.

Do you want a sandwich? Thanks. It was not as hot as the Easter weeks as we sat on the side of the mountain but it was nevertheless warm. I thought of some of the faces we had seen on various protests and the state brutality dished out to them. Then I thought back.

'Mummy whose he', I asked. It was again the late seventies as I looked upon the vinyl cover of a record. The picture was of a man, his face hardly recognisable because of the bruising and scarring due to the after math of a terrible beating. 'He's a political prisoner, a volunteer, imprisoned in the Kesh {Long Kesh prison} son', my mum replied. I looked at the picture and in a sense it haunted me in my dreams in youth as the face despite its markings, the eyes though breathed fire. I always thought as to what was going through that mans head as one could think of the obvious pain he must have been in, Yet I had seen through that battered face, eyes for the second time in my life, of fire, of complete and absolute defiance. The songs that such records held were always blasted out of our house with the window wide open and the one that's wording always sticks in my head is that of the 'Snipers song'.

Such instances although small in note in the bigger picture of the recent conflict are experiences for one reason or another which is stuck on my mind as would be the case with hundreds of thousands of other individual's experiences.

'Green cross', 'support our prisoners, join the demonstration on such and such a date, wear a badge, buy a paper, sell a ballot', etc etc. There were always calls for support and solidarity for protests, marches, meetings or other things. Even for a child it seemed such an intense time, a time that one would participate, yet not fully understand as to why. The actions though of a brutal state, the pictures seen, the stories told, of seeing and witnessing at a personal level a state and its various wings at work, were reason enough preteen to eventually make me realise. Realise that although like many others it was my childhood norm, it did eventually dawn on me as I got older 7/8 that despite that norm, that something was really seriously wrong within my world, the world to me then was 'the Road', it was the {the Falls} and it was the 'Murph'. It was there that I first witnessed solidarity, real solidarity of a working class community in struggle, the support of one person to another, of a people to a community, could be seen in the smallest of activities. I remember people giving food to others who had none, even though they had little, of clothes been given to those whose were torn and ragged, despite others again having little, of a yellow plastic pineapple that sat in our home which contained money that would not be touched as it was for those more in need. I also always wondered how people were able to survive and feed such big families, with for example my grandmother by her early thirties having thirteen children, yet people adapted and coped with whatever was thrown against them and on many occasions they did it as a community.

RELIGON


Yet I was soon to learn that many in the community were devoutly religious as was and is my family. My grandmother now almost eighty prays for all her children and grandchildren. Yet she constantly tells me that she dedicates rosaries so that I might return to God. As is similar with my mother and others, who pray for my return to 'our Lord'. Yet, as was the case when I joined the SWP, many differing aspects of my extended family debated with me as to me joining more 'Traditional', republican/socialist organisations. This has all but gone, as they all now know that my belief is as strong as theirs in relation to particular aspects of ones life. It must be said though that the pressure for one to return to my perceived political or religious tradition was initially a very strong one. I hold every respect for their belief and understanding, all I asked in return is that they would respect my right to come to my own conclusions and draw my own understandings and beliefs in life by looking outside 'a tradition' and myself therefore educating, learning and understanding more of a world and its history in its many aspects. With that we now can discuss and debate our various beliefs and understandings of the world in a way that each might not agree with each other but at the least we respect each other's right to those beliefs. Such discussion I believe in which I have engaged in many different walks of life and traditions, while maybe not agreeing, I can at least attempt to grasp an understanding as to why others have reached their conclusions.

'Can I go, can I go? 'OK', was my mother's reply. I believe it was 1978 or thereabout. So I made my way around to a wee street beside the Dunville Park on the Falls Road. As I arrived there were hundreds of people waiting in a line. I took my place and as I did I said to the woman in front of me, 'Is this where I can see Jesus and Mary who have appeared on the Fireplace'? 'Yes, Yes son, this is where you will see a miracle son', as she said it I remember the genuine belief in what she was saying, held in her face. Once inside the house that woman knelt in front of the fireplace, took of her headscarf and first touched the mark on the fireplace, then prayed, then cried. To me that is a very powerful memory as I looked at a mark on a fireplace, in a wee house on the Falls Rd and watched that woman kneel, pray and then cry. As I said in my document in Part 1 of these articles, {A personal voyage of taboo - to get a more in depth look at my childhood and religion}, that it is not a coincidence that in the most exploited, oppressed and poorest community that 'A god' finds a larger hearing, as one is desperate for hope. Yet to me all are non believable, when I hear people talking about how non believable other religions are I think to myself is it any more believable than 'our lord' or Mary coming to fireplace on the Falls RD, statues moving or crying, a burning bush talking or whatever. I respect people beliefs when it comes to such issues and more importantly I can understand how people who hold such devout traditions or religion have such faith in such. Yet for me when I looked outside and self studied many aspects of life and death, {although very hard due to my upbringing} from an objective position, such questions and on many others I began to search for and find my own answers.


'COMMUNITY'


The whole sense of community as I have stated in my early youth was very strong to me as were other such issues, as like many others because of the political and economic situation of the community. Yet for my understanding I have developed a belief in a class as opposed to a community, although I once again can understand fully the 'politic' of community. Again it took me both practically and in mindset to develop again my own understanding, with the mindset changing due to the practicalities. I have on this site written about many engagements, discussions and practical working with others I have had on the base of class. Many initially were small-scale situations but increasingly so more large scale where tradition was crossed on a commonality of purpose. The first such large scale practical experience was when a young postal worker Daniel McColgan was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. Many trade union and community activists within the SWP worked tirelessly on the ground including within the postal Union with others to help initiate an anti sectarian march up to 30,000 strong in Belfast. Although eventually called by the trade union movement after the postal worker walkouts, our work at the base with our modest numbers, was acknowledged by aspects of the media, within some working class communities where we laid a lot of ground work and eventually by leading members of the trade union movement {ICTU} as they have done recently on several occasions over our initiation and bringing about of the magnificent Anti war march on Feb 15th 2003.

Such a demonstration was a breath of fresh air to that of the sectarianism and communal politics and we as socialists will continue to build on that and attempt to create a large opening for those who like many others in society want to see a differing form of politics.

'Davy, it's getting chilly, do you want to head down?' asked Marie. It was getting a bit chilly and I had taken many notes of thoughts that needed to be put into words. As we took our dander back towards our home I saw a young boy on the grass playing with toy soldiers and I thought of how long it was in which I seen kids playing with toy soldiers. Now it is all computer games or kids motorcycles and such. For a brief second though, it brought me back again to the late seventies.

I had ventured into the shop at the bottom of my street, {Sevastopol Street} where now stands the Sinn Fein centre. 'What happened to the battle field in the window'? The battlefield was made I presume by prisoners in the Kesh. It was of I presume the IRA attacking a British army vehicle. It was not the political reasoning that attracted me to it but a child like many others past and present who enjoyed playing with such figures of war. I would stand and stare at it when I was coming home from St Finians school and image were I would place the figures on the battle field and how to launch my ambush etc. I had saved long and hard by doing errands, selling papers etc as I knew at home money was in limited supply like in most others at the time, and had saved almost three quarters of the money needed. 'It was sold yesterday son'. I closed the door on my way out and stood on the Falls road, I felt gutted, all that work put in, all those errands run, all those dreams at night as to the fun I would have playing with it and some one walks in with a wad of money and walks away with it. Although I have never blamed those who bought it, I remember walking back up my street in the late seventies thinking once again 'What an unfair world'.

'What did you say?' Marie had said. I had not realised that I had spoke out loud. 'What an unfair world,' I replied. With that Marie said, 'Isn't that why you are trying to change it, isn't that why you are a socialist?'. We put our arms around each other's waist with Marie's head nestled upon my shoulder and with the dog in tow I thought once again that I shall revisit the times gone by as we made our way those few minutes back to our home.



 

 

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

"As a rule, dictatorships guarantee safe streets and terror of the doorbell. In democracy the streets may be unsafe after dark, but the most likely visitor in the early hours will be the milkman."
- Adam Michnik



Index: Current Articles



29 July 2003

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Our Places in the Great Wall
Seaghán Ó Murchú

 

Mr Michael McKevitt's Statement at the Special Criminal Court
Michael McKevitt

 

Crisis of Political Imagination

Liam O Ruairc

 

Childhood, - West Belfast, Race and 'Irishness'
Davy Carlin

 

Island Palestine
Anthony McIntyre

 

A Short History of the Global Economy Since 1880
M. Shahid Alam

 

Belfast's Big-headed Bully-boy
Margaret Quinn

 

20 July 2003

 

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Anthony McIntyre

 

Sinn Fein Support for Prisoners' Demand
Mick Hall

 

Alternatives

Liam O Ruairc

 

Revenge of the Bureaucrats
Julie Brown

 

What It's Like to be Raided
Carrie Twomey

 

Raid on McIntyre Home


 

 

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