Why I moved my family away from Northern Ireland…

Originally from Belfast, John Connolly now lives in Dublin and is retired…

I greatly enjoyed Barton Creeth’s recent lovely piece about moving to Belfast.

My wife and I did something similar in the late 1960s. I’m a native of the city who had moved to England in 1964. There I’d met the beautiful young woman from County Mayo who became my (so far!) lifetime partner. We married in London in 1968 and decided in 1969 that we’d move to Belfast. I got a job quickly enough and we firmed up on our plans.

So, in September, just as things were really kicking off (impeccable timing!), we arrived in a city that I hardly recognised. I recall vividly being on the number 12 bus on the Falls (where I was brought up) and being utterly gobsmacked seeing the barricades blocking street after street including Beechmount Avenue which was my own neck of the woods.

In all, we spent three years in Northern Ireland and were blessed with two daughters. We lived mostly in Carrickfergus which, on reflection, was probably not the most obvious place for a Falls Road man and a “Free State” woman to choose to live! As it happens, our neighbours were wonderful but of course none of us were living in a vacuum and the hard realities of what was going on around us intruded more and more.

So, reluctantly, we concluded that we had to move away before the UDA or UVF made that decision for us. On 21st July 1972, “Bloody Friday”, I was in Belfast and was in three of the places where the bombs went off though obviously and thankfully at different times from the explosions. That nudged us too.

Several weeks later, not unlike the family in the film “Belfast”, we flew away to England and the city of Birmingham where my parents were living. Instead of two parents and two boys, we were two parents and our two wee girls, one still in nappies.

We spent seven years in the English midlands where we added three more children to our family. We never returned to Belfast, but we did fly back in the same general direction and have been in Dublin, more or less, since 1979.

We’ve had, I believe, a good life – six great children, grandchildren galore (great granddaughter in the offing too!), a nice home, reasonable health, a few bob in the bank, and so on. How could one possibly have any regrets?

Yet, after seeing the film I referred to earlier, I wept. I realised that I had (have?) a profound sense of loss. Of course, much of that is to do with my early life and older much-loved family members now long gone, friends whom I’ve lost touch with, football at the Oval, GAA at Casement (it was open back then!), “lumbering” at the Clonard, swigging porter in “The Crown” before heading to Sammy Huston’s – this sentence could go on for a while, so I’ll stop now.

But another part of the loss is what I felt, over 50 years ago, that I owed it to my wife and children to get out, to get them away from the basket case of the place where we were then living. And I resented – and still resent – that we were put in the position where we really just had to go.

And, sadly, it’s still a basket case.

And yet where will you find warmer and more generous people? (Surrounded by an unacceptable number of buck eejits..) That’s the conundrum. Maybe this is just a long-winded way of saying that you can take the man out of Belfast but – you all know how it finishes.

John and one of his daughters walking in the Dublin mountains

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