A Night in Belfast

by Pat Morris

I was not exactly squeezed into the double, not queen or king, bed next to Mrs. Doran, who was next to Sadie, my arrival having displaced Brenda, who thus was sleeping downstairs on the settee. In “New” Ardoyne, Belfast, which had been one of the nicer Catholic working class areas before the British Army had burned half of it to the ground (hence the presence of the widowed, 40ish Sadie in her mother’s house). It was the week between Christmas 1972 and New Years, and I’d been in Belfast for maybe six hours, drinking and chatting before the magic hour when everyone trotted off to bed—women in one bedroom, and bed; Mr. Doran, Phil and Sadie’s teenage son Christopher in the other. We’d chatted about family stuff, not the Troubles or the war I was there to write about.

Sadie and Mrs. Doran drifted off to sleep. I, unused to sleeping in such close quarters, didn’t. So I didn’t have to wake up when the dreadful noise began. It started with the HIGH low HIGH low squeal of European sirens—the kind I’d only heard in movies about Nazis coming for Jews. Then began the clanging of garbage can lids—a phoneless community’s way of warning their neighbors that the British were coming. Then the rumble of vehicles slowly moving down Northwick Drive. The rumbling stopped and all I could hear was my own heart pounding. Then pounding on the door. Heavy boots mounting the steps. A scream so close to my ear I thought it was Sadie.

It had, in fact, been just a few inches from my ear, but on the other side of the wall that separated the neighbor’s bed from ours. Mr. Monaghan was being “lifted.” Literally. Then dragged down the stairs. All three of us awake now, we lifted the snowy white curtain a tad and peered out. All I could make out in the fog was the outline of a “Saracen,” a tanklike contraption on wheels with a turret for a revolving machine gun. It revolved. You could hear doors slamming, but no shouting or scuffling.

“Almost every night now,” said Sadie.

“Holy shit.” I glanced at Mrs. Doran. “Sorry,” but she hadn’t noticed my bad language or more likely had other things on her mind.

“It’s getting as bad as the Black and Tans,” she said. Mrs. Doran had been a child during the first round of The Troubles, after partition.

“Our poor boys,” she sighed.

Then the Saracen melted into the fog and everybody went back to bed.

In the morning Mrs. Doran made me eggs and toast, or maybe porridge. Someone slipped a paper under the door and the family quickly passed it around, then threw it in the fire. Sadie said she’d walk me over to my interview in the Old Ardoyne as it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to wander around by myself, and it wouldn’t do for any of the men to be seen going to the house of Frank McGlade. Then Mary stopped by with her new baby, and she and her mother discussed how they could best walk to the baby doctor without running into soldiers.

“I don’t know how,” Mrs. Doran said as she gathered up our used tea cups, “a young girl like you can live in New York City. All that violence.”

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