The Loyalist Mod
Death of a fellow Mod & a catholic friend!
Noddy Clarke R.I.P
Newspapers Reports of the crash
By the mid 80s I was completely emerged in the Mod cultural and I started slowly to migrate away from the loyalist run discos and clubs of my childhood and teens years. As I grew older and more confident ( wiser) I started to explore further afield and go to clubs and gigs in and around Belfast city centre and for the first time in my life I was meeting and mixing with Catholics on a social level and I gradually came to realize they weren’t that different from me after all.
I”m the one with shades on
My evolving Mod identity was opening up a whole new world to me and I grabbed it by both hands and jumped on for the ride of my life.
As a young, self confident adult my Mod days were the best years of my life and if I had to live my life again I wouldn’t change a thing from that time. Well, maybe one or two things regarding beautiful women I was too stoned or to blind to see what they were offering me.
The Norns love to toy with destinies of mortal men.
Me when I thought I was immortal & would never grow old
Prior to this my only interaction with my catholic counterparts was our nightly riots with the catholic kids from Ardoyne & the Springfield Road and like those around me I hated them all with a passion. I was living in the epicenter of loyalist Northern Ireland and I had been brought up to hate and mistrust Catholics from an early age. Like my peers around me I blamed them for the war that was ripping Northern Ireland apart and I could never forgive them for their treacherous support of IRA terrorists and other republican groups
My childish subconscious mind seemed to filter out the worst horrors the loyalist paramilitaries were visiting on the catholic population, but when a republican terrorist was killed I celebrated and praised those responsible. We were fanatical in our hatred of the IRA and all things republican and the call for a united Ireland drove us buck mad with rage.
I was living in the Loyalist goldfish bowl and my horizons were dominated by the so called Peace Wall.
Welcome to my world.
My loyalist identity and culture was hardwired into my DNA and at first I struggled with the conflict of mixing with catholic Mods/folk from the other side, whom I had always considered my enemies.
But my priorities were also evolving and my lifelong prejudices against all catholic’s was fading away . I embraced the Belfast Mod movement with passion and enthusiasm and became a well known Face among the Mods and Mod clubs of Belfast and beyond.
I’m the one wearing shades
Up until this stage in my life I had been blanketed within the Loyalist culture and felt safe in the knowledge that the tight knit community I belonged too , was a part of , would work as one to protect me and other children and shield us from the worst evils of mankind.
Which was kinda hard considering I was living in one of the most violent, deadly places on planet earth at the time?
The paramilitaries ruled our daily lives and this was all perfectly normal for us. From an early age I was subconsciously aware that I lived in a messed up land and many of my family, friends and neighbours were involved with one of the various loyalist paramilitary or community groups. I grew up with people who would become loyalist killers, others were killed by republicans and the never ending feuds between loyalist paramilitaries added to the ever growing butcher’s bill. Some also killed themselves to escape the madness going on around us and many ended up serving life sentences for terrorist activities.
Every death was someone’s personal tragedy and at times the slaughter seemed never ending.
I remember as a child attending family/local funerals and when I looked around I was surrounded by loyalist legends and Godfathers , paramilitaries leaders and killers .Then I got really angry and annoyed because the police had loads of spotters out , recording the funeral and taking pictures of all those present and generally disrespecting us as we buried our dead. When someone died in our world the whole community suffered as one and our ties were much stronger for our shared suffering at the hands of republican terrorists.
But I loved this messed up land and as a proud wee prod I hated the IRA and all they stood for. In my childish loyalist mind I looked up to the loyalist warlords and those that served them. After all they were taking the war to the IRA and fighting for God and Ulster and our continued freedom, weren’t they?
That made me feel safer, somehow. Twisted or what?
At times it felt like the loyalist people were under siege and I remember as a child during the strikes of the 70’s I was terrified as I stood at the top of Glencairn , looking out over all of Belfast and watching thick black smoke belch into the air and the whole sky seemed to be on fire. Loyalist paranoia was so acute at times that we were actually anticipating civil war to break out at any moment and I wondered and worried if I and those I loved would survive the battles to come.
I was also a committed Christian for most of my childhood and teens and a pacifist by heart and I never felt comfortable with the never ending murder of innocent people, regardless of political or religious background. In fact I hated it and I couldn’t understand why God in all his wisdom would let such things happen and the first cracks began to appeared in my Christian faith. Living in loyalist Belfast my God was of course a loyalist God and my people were fighting the wicked IRA and despised the antichrist in Rome, Pope John Paul II , the head of the hated Catholic Church.
But I digress; I’m suppose to be telling the story of Noddy Clarke.
My old scrapbook from my Mod days.
I’d met Noddy and his girlfriend Maria in the Mod clubs and pubs of Belfast, mostly the Delta & Abercone and I quickly became friends with them and enjoyed having a chat & chill with them when our paths crossed. Noddy (Gerard Clarke) was a beautiful, gentle wise soul and he was one of those rare people who seemed to have time for everyone and seemed genuinely interested in what you had to say. He was a top bloke and I had a lot of time for him and Maria. Maria was also a beautiful person and friendly to all.
The fact that they were catholic never entered my mind and this was testament to how far I had moved on from the entrenched prejudices of my childhood. Although I no longer hated catholic’s my hatred of the IRA and republican terrorists never waned and still beats in my heart today. I can’t forget or forgive the past, but I want peace in Northern Ireland and if that means dancing with the devil, so be it.
The Belfast Mod scene was at its height at the time and as I moved in the same circles of the Faces and wannabies I got drunk (and high) on the joy of it all. I was young, seemingly acceptable to the female species and my life was one long never ending party and I Really never wanted it to end.
Me during my Mod days
There were always some big events happening in the Mod calendar and I travelled all over Northern Ireland and London with a group of about thirty hardcore Mods, attending all dayers and concerts. Noddy & Maria were often at these events and our love of the Mod culture transcended hundreds of year’s sectarian conflict and suspicion and give me a hint of a better future.
Mods in Carnaby Street
Once a group of about thirty of us travelled to London for a Mod all dayer , taking place in the Ilford Palais. The concert wasn’t until the Sunday and as it was only Friday we decided to visit the most iconic Mod address in the World, Carnaby Street. As a Mod it felt like the pilgrimage to Mecca muslims make and for me walking on the hollowed paved streets of Carnaby Street It felt almost like a holy experience and I was hypnotised by sheer joy of just being there and drinking in the Mod culture it had given birth too.
But my joy was to be short lived.
I’ve absolutely no idea who he is , but he fits into the story nicely.
As we walked the legendary streets and drank in the super cool atmosphere suddenly we heard a massive roar and what sounded like a football stampede and then three terrified young Mods ran past us as if the devil was on their tails.
Time stood still as we waited to see what had scared them so much and made them take such desperate flight.
Then from a side road about fifty phycho looking skinheads appeared from nowhere, many of them wearing Chelsea and Rangers football scarf’s, covered in loyalist and swastika tattoos and they were obviously baying for blood, Mod blood to be exact.
The moment they spotted us they stopped dead and some even grinned at the Mod bounty fate had delivered them. We were in some deep shit and I searched my mind frantically for a way out.
There was only a few of us together at this stage and my heart leaped into my throat as I anticipated the beating I was about to receive. But growing up in the badlands of loyalist West Belfast I was use to brutal violence and then two things came to my mind at once.
Firstly I was use to gang battles between Mods and Skinheads and had fought in many in the backstreets of The Shankill & Ballysillian/Silverstream (a story for another day) and survived largely intact. But here we were vastly outnumbered, on foreign soil so to speak and these guys wanted to rip us apart, limb by limb and savour every moment of our agony and shame. Then I considered the Rangers scarfs and an idea started to take shape in my terrified brain.
Rangers was the team of choice for much of the protestant population of Northern Ireland and along with Chelsea and Linfield they were inextricably woven into the core of our loyalist culture. I hoped these baying skinheads or some of them at least would hold the same pride and love for Queen and country as me and I thought this might just save us.
I glanced over at the leaders in the front row and as they hurled insults and threats my heart sunk when I saw some of them had pulled out weapons and knifes and were preparing to attach us and I braced myself ready for a battle we could never win.
My survival instinct kicked in and once again my destiny was in the hands of the gods , gods I no longer trusted. I took a deep breath and played my hand.
“Stay back “
I told the others beside and behind me, aware that some of them were catholic’s and possibly in more danger than me, if that was at all possible in my current situation. I stepped forward and looking for the top boy I calmingly suggested they all slow down and tell me what the problem was?
You could have heard a pin drop as he looked me up and down as though I’d just insulted his life scarred mother and I could tell he were moments away from lunging at me and all hell kicking off.
Then I heard a familiar accent calling out from the skinhead crowd and hope returned.
“Are youse from Belfast? ”
And everyone paused to hear my reaction.
“Feckin right I said, from the glorious Shankill Road! “ Hoping and praying I’d made the right call.
“Really, he asks, who do you know? “
I wheeled off a few names of Skinheads and badboys I knew and had grown up with on the Shankill and Glencairn and this satisfied them and we were safe for now at least. It turned out the guy “Biff” had grown up in Glencairn and now lived and worked in London and was involved with other loyalists living in the capital. They were a right nasty crew and I pity anyone who had the misfortune to come across them, especially if you weren’t a WASP . Also if they had known some of the Mod present were catholic’s, nothing would have stopped them kicking the shit outta of me and the others and I silently thanked the gods for delivering us from evil.
With the situation defused I told the others to look around a bit and I’d catch up with them. I didn’t want these badboys chatting with them and finding out some of them were catholic and undoing all my capital work. Biff insisted I joined him and a few others from home for a pint or two in the Shakespeare’s pub and it must have looked a bit weird a 60’s dressed Mod, wearing eye liner and a Beatles suite drinking and laughing with a load of phyco, Nazi skinheads.
But I had spent my life growing up among loyalist killers and paramilitaries and nothing really phased me anymore. I didn’t particularly like Biff and his crew, but chatting with him over a few pints I realized there was much more to him than the stereotypical skinhead. His English girlfriend had just given birth to their first child and he was “trying to get on the straight and narrow “whatever that meant!
After a few hours of drinking and snorting speed with Biff and the others I left them in the pub and return to the sanity of my Mod mates
I was to come across Biff and his crew later that weekend, when they and dozens of other Skin heads/Punks ambushed and attacked Mods coming into/out of the all dayer in the Ilford Palais. Luckily I was safely inside , stoned out of my mind and living the Mod dream and I didn’t concern myself with the antics of those fools , although I did have a chat with Biff whilst grabbing some fresh air and a fag outside.
In one of those cruel twists of fate many years later I was to meet Biff again, but this time he was down on his luck and tragically living rough under a shop front in Tottenham Road, London. I was working in the city at the time and suited and booted I stopped to give a homeless guy a fag before realising it was Biff. He was in a right mess and obviously on drugs and my heart broke for him as I tried to remind him of our previous encounters and he looked at me with in utter confusion on his face. Maybe it was my suite and the passage of years that had confused him or the drugs had addled his mind but I left him with a heavy heart that day.
Thereafter whenever I was in central London I always looked out for him and did on a few occasions find him and shared a fag or two with him. And slip him a few quid. When I moved jobs out to Kingston I lost contact with him and never saw him again, but I often think of him and hope he found his feet again and somehow turned his life around. How fickle fate can be.
Back in Belfast and the 80’s and my Mod odyssey continued and I was involved with all aspects of the Mod movement and all the joys that brought with it. I’d come into some money on my eighteenth birthday and was now the proud owner of a Vespa and took part in scooter runs all over Belfast and Northern Ireland. I was gradually getting heavily into the 60’s Mod scene and my dress reflected this as I emulated the dress codes of The Small Faces and other Mod bands of that era. I was also doing a lot of drugs at the time and had many mind blowing experiences on a variety of drugs and to be honest sometimes I’m surprised I survived this period of my life. Drugs were an escape from the madness of life in war torn Belfast and I was going through the whole Psychedelic phase of my Mod life and was living the dream, so to speak.
Around Oct 86 a group of about fifty Belfast Mods , including myself , Noddy and Maria signed up for a Mod all dayer in Dublin’s CIA hall .As the day approached we were all anticipating a great day out and couldn’t wait to meet and mix with the Dublin Mods who had organised the event. We had clubbed together for an Ulster Bus to take us to the event, drop of and pick us up when it was over. Being nice kind people we had a whip round for the bus driver and collected enough for him to have some lunch , but sadly he would spent it on booze and was half tore by the time we returned, but we didn’t know of this until afterwards.
The all dayer was a great success and I remember vividly chatted to Noddy and Maria by the huge staircase in the lobby. Little did I know in a few hours times Noddy would be dead and Maria seriously ill in hospital, fighting for her life.
When the event was over we all made our way to the bus pick up point and began the long , slow , boring journey home. It was a miserable dark , cold night and rain pelted down the windows of the bus as we left Dublin and headed for the motorway and back to sunny Belfast. After a while we’d all settled down and I remember chatting to those around me, including Noddy and Maria about the day gone and upcoming events we were looking forward to in the near future. As we came into Drogheda I noticed the rain was bucketing it down and visibility was very poor and somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice whispered the bus was going too fast and the driver was driving a bit erratically and it started to worry and concern me.
A girl called me up to the middle of the bus and I went and sat in the seat behind her, by the window and chilled with her for a while. I’d had a few drinks and some pills and I was half way between sleep and a drug infused haze when suddenly I became aware that the bus was out of control and to my horror I watched out the window as it drifted in and out of lanes , narrowly missing fast moving traffic coming from both ways , before skidding to the right and crashing with a huge bang into the side of a bridge or brick wall, that brought it to a violent , shuddering stop. I was thrown forward and banged my head on the seat in front of me and was almost knocked out by the force of it. . Time stood still as I waited for the pain to kick In and in the background I could hear the sound of breaking glass , car horns and alarms going off , cars skidding and crashing and as the lights blinked out screaming filled the air all around me and for a moment I thought I must be dreaming , on a bad trip or having a messed up nightmare.
But this was no nightmare and the horror had just begun.
As I recovered from the stunned shock of what had just happened my eyes drifted around the bus and all I could see was bodies, blood, broken glass and wreckage strewn all over the place. It looked as though a bomb had gone off and many of those inside were injured and I could see and smell destruction all around me. I glanced to the back of the bus and to my utter disbelief the whole back section of the bus had been ripped off and the seats which Noddy , Maria and others had sat on had completely disappeared . Looking out of the gaping hole my heart almost stopped as I saw bodies and debris littering the road and I could clearly see Noddy and laying lifeless on the rain soaked road , illuminated by vehicles caught up in the accident and others who had stopped to help and or gawk in amazement at what they were witnessing .
As my traumatised mind tried to process all this I picked myself of the floor and checking for injuries I was relieved to see I was mostly in one piece , although my head was bleeding and I think I may have been slipping into shock. Looking around my eyes could hard believe what my pounding brain was telling me and as I turned and looked out the window to my left , I froze in terror as I watched in slow motion as a car lost control , crossed lanes and crash violently at speed into the bus right below where I was sitting. I’d automatically braced myself for the impact and my whole body rocked as the shockwaves of the crash reverberated through the bus and my aching body.
From this point on everything becomes hazy , as if I was watching events happen to someone else and I felt oddly detached from my own body and mind. I should have been panicking and fighting to get off the bus and the danger below me , the car could have blown up or engulfed me in fire at any moment. But I just sat there for what seemed like ages and although I could see everything around me and hear ambulances/fire brigades approaching, I seemed frozen to the spot and just couldn’t move. I was in deep shock.
Eventually someone guided me of the bus and I walked as if in a trance to where Noddy lay on the damp wet ground, lifeless and standing in the pouring rain I looked down on him and bowing my head I said a silent prayer for Noddy, Maria and the other injured and I cursed a God who would let such a thing happen. I’d almost given up on a God who seemed to ignore the suffering of mortal men.
After a while ambulance crews came to check on me and the other walking wounded and patched us up were necessary. Eventually we were lead to a hotel or conference room, I can’t remember which and given hot drinks and interviewed by the Gardia . I honestly can’t remember anything about what happened next. I don’t know if we stayed in the hotel over night or how we got back to Belfast , but next thing i know I’m laying on the sofa at home and being fused about by my sisters and other family members. The Ulster News had carried the story about the crash and fatalities/injured and in those days there were no mobile phones and my family had spent hours not knowing if I was alive or dead. I should have called them from the hotel the night before but I was away with the fairies and it had not even entered my battered brain to call and let them know I was alive and well.
The Belfast and Northern Ireland Mod community was reeling from the accident and the death of one of their own and many gathered outside the City Hall in sombre groups, chatting and remembering Noddy and those injured in the crash. Maria was still in hospital fighting for her life and many others were scarred emotionally and physically and would never fully recover from the trauma of what they had gone through. I was still numb to it all and hibernating at home and licking my wounds and I couldn’t face a world that seemed so unfair. In fact I refused point blank to talk about the accident and months later when many of those involved in the crash began the process of suing Ulster Bus and claiming compensation I wanted nothing to do with it and probably missed the opportunity for substantial payout.
I was probably suffering from PTSD , but being Belfast i just got on with life and the wounds festered for years to come.
Eventually the day arrived for Noddy’s funeral and Mods travelled from all over Northern Ireland and Dublin to attend his send off. Dozens of loyalist Mods including me travelled into the heartland of republican Belfast, The Falls road on our scooters and we formed an honour guard as we buried one of our own. I recall standing outside Noddy’s house and being in nationalist Belfast I felt vulnerable and nervous as I clocked those around me whom seem to stare right through us, trying to discern if we were catholic or protestant.
But today was not about religion and as I paid my respect to Noddy’s friends and family I felt nothing but love and gratitude from them and I came away wondering why we couldn’t always live in peace and harmony and move on from centuries of the suspicion and mistrust that ruled and ruined our daily lives.
I often think of Noddy and wonder what he would be doing now if he was still alive and feel sadness at the grief the Gods put us mortal men through. .
Whilst living and socialising within the Mod subculture of Belfast /Northern Ireland, I was taught a valuable life lesson , for the first time in my life a person’s religion background had become completely irrelevant to me and I felt kinda liberated by it all . I foolishly wished the rest of Northern Ireland felt the same love and freedom as me, but I’ve always been a dreamer and some dreams take longer than others.
Back then I had many close catholic friends among the Belfast Mod scene and I dated a few catholic girls, who at face value seemed to be no different than the protestant girls I had dated thus far. . Hmmm, they lied to me again! But they are stories for another day.
Being a proud product of protestant Belfast and growing up in the hallowed streets of the loyalist Mecca , The glorious Shankill Road and Glencairn , I have always been prejudge and pigeon holed by people who don’t know me or understand my culture . I have worked all over London and throughout the UK and you would be amazed at the assumptions people make when I first meet them.
Once I got chatting to a Muslim guy I worked with ( and I’m going back about 25 years) and after telling me how much he admired the IRA and the republican movement ‘s “ freedom fighters” he then asked me if, by any chance I was a member of the IRA?
Hmmm….. that was one work relationship than ended immediately I can tell you.
Another time I was in a bar in the West End and went to order a drink at the bar. I noticed an older guy sat on a stool and it was obvious he only had one leg. When he heard my Belfast accent he turned and growled at me “ is that a Belfast accent I hear? ”
“Yes “ says I as I absently order drinks.
He looks me right in the eye and say “ My other legs in Belfast”
Anyways turns out he was in the Army and was blown up by a SF/IRA bomb back in the day. Once I told him where I was from, I was a bit surprised when he grabs me , told me he loved the loyalist people of N.I and almost hugged me to death . He insisted I sit down with him and have a few beers, which I was more than happy to do. I’ll always make time for army veterans, especially those who served in Northern Ireland. He was happy for some company and to share a few stories from the “bad old days” and the encounter soothed my soul.
Back in Belfast and in the 90’s some of my loyalist friends had been arrested and charged with multiple terrorist related offences , including murder. The news shocked and saddened me, more so because some of them had been Mods and shared my love of the Mod culture and music and mixed happily with catholic’s we met along the way. Although I had absolutely nothing to do with this , I was living in London at the time , many of the Belfast’s catholic Mods started to give me a wide berth and when I was home and went out clubbing I could sense their nervousness around me and I couldn’t really blame them , but it made me sad none the less.
Me and David Holmes
I was guilty via association and that is a curse and legacy that has followed me through my entire life and I know I will probably never shake off. Just because I’m proud of my loyalist culture and traditions it doesn’t mean I’m a hater or bigot or would wish harm on anyone. It simply means I am happy with the status quo and wish to maintain and celebrate the union with the rest of the UK. That shouldn’t make people prejudge me, but it does and the piss’s me right off. Many peace loving loyalist/protestants will understand where I’m coming from, especially those living abroad.
We didn’t start the “war” and the world has largely ignored the suffering and tribulations of the loyalist people because they are blinded by the actions of few .And yet SF/IRA seem to be have been forgiven all and lauded by many. The mind boggles.
Go on Surprise me
Thanks for taking the time to read extracts from my Autobiography Belfast Child, which I hope to get published one day soon.
Its a work in progress , so be gentle on me!
a person who remains loyal to the established ruler or government, especially in the face of a revolt.
a supporter of union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
noun: Loyalist; plural noun: Loyalists
a colonist of the American revolutionary period who supported the British cause.