Northern Beirut?

When you mention to people over here in London that you grew up in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles” the usual response is one of sympathy, but really it didn’t appear to affect us in any great way. Of course, every few years Woolies would get fire-bombed and you’d see rioting and bombs going off and armed police/army everywhere and you got searched every time you entered a store and most town centres were closed to traffic and there where parts of Belfast and Ireland I wouldn’t dare go but *apart from that* it didn’t affect us too much, principally because we had more pressing matters to worry about, like getting your mathematics homework in on time to our own school terrorist, Mr McCullough and then later on girls and whether any of them thought the total nerd look was at all sexy (they didn’t) and just how far you could get with the town bicycle.. (first base)

When I turned 25 and announced to my Ma that I was leaving to go live in London, she was shocked, she said “but what about all the drug pushers, the pimps, the muggers, the con-men, the pickpockets, the hobos, the terrible traffic and well.. everything really?” I looked at her, laughed and said “but Ma, I live in Belfast it’s not called Northern Beirut for nothing, there’s bombs, riots and army and shootings here…and you’re worried about me going to London?? yeah, right..

I suppose everything is about perspective, when I came to London, a few bombs went off here during the mid 80’s – nothing to do with me, you understand, it was just a spooky co-incidence your honour – and everyone was running around like headless chickens, everyone except the Northern Irish diaspora as it was just another day for us..and then later on one of my friends rang up from New York to ask if I was OK. I laughed – it was 1985 and she lived in NYC..

In London I was surprised at the lack of knowledge about Irish affairs and I patiently explained the situation over and over again to various friends over the years but if you hadn’t lived through it day in and day out then there was various nuances that you didn’t understand. I also spent a lot of time apologising for everyone being so myopic in Ireland, whenever I saw any of the Unionists on TV banging the table I squirmed out of embarrassment, it really did seem like some dinosaur – especially as I was living in multi cultural London where it’s just one big melting pot.

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