I knew lads who were shot

PUBLISHED: 16:29 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 25 August 2010

A BELFAST CHILDHOOD: Our reporter Fintan Quinn on the beach as a young lad.

A BELFAST CHILDHOOD: Our reporter Fintan Quinn on the beach as a young lad.

PLACES still hold tags bearing testament to Northern Ireland s horrendous past – the Murder Mile, Murder Triangle and Suicide Inn.

PLACES still hold tags bearing testament to Northern Ireland's horrendous past - the Murder Mile, Murder Triangle and Suicide Inn.

Badges or markers are common place in Northern Ireland and close to my family home one 19-year-old was murdered for wearing a Glasgow Celtic top. Sickeningly the football shirt and the corner he was standing on were seemingly enough to mark him out as a so-called 'legitimate target'.

It is not right to mention names or stir up memories of those who died. It is something that is simply not done in Northern Ireland, but the pain of those years and many worse beforehand remain. The fear they will one day return is as strong as ever this week.

I know lads from school that have been or have had parents who were shot, stabbed or murdered for being different to their attackers.

In January 1998 there was an attempted murder of a taxi man yards from my front door, my dad and uncle were in the street.

The 30 seconds or so after that attack, when I knew my family and the gunfire were in close proximity, were the most terrifying of my life and until Sunday morning something I had managed to completely remove from my mind.

I was born in 1984 in Belfast and although I didn't experience the worst of the Northern Ireland troubles at first hand, violence in my part of town never seemed too far away.

It would be unfair to many people, from both communities, who lost loved ones if I made out I have suffered a great deal because that simply didn't happen. My upbringing was privileged and by all accounts a very happy one.

But what is true is that I was brought up in a city that was extremely divided and very often ruled by fear.

The problems in Northern Ireland are often painted along religious grounds - in that Protestants don't get on with Catholics and vice versa.

While that is not strictly true armed pro-British Loyalists are mostly from the former group while militant Irish Republicans find their roots in the latter. What is often misunderstood is that the majority of people don't support one group or the other. Most people I encountered during my childhood support neither, they simply desire to live a quiet life free from intimidation.

At times, though, in north Belfast - my much maligned ward - it was hard to maintain what could be classified as a 'normal life' because of the divided nature of the area.

The feeling of always looking over your shoulder or being warned by your parents not to go into a certain street, pub, park or even shop was constant.

Only the most deluded 'hard man' will claim never to have been worried while out and about at least once.

It is common place for most areas to be completely, or at least have a significant majority, of just one of the two main religions living in them. Generally, you went to school and even played sport only with people that were 'similar' to you. This is not unique to north Belfast but the interwoven nature of these staunch one domination areas not present in other parts of the city has led to violently troubled times.

Conflict and depression have once again been brought about by the series of glum-faced news readers announcing the death of the latest victim. The stop-start nature of post-ceasefire violence seemed to be something that most in Northern Ireland had tried to forget about.

However, it all seemed to come flooding back with the recent murders of two soldiers and a police officer. I was in shock when I read the news first thing on Sunday morning that two young English lads were shot dead on an isolated lane in rural Ireland.

Worryingly, and perhaps more so for younger generations like myself who did not live in Ireland at its most volatile, it was probably the first time the true magnitude of killings such as these had been felt. People had been numbed by acts like this in the past. But as normality returned we are now shocked by actions that once seemed almost normal only because of their frequency. This was an era Northern Ireland had desperately tried to escape, yet in a moment of madness it was thrown back at us.

One act of violence by people, with almost no support from any section of society, could jeopardise what so many have wanted and worked for so long to achieve - peace in Northern Ireland.

It is the talk of the town back home rather than the usual football banter and weather talk but worries about slipping back into the dark old days.

Everyone, for once, is open in their condemnation of these attacks but you can detect an element of worry that another dark chapter in the short but colourful history of Northern Ireland may be about to begin. That underbelly of violence and fear never really went away and has always been fragile. Now peace is at risk once more and it is a terrible shame.

I left Belfast to go to university in England in 2003 and even in that short time I saw the place improve. The place I was once so desperate to leave is now my favourite place to be.

I am, and always will be, a proud Belfast man, but I much preferred the fantastic future it seemed to have just a week ago.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bexley Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Bexley Times