My parents committed the greatest sin possible in 1960’s Belfast: They belonged to different religions. My father came from a hard core loyalist family from Protestant West Belfast and my mother was a Catholic who grew up in the republican heartlands of Belfast – The Falls Road.
It was union doomed from the start and the strain of coming from a mixed marriage eventually tore my parents apart. One day my mother disappeared from my life (for ever) and I was told that she was dead and never to mention her again. I was eight years old. From that point on I considered my mother dead and at the time it seemed that I would not have contact with her or any member or her family again.
My father took us to live with his family in Glencairn, an ultra loyalist area of Protestant West Belfast and I grew up with a fierce and loyal pride in loyalist culture and traditions and I grew to love the close knit community which I now belonged to. Although hatred and mistrust of our Catholic counterparts ruled our lives I was never completely comfortable with the fanatical antagonism towards Catholic’s and I always felt different, but didn’t know why.
Our daily lives were controlled and dictated by the loyalist paramilitaries who policed the area we live in. It was a world of tribal gangs and sectarian violence and due to the brutal world of Loyalist paramilitaries I now lived under, I viewed murder and torture as an everyday occurrence and hated anything to do with republicanism.
Many of my now exclusively Protestant family were members of loyalist paramilitaries and some had spent time in jail for terrorist offences’. I was now a pure loyalist.
When I was about eight I found out by chance that my mother was alive and at a later date I was astounded to learn that she was also Catholic. Due to the situation I found myself in this information caused me great stress and conflict, but I knew I could never admit to anyone that I knew my mother was alive, let alone Catholic. If this information became known locally I would find myself ostracised and become an outcast to my peers and local community. We had to keep our dirty little secret in the family.
My beloved father died when I was eleven and my siblings and I were split up and went to live with colourful members of my Fathers family & although I missed my father terribly I had a mostly happy childhood under the circumstances. When my father died I prayed that somehow my mum would return and take us to live with her as a family again, but off course this never happened.
Unknown to anyone else from that point onwards I became obsessed with finding my mother, but I was too young to do anything myself and living among my father’s family, whom were all hardcore loyalists and hated my mother with a vengeance.
I knew absolutely nothing about my mother and when I was in my late teens I approached the Salvation army in secret and when they asked me my mother’s maiden name I could not even tell them this , due to the fact the I simply didn’t know and there was absolutely no one I could ask. They could do nothing for me due to the lack of any information about my mother.
Flying in the face all of my protestant beliefs I even approached a Catholic priest and although he was desperate to help me, without any information there was nothing he could do. I came away from this meeting with a new attitude towards Catholics, although I could never admit this to my peers.
Life went on and as I grew older I become more involved with the UDA (Ulster Defence Association, the main and largest loyalist paramilitary group), although I was just on the fringes and never done anything illegal. Many of my school friends became wrapped up in the war against the IRA & rival loyalist Paramilitaries and some ending up becoming killers for the UDA and many others done time inside for terrorist activities .
I was never comfortable with sectarian killings and always felt for the family of those innocent Catholic‘s murdered by loyalist death squads and the fact that some of my best friends were carrying out these killings caused me great conflict. Although when members of the IRA or other republican groups were killed I celebrated the killing of what I considered an enemy.
When I was 21 I had finally had had enough of the madness of Belfast and boarded a plane to London and a new life. I worked hard and enjoyed my life in London and eventually met a great girl and settled down and had a family of my own. But always in the back of my mind my mother‘s absence haunted me, but had accepted the fact that I would never see her again.
Then on my 29th birthday I received a letter out of the blue that would change my life forever and reunite me with the mother I had not seen in almost 25 years and thought dead and against all the odds I guess my story had a happy ending.
Please visit the autobiography page of this blog to read extracts from my forthcoming book.
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2 thoughts on “My Life”
My name is Sheila Simpson poet lived in a flat on the Antrim road had a party in that flat before I went to America in 1972, that flat was later used in that terrible lost of life on Officers Muldoon, Barrington Foster and Pentrose I was a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital We need to talk.