By Anthony McIntyre (for the Pensive Quill)
It was a bright Monday morning. I awoke to the news that internment had been introduced while I was sound asleep. It was on the cards. As a paper delivery boy I could not fail to notice the headlines as I did my rounds about its imminence. The background was the daily sound of explosions rattling their way throughout Belfast often followed by plumes of smoke, allowing a stab to me made as to the general location of the bomb.
The previous day, a Sunday, was spent in the Lower Falls rioting around Leeson Street and the Falls Road. The thrill of the chase which saw a mad rush through houses to escape British Army snatch squads, the occupants of which we had never known or met, was electrifying but exhilarating. While we rioted the thunderous sounds of nail bombs exploding told us that another had been lobbed while our hearts paused through the shock of it.
I was with a friend from the Lower Ormeau Road, who later would make it into custody before I did, serving a 1-3 year term in St Patrick’s in West Belfast from where young people routinely escaped as quickly as they were brought in. I would later abscond twice; the first time while held on remand for rioting, a natural progression. They never officially termed it ‘escape’, declining I suspect to dignify the ease with which departure was enacted.
During an ebb in the rioting a brace of cars pulled up at Varna Gap. Men with weapons but no woolly faces alighted and began peering up the street towards the snatch squads of British soldiers. We perched on a window sill facing them as spectators to the event. Someone urged us all to move, this was no show but the real thing. Whether as a result of the firing distance being too great or the riotous assembly milling about the street, the armed men refrained from opening up. We left disappointed.
As darkness fell we began the journey on foot back to South Belfast, stopping at a sweet shop on the Grosvenor Road near the corner of Malt Street for something in the way of refreshments. Near the shop was a butcher’s premises where we stood either counting our coins or eating our sweets, I no longer remember. The blast that occurred terrified us. The place shook followed by the sound of glass breaking. Years later Nick Lowe recorded ‘I love the sound of breaking glass.’ I always associated it with rioting and nail bombs. In my mind I still have this image of hunching down, shuddering while the windows of the butcher shop shattered. Another memory suggests that the windows remained intact. Who knows so many years after the event when memory has a way of rearranging detail?
On internment morning in the company of another friend from the Lower Ormeau Road we crossed the city, again on foot, to Albert Street where we were quickly swallowed up by the crowd of protestors enraged at British incursion. It seemed that everyone was rioting. A lorry was thrown across the top of the street in which we found ourselves. We battled with each other to get on it, a commanding height from which to stone and bottle British troops. We showered them with rubble, they blasted us with rubber bullets, although it would be a month before I fell victim to one while rioting on the Andersonstown Road. At one point, forced off the lorry by the sheer volume of rioters scrambling for position, we tried throwing our missiles from behind the lorry. Our aim apparently short, we seem to have posed a greater threat to fellow rioters than foreign troops. We were ordered to desist. There was a simple solution, we moved to McDonnell Street where my grandfather lived and began throwing from there at any Brit on Albert Street.
Around midday a British officer announced through a loud hailer that if we were still rioting after 60 seconds he would hit us with lead rather than rubber rounds. The crowd forced open the gates of a yard where beer bottles were stored in abundance. The hail of bottles was our response to the sixty seconds warning.
Late in the evening tiredness drove us home. A good day’s work as far as we were concerned. Many nationalists were not so fortunate, failing to make it home, having been gunned down by British murder squads. Paddy McAdorey died that morning fighting the British in Ardoyne. His would be the first IRA funeral I attended.
Facts on the ground, rather than footnotes, a sure guide to understanding why people join guerrilla bodies like the IRA.