Memories of childhood Belfast

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by Jude Whyte

The Lower Ormeau Road was a strange place to grow up in. University Street in the 1960s had a weird and bohemian feel about it. Next door to us at 139 was a Lutheran church. I got my first job there in 1966 aged 9, a cleaner to the pastor Rose Marie Cobalt. Two doors up was a homeopath called Mr Hamilton and beside him was our granny {no relation} who took in boarders from the boy’s home in Kircubbin Co Down

At the back door was the Pepsi Cola company , a place that all the local kids got van boy work with as soon as they could walk. It’s hard to believe I was in Warrenpoint when I was 7, delivering lemonade to cafes and various business outlets.

Going out the front door and turning right we had the North Cricket Club, while if one turned right there was the north’s only University at the time, to be explored, and of course a few windies broken along the way, for Ireland you understand.

The Holyland was then a working-class Protestant area, doorsteps covered in cardinal red polish, neat gardens with flag poles rarely empty , the obligatory bonfire every summer and a good dose of kick-the-pope bands going up and down the road at will from March until late October

You see, our house was a happy house. Ten kids, buckets of family allowance. Mum and Dad working with talk of getting a motor car soon. England winning the World Cup, Celtic the European one, while Down brought a strange very Protestant-named trophy over the border 2 times. My God, as Mum used to wonder, what in God’s name is wrong with those turbulent rebels on the Falls Road?

The first time I suspected something was, erumm, not quite right was in 1968 when kicking a ball around Dudley Street at the corner of Fitzroy Avenue. The date lives in my mind as it was the day that some uppity Catholic who clearly didn’t appreciate the wonderful entity of Northern Ireland went into a house somewhere in far-off Tyrone or Armagh without permission. Such cheek – I ask you!!!

His name was Austin Currie.

Anyway Mrs Edwards rang the cops and in time they arrived and lined us all up against the wall.

This rather corpulent fellow smelling of alcohol began by asking us all our names. Well that was easy. Paul Whyte, Jim Whyte, Ann Whyte, Kevin Whyte. He then came to the 5th and 6th members of this active service unit, looking menacing and in need of another drink I suspect. He said to Jimmy “I suppose you are another Whyte?” Jimmy being a solid law-abiding son of Ulster said “No I am Green” .The cop then punched him in the face before kicking him on the ground, his older sister screamed in terror while we all ran as fast as we could up the entry in Dudley Street to tell Mum and Dad.

Seeing a grown man kick a child is something that lives with me forever. Jimmy Green was a friend of our family, a child of a mixed relationship and an adopted son of my parents. He was telling the truth while shaking in fear: his name was Jimmy Green.

Mum said we must have been cheeky, while Dad went to the police station at Donegall Pass to lodge a complaint.

Never really forgot that day in the Lower Ormeau Road. My beautiful world of cricket, the Ormeau Park, Hothouse, Botanic Gardens, Queen’s and Belfast’s first Chinese restaurant in University Road all felt somehow uncomfortable.

Fifty-five people were murdered in the Lower Ormeau Road during what was known as The Troubles including five in the Sean Graham’s bookies and six in the bombing of the Rose and Crown bar. In an area of less than 2000 thousand people it remains the most abused yet proudest of communities. I lived there until death came to my door with the murder of my mother, the same card-carrying member of the Alliance Party who could never understand what was wrong with those people on the Falls Road. Alongside her died Constable Michael Dawson, a member of the RUC who came to her aid on April 12th. No one has ever been charged with her death or that of the slaughter in Sean Graham’s bookies.

Except of course Mark Sykes, who was shot five times in the same bookies massacre. He was charged thirty years later for remembering his dead friends.

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