A Blast From My Past – The Finale – Summer of Words

This is the 6th and final part of my contribution to Helen from All at Sea’s linky Summer of Words.  You can read the other parts here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

To fill the void while we waited for news, we decided to be as useful as possible.  The little community, a mixed community of Catholic and Protestant – a rarity in Northern Ireland, all bandied together.  We had lived here all our lives, we were all friends, all neighbours, we had never gotten caught up in the political battles raging through our land.  This was a community untouched by the “troubles” until now.

That awful bomb designed to rip us apart, destroy us, destroy our harmony hadn’t succeeded.  Here we were, side by side, the orange and the green, working together, helping together, supporting together.

We swept up glass, local businesses had brought skips, local glaziers had brought glass. Joiners, plumbers, builders, all appeared, all came willingly to help put us back together again, help to rebuild the destruction.  For those families that had lost almost all of their possessions friends, neighbours and local shops contributed what they could to replace the lost things.  This was a little community all working together, all caring for each other, this is what being a human being is all about, not about death and destruction, it’s about caring, sharing, love and support.

The next day we learned that no one had been killed.  1000lbs of powerful explosives had ripped through our streets and our homes, but miraculously, no one had died.  This news alone gave us all an even bigger injection of community spirit, we were all alive, all safe. The calm, collected,speedy actions of the police and fire service undoubtedly saved many lives.  They saved our community.

The clean up operation and rebuilding took weeks, it was at least a month before we could drive out through the end of the road again, the town traffic that drove past the police station was detoured and in chaos for that month, as this was a main route road.  Slowly though, life began to return to normal.  Alas, for the residents of the mill workers cottages, their homes were deemed too dangerous to live in and had to be pulled down.  The occupants forced to move away from the community and the people they loved.

Today that little community still stands.  Most of the old timers have now passed out of this life and into the next.  Their children are grown up and like me, many moved away. However, there are lots of them still there, lots of people who remember that fateful night, that night, that brought us together like nothing else could have.  I still know who lives behind many of the colourful front doors.

The police station has grown into an even larger fortress.  The site were the mill workers cottages once stood, is now encompassed behind the fortress wall.  The road is still a busy main route for traffic.  Every day traffic pours along it, most of them oblivious to the history that they are driving across, most of them with no recollection or knowledge of the events that took place on the night and morning of the 25th/26th March 1990.  But I remember, I and a little community remembers.

I visited a friend there recently.  I drove up that hill and parked at her house, the sun was shining as I stepped from the car.  I looked around at the neat houses and smiled, it felt the same, the warm friendly atmosphere still hangs in the air there.  As I walked around the car to knock on her door, I stopped, I leaned against the boot and I stood quietly in the sunlight looking back down the hill, towards the police station, towards the road.  My friend came out of her door and stood beside me.  For a while we said nothing, just stood there in the warm sunshine.  Then she looked at me and asked “Do you remember that night?”  I replied with four words “Like it was yesterday”.

This is the end of my Summer of Words story, this is a true story and is my memory of just one of the many dreadful incidents that the IRA carried out in my beautiful little country.  Our town was bombed several times, shops burned to the ground one Saturday evening when terrorists planted incendiary devices inside them.  Like most families in Northern Ireland, we were in one way or another touched by terrorism, like most families we knew someone who died at the hands of terrorists.  

This incident though, was in many ways the catalyst that made up my mind that things had to change for our people.  By the summer of that year I had joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now the PSNI), I had become a police officer, I wanted to do my bit to save someone else’s community.

* apologies for the quality of the picture – but it is 20 years old!

police

A recent picture of the police station, it is the full area behind the red brick wall, I couldn’t fit the whole thing in to include the space where the Mill cottages were, as standing outside police stations taking pictures, isn’t exactly encouraged!  Hopefully it gives you an idea of the size of the building.  For a town with a population of approx 60,000, this is a huge police station.

psni

I got this picture from Google Earth to show you the station properly.  The huge mast is the CCTV camera that looks into the town centre.  The grey, red and black steel fence was added after the bombing and is the site where the mill cottages stood.

psniballymena

Tiny URL for this post:
 

16 thoughts on “A Blast From My Past – The Finale – Summer of Words

  1. Coming from a small Welsh village, this type of devastating act is incomprehensible to me. That it brought a community together just proves that terrorism will never work xx

    • That is so very true Jo and although we still get it in smaller more insignificant amounts now and again, the whole country fought back against it in the end :)

  2. Nichola I just loved this story. It is all the more gripping because it is true. I was so moved by your words and my heart leapt to read that no-one was killed. That is amazing – I think you were all in the arms of the angels that night. And the image of the net curtain which saved your niece from the glass… I didn’t want the story to end, you have such a warm voice. I’m so glad you joined in with #SummerOfWords and I hope this may encourage you to story-tell some more xx

    • Ah Helen thank you so much and thank you for hosting #SummerofWords, I probably would never have written that story if it weren’t for your linky. It was a horrible time in our wee community, but it did make the togetherness even stronger :)

  3. Ah i cant imagine what it was like, i remember the troubles so well. hearing about them all the time on the news, the effects it all had on everyone in this country. So heart warming to hear of a community pulling together. Often is the way though isnt it, what is meant for evil can be turned for good. Im a firm believer in that. Well done you for getting such an life changing event in your life down on paper so to speak. thank you x

    • Ah Sarah thank you so very much. It did have a huge impact on my life at the time, but the way everyone came together gave me a new view of the value of human life. I’m sure sadly there are hundreds of stories just like it over here and I’ve never really thought of telling it before, but Helen’s linky made me think about what I could write and after visiting my friend that was the story I had to pick xx :)

  4. Beautiful post. I cant imagine how hard it must have been living through that. I remember when they bombed Warrington (a couple of towns over from me) in the 1990′s. The fear was horrendous. It was amazing how the communities come together.

    • Ah Danielle thank you so much. It was all I’d ever really known since birth, so in many ways it just became every day if you know what I mean x

  5. I can’t imagine what it must have been like growing up through those times for you all in Northern Ireland. I spent most of my childhood living near Aldershot, home of the Parachute regiment (at that time anyway). There were regular bomb scares there, and it became the norm to be evacuated whilst in WHSmiths etc, but luckily they were only ever hoaxes

  6. Well I have just finished reading all this series. Brilliantly written and very, very frightening indeed. My heart was in my mouth on every word. I can’t imagine the fear and devastation, and those poor families who had to leave their irreparable homes, and leave such a good community behind them. Wonderfully told and so shocking. Can’t imagine what those time must have been like for you. Incidentally why do they call it ‘The Troubles’, who named it that? It feels a tad dumb downed a description – surely it was a war that was being waged? X.

    • It was much more of a war Sarah, it was for much of my childhood relentless, every day something happened. I actually have no idea why it was given the name the troubles and I’ve never met anyone who does know why, I do suspect the dumbing down by government was partially responsible for the name xx

  7. Oh Nichola I have such a huge lump in my throat reading this story from beginning to end. What a traumatic time for your community, yet triumphant too in that you all rallied together. Thank God no-one let those bombers win and cause any tension – a real credit to each and every one of you living there. Your storytelling is simply breath-taking. Thank you so much for sharing it. xx PS I literally had tears in my eyes as I read that the Bomb disposal expert was safe. There must have been so many angels around that night. xx

    • Ah thank you my lovely friend, it’s the first time I’ve ever really written about stuff like this and out of the many incidents, this one really did change my outlook in life. The bomb disposal guy was definitely being watched over that night x

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading this right through. I read it a few days ago on my phone, while I was taking a break from a job, then just now I remembered I hadn’t commented (I’d promised myself the chance to do so when back at my desk.)
    Anyway, told as you have done, it underlines the lesson that has come home to me a lot while in the company of the on-line community; that, behind statistics and news reports, there are deeply personal events, life-changing issues, and real people.
    Thank you for writing!

    • Ah thank you so much Phil. I’ve never really written about this stuff before, but I wanted to join in with Helen’s linky and decided it was an opportunity to tell the story.

Comments are closed.