In the early 80s about thirty of us travelled from Belfast to Liverpool by boat. Then we caught the train down to London and headed straight for Carnaby Street. It felt like a religious pilgrimage and I was hypnotised by the sheer joy of just being there and drinking in the Mod culture it had given birth to.
But my excitement was to be short- lived. As we walked around the legendary area and drank in the super- cool atmosphere, suddenly we heard a massive roar and what sounded like a football stampede, then three terrified young Mods ran past us as if the devil was on their tails.
Belfast Mods 1985
I feature in the documentary , see if you can spot me ?
Time stood still as we waited to see what had scared them and made them take such desperate flight. Then, from a side street, about fifty skinheads appeared from nowhere, many of them wearing Chelsea and Rangers football scarves and covered in Loyalist and swastika tattoos. These psychos 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 if nothing else, I was used to brutal violence and two things came to my mind at once.
The first was that I’d experienced many gang battles between Mods and skinheads in the backstreets of the Shankill and Ballysillan, 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, while savouring every moment of our agony and humiliation .
I glanced over at the leaders in the front row as they hurled insults and threats. My heart sunk when I noticed some of them had already pulled out weapons, including blades, and were preparing to attack us. This was our last chance. My survival instinct kicked in . I took a deep breath and played my hand.
‘Stay back,’ I said, as calmly as I could to the boys behind me. I was aware that some of our lot were Catholics and, if anything, were probably in far more danger than I was. I stepped forward and, looking for their ‘top boy’, I suggested they all slow down and tell me what the problem was.
The Difference Between Nazi’s and Skinheads | Needles And Pins
You could have heard a pin drop as the fella in question looked me up and down as though I’d just insulted his mother. I could tell he was moments away from lunging at me and all hell kicking off.
Then I heard a familiar accent calling out from the skinhead crowd.
‘Are youse from Belfast?’ said the voice.
There was what seemed like a lifetime’s pause before I answered.
‘Feckin right,’ I said, ‘from the glorious Shankill Road!’
Now I was praying I’d made a good call.
‘That right?’ he replied. ‘So who d’you know?’
I wheeled off a few names of skinheads and assorted bad boys I knew and had grown up with on the Shankill and Glencairn and this satisfied them. We were safe, for now at least. It turned out the guy who spoke, Biff, had grown up in Glencairn, now lived and worked in London and was involved with other Loyalists living in the capital. His crew were a nasty bunch and I pitied those who had the misfortune to come across them, especially if you weren’t a WASP. If they had known some of the Mods present were Catholics, nothing would have stopped them kicking the shit out of me and the others and I silently thanked the gods for delivering us from evil.
My second thought was about the Rangers scarves and the Loyalist/English Pride-style tattoos a good number of them were sporting. 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, 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.
With the situation defused, I told the others to look around a bit and I’d catch up with them later. I didn’t want the skins chatting with them, finding out some of them were Catholic and undoing all my capital work. They insisted I joined them for a pint or two in the Shakespeare’s Head pub nearby and it must have looked a bit weird: a sixties style Mod, wearing eye liner and a Beatles suit, drinking and laughing with a gang of psycho Nazi skinheads.
SkinheadS & Reggae
But I had spent my life growing up among Loyalist killers and paramilitaries and nothing really fazed me anymore. I didn’t particularly like Biff and his crew but chatting with him over a few pints I realised 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 skinheads and punks ambushed and attacked Mods coming into or 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, though I did have a chat with Biff while grabbing some fresh air and a fag outside.
Safely back in Belfast, we started to plan other trips abroad, specifically to ‘The South’. Enemy territory.
You have been reading extracts from my number one best selling book A Belfast Child.
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…but a matter of life and death. These were the lads who would go on to be the ‘top boys’ of Loyalist paramilitarism and in time would become infamous in Belfast and well beyond. They’d do time in the Maze prison or in ‘ the Crum’ – the damp, dank Crumlin Road gaol that is now a major tourist attraction in Belfast. I have to confess that I was in there too – but not for any romantic notion of defending Loyalism against hordes of Republican invaders.
In fact, it was for motoring offences.
I had a very reckless approach to taxing and insuring my scooter and given that I was prone to crashing or falling off it, this wasn’t great behaviour. Time after time the RUC would flag me down and demand that I produce my documents at the nearest station. Of course, I never had any of these so it would be off to court, and a fine that I couldn’t or wouldn’t pay. This happened so frequently that eventually the magistrate demanded that I either pay the fine straight away or spend three days in Crumlin Road gaol.
Well, I didn’t have much else to do that weekend, to be honest. And I didn’t want to be slapped with a big fine that would be on my mind for ages. So to the surprise of the magistrate I said, ‘I’ll take prison, please,’ and with that I was marched down the steps of the dock and through the tunnel that links the courthouse with the gaol. As I walked I thought about all the paramilitary hard men from both sides who’d been taken on this very journey, many receiving multiple life sentences for the terrible stuff they’d done. I wasn’t exactly in their ranks, but a taste of the Crum would be something to tell the boys when I was finally sprung on the Monday.
Unfortunately for me, I’d overlooked two things. The first was that my time in prison coincided with a bank holiday Monday. There wouldn’t be enough screws present that day to take me through the release procedure, so I’d have to come out on the Tuesday instead. That took the wind out of my sails a wee bit. The second was my clothing. I’d arrived at court complete with sixties paisley shirt, eyeliner and a string of beads around my neck. This wasn’t great gear for going to prison in and when I arrived in the prison to take the obligatory shower the screw in charge gave me a filthy look.
‘Are ye seriously goin’ in there looking like a fruit,’ he asked. ‘D’ye think that’ll be fun for ye?’
I looked at myself in the cracked mirror. The guy was right. Some of the fellas in here were psychos, not exactly sympathetic to lads who looked a bit gay, as I’m sure I did. I couldn’t do much about the shirt, but I scrubbed off the eyeliner and handed in the love beads for safekeeping. Then, in an act of defiance, I scratched the words ‘Mods UTC’ (‘Up The Hoods’) on the door of the shower with a pen before handing that in too. I headed into the prison and to my cell for what turned out to be a pleasant few days.
Because I wasn’t in for anything heinous nobody took any notice of me. Also, I was a skinny lad with hollow legs and I enjoyed the carb-heavy prison food served up to us three times a day. I can’t say I was sorry to be released but it was an experience, and I could always talk it up a bit for the benefit of my mates.
Many years later I took my young son on an organised tour of the prison, which is now a museum. I showed him the shower, and the graffiti that I’d etched on to the door. An American tourist overheard me talking to my boy about my ‘time’ in the Crum, and for the rest of the tour he and his fellow visitors treated me like royalty – Republican, no doubt. I didn’t tell them the truth . . . .why let the facts get in the way of a good story ?
As I’ve said, the spell in gaol was towards the end of a long period of joy-riding, shoplifting and drug-taking, some of which I was lifted for, many others that I got away with. In the 1980s, stealing cars and joyriding was almost a full-time occupation for many of Northern Ireland’s teenage males, especially in the Loyalist and Republican-controlled ghettos. There was always a danger that an untrained driver would crash, accidentally or deliberately, into an army checkpoint and be shot dead, and this happened on multiple occasions during the Troubles. I wasn’t confident enough to drive, but I was a regular passenger in cars that had been stolen by my mates in Belfast city centre and driven at high-speed back up to Glencairn, where they’d be burned out.
This was the scenario one such Saturday night, when we jacked a car just…
Tarred and Feathered: Street Justice Belfast Style
Life during the Troubles
Here are the opening few pages of my bestselling book: A Belfast Child
As a child, I loved the housing estate of Glencairn. To my mind it was paradise. Cut into the hillside, and with unbeatable views of the city on one side and the Divis Mountains on the other, it was like arriving in heaven after the hell of living among the urban sectarian flashpoints of West Belfast. Here were trees, lush green fields, sparkling clear rivers and streams that rushed down from the mountainside and were filled with fish. Us kids spent long hot summers splashing about in the ‘Spoon’, a natural cavernous feature of the landscape filled with water, and feasted on wild berries, strawberries and nuts that grew along the banks of the river.
Here were our close family and friends, housed in the damp flats and maisonettes that had been hurriedly built to house those Protestants ‘put out’ of their homes in the city by avenging Catholics. They too were being burnt from their homes but back then my young Loyalist heart felt no sympathy for them; in my opinion they supported the IRA and had started the ‘war’.
Up in Glencairn we felt safe and free. As long as we all obeyed the rules, of course.
These rules were not the laws of the land. They were not enforced by police, army or government officials. They were not set down in any written form, but we all knew what they were and who had made them. And even as small children, we knew that a heavy price would be extracted for those foolish enough to break the rules. A heavy price, and sometimes a very public price too.
Our two-bedroom maisonette was situated at the bottom of a small grassy hill facing St Andrew’s church Church and the local shopping complex, which consisted of a Chinese chippy, the VG general store, a laundrette, a newsagent’s, a wine lodge and the local Ulster Defence Association – UDA – drinking club called ‘Grouchos’ . In fact, we could roll down it almost to our back door – a game my younger brother David and I played frequently. In the winter when the hill was covered in snow, we would make sledges out of old bits of wood and spend hours and hours going up and down the hill, never feeling the cold. Dad would have a go at us for all the mud and grass we trailed into the flat but his was a good-natured telling-off. The truth was that he was pleased to see us all happy and carefree again after the trauma of the previous few years, and the sudden and final disappearance of my mum.
One late spring afternoon I was revolving rolling towards our back door, Dad’s beloved Alsatian dog Shep (my best friend and constant companion) in hot pursuit. Dad called him Shep after the Elvis song and he was able to knock our letter box with his nose when he wanted to come indoors. The grass had recently been cut and was damp, meaning that it stuck to every part of my clothing. I came to a halt just short of our back wall, the sweet smell of cut grass filling my nostrils, before standing up to brush it all off my jumper. As I did, I noticed my cousin, Wee Sam, running up towards our house from the direction of the main road.
‘John! Davy! C’mon, hurry up! There’s summin’ going on down the shops!’
Wee Sam was red in the face and could hardly get his words out. ‘It must be good,’ I said, ‘cos you look like you’re about to die.’
‘Not me,’ he replied, ‘but there’s a woman down there looks likely to. C’mon, we gotta see this!’
He turned tail and without thought we ran after him. As anyone who’s ever grown up on a housing estate will know, if there’s a commotion taking place word gets around like lightning. In Loyalist Glencairn there was always something going on and it was violent as often as not violent. As we ran, it seemed that from every direction half of estate was also making its way to the shops from every direction facing St. Andrews church from every direction. ‘This must be big,’ I thought as I ran, my wee brother trying to keep up with me. On this estate, as in every area of Belfast afflicted by the Troubles, very few people turned away from troubledanger. The natural sense of curiosity found in spades among Northern Irish people was too strong for that.
In the few minutes it took us to run from our house, a large crowd had already gathered outside the shops. A gang of ‘hard men’, whom we all knew to be paramilitary enforcers, seemed to be at the centre of the action. Local women stood on the fringes of the crowd, shouting, swearing and spitting.
‘Fuckin’ Fenian- loving bitch!’
‘Youse deserve to die, ye fuckin’ Taig-loving hoor!’ (‘Taig’ is an offensive slang term for a Catholic).
I pushed in to get a better look. At the heart of the crowd was a young woman, struggling against the grip of the men holding her. Her cheap, fashionable clothes were torn and her eyes were wild and staring, like an animal’s before slaughter. She screamed for them to take their hands off her, spitting at her accusers and lashing out with her feet. It was no use. One of the bigger guys pulled her hands behind her back and dragged her against a concrete lamppost. Someone passed him a length of rope and with a few expert strokes he’d lashed the young woman against the post by her hands, quickly followed by her feet. She reminded me of a squaw captured by cowboys in the Westerns I loved to watch and then re-enact using local kids in games that could last for days.
Except this wasn’t a game. This was justice Glencairn style – all perfectly normal to me and my peers and we took it in our stride. Although she was still squealing like a pig, the resistance seemed to have gone out of the woman. Smelling blood, the crowd pushed forwards and the woman’s head hung low in shame and embarrassment. One of the men grabbed a hank of her long hair and wrenched her head upwards, forcing her to look him right in the eye.
‘You,’ he said slowly, ‘have been caught going with a Taig, so you have! Do you deny it?’
Now I recognised the woman. She was a girl off the estate. I ha’d seen her walking down Forthriver Road on her way to meet her mini-skirted mates. They’d pile into a black taxi and head into town for a bit of drinking and dancing. I guess it was on one of these nights out that she’d met the Catholic boy – the ‘Taig’ – who was at the centre of the allegations. Good job he wasn’t here now, because he might already be lying in a pool of blood, a bullet through his head.
The woman shook her head. There was no point trying to talk her way out of anything now.
‘Fuck you,’ she said defiantly. ‘Fuck youse all.’
‘Grab her hair!’ shouted a female voice from the crowd. ‘Cut off the fuckin’ lot!’
The enforcer produced a large pair of scissors from his pocket. Slowly, deliberately, he tightened his grip on her hair before hacking savagely at the clump below his fist. Amid cheers he threw it at her feet before continuing his rough barbering skills. Within minutes he’d finished and now the woman looked like a cancer victim. Blood oozed from the indiscriminate cuts he’d made on her head and as it ran down her face it intermingled with her tears and snot. She was not a pretty sight.
‘ back!’ demanded one of the enforcers. The crowd parted and someone came forward with an open tin of bright red paint. Knowing what was to come, and not wanting to be physically contaminated with the woman’s shame, the crowd moved even further back.
The UDA man poured the contents of the tin all over the woman’s head, allowing it to run the entire length of her body, right down to her platform boots. She looked like she’d been drowned in blood. Then a pillow was passed up, and ham-hands the enforcer tore a big hole in the cotton, exposing the contents – feathers, hundreds and thousands of them.
‘G’wan,’ said a voice, ‘give her the full fuckin’ works.’
Without further ado the man poured the white feathers all over the woman, head to toe. They clung to the paint, giving the impression of a slaughtered goose hanging off the telegraph pole.
‘That will teach ye not to go with filthy Taigs,’ said the enforcer. ‘Any more of this and youse’ll get a beating then a bullet, so you will. Understand?’
Through the paint and the feathers came a small nod of the head.
‘Good,’ said the man. ‘And just so ye don’t forget, here’s a wee something we made for you earlier.’
To laughter and jeers, the man produced a cardboard sign which he placed around the woman’s neck. In the same red paint used to humiliate her, someone had written ‘Fenian Lover’ across the middle of the cardboard.
‘Leave her there for half an hour,’ commanded the man to a subordinate, ‘then cut her down.’ The crowd dispersed, a few women spitting on the victim as they left.
‘Jesus,’ said Wee Sam, wide-eyed. ‘Did you see that? Looked like she’d been shot in the head and the feathers were her brain running down her face. Fuckin’ amazing.’
‘Course I saw it,’ I said. ‘I was right at the front, wasn’t I? The bitch deserved it. Imagine going with Taigs, the dirty whorehoor.’
‘Let’s wait round the shops till they chop her down,’ said Sam. ‘See where she goes.’
We’d been playing one of our eternal games of Cowboys and Indians recently and we’d got into the idea of tracking people down stealthily. So we waited until another paramilitary cut the woman’s rope and watched as she slumped to the ground.
‘I think she’s pissed herself,’ said Sam.
‘Ssh,’ I replied, ‘she’ll hear us. Wait while she gets up.’
We watched the woman slowly pick herself up from the pavement. She wiped her eyes and looked around. The area outside the shops was now completely deserted, as though nothing had happened. An angry mob had been replaced by an eerie silence.
As she stumbled off, we nudged each other. ‘Look,’ I said., ‘Look what’s happening. She’s leaving a trail!’
She was too, a trail of blood- red boot prints. We gave her twenty or so yards’ start, then in single file began to follow her, sidling up against walls and lamp-posts like the gang of Cherokees we imagined we were. We must have gone a good quarter- mile when she turned into a pathway leading up to a small, shabby flat. We saw her fumbling in her pocket for a key, noticing the relief on her face as she found it still there. The lock turned and she went inside without a backwards glance.
‘That’s it,’ said Sam, ‘fun’s over. Let’s go home.’
‘Wait,’ I said. I watched as the woman put on a light, looked in a mirror then drew the curtains tightly. Some part of me, the part that wasn’t screaming ‘Fenian bitch!’ with all the others, suddenly felt hugely sorry for her. She only looked about seventeen17 or eighteen18 – not much older than my sister Margaret. What had she really done wrong, other than meet a nice boy she liked? Did she deserve such brutal treatment? After this I never saw her around the estate again. She’d probably fled for her ,life, never to return. And who could blame her?
Something inside of me knew I’d witnessed a terrible thing, yet I knew I couldn’t even begin to think like this. It was against the rules; the same unwritten rules and code of conduct that this young woman had disobeyed. Fear of the paramilitaries created a culture of silence and where we lived this was a survival strategy we all lived by. We were all products of this violent environment and we were had been desensitised conditioned to events that no child should ever have to witness.
I shuddered, pulled my thin jacket close around me and with the others, headed for the safety of home.
Even now, more than forty years later, whenever I smell the sweet smell aroma of cut grass I am transported back to that dusky spring evening in the early 70’s seventies and the woman’s brutal punishment, and I can hardly believe the madness of my childhood in Glencairn.
Who wants… A signed copy of my No.1 best selling book ? Makes a great Xmas gift for book lovers & those interested in the Troubles & the crazy, mad days my generation lived through.
Read the introduction to my No.1 Best Selling book here:
‘Historically, Unionist politicians fed their electorate the myth that they were first class citizens . . . and without question people believed them. Historically, Republican/Nationalist politicians fed their electorate the myth that they were second class citizens . . . and without question the people believed them. In reality, the truth of the matter was that we all, Protestant and Catholic, were third class citizens, and none of us realised it!’
Hugh Smyth, OBE (1941–2014). Unionist politician.
Although I was raised in what is probably one of the most Loyalist council estates in Belfast, I was never what you might term a conventional ‘Prod’. Don’t get me wrong – coming from Glencairn, situated just above the famous Shankill Road and populated by Protestants (and their descendants) who fled intimidation, violence and death in other parts of Belfast at the beginning of the Troubles, I was (and remain) a Loyalist through and through. I was unashamedly proud of my Northern Irish Protestant ancestry (still am) and couldn’t wait for all the fun and games to be had on 12th ‘The Twelfth’, or ‘Orangeman’s Day’ (still can’t). Even after 30 plus years of living away from the place my dreams are populated by bags of Tayto Cheese & n Onion crisps, pastie suppers from Beattie’s on the Shankill and pints of Harp lager. I cheer on the Northern Ireland Football team (though I’m not a massive football fan I watch all the big games) and I bitch frequently about the doings of Sinn Fein.
I’m a working-class Belfast Loyalist through and through and very proud of my culture and traditions. Yet from an early age I sensed that I was somehow different. As a child I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and when I discovered the truth in my early teens, I was embarrassed, mortified and ashamed – but maybe not particularly shocked. I always knew there was something not ‘quite right’ about me. The secret was that I wasn’t as ‘Super Prod’ as I thought; there was another strand of Northern Irish tradition in my background, one that was equally working-class Belfast, but as diametrically opposed to Protestantism as you’re likely to get. There’s a comedy song that probably still does the rounds in clubs across Ireland, North and South, called ‘The Orange and The Green’, the chorus of which goes something like ‘It is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen/My father he was Orange and my mother she was Green.’ In other words, a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. This song could have been written about our family directly, so closely did it match our dynamic.
Now, if you’re reading this from the comfort of any other country than Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or Scotland, you’ll be (just about) forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Catholics marrying Protestants? So what? No big deal, surely. No one cares . But in a country like Northern Ireland, where tribalism still reigns supreme and the local people can sniff out a person’s religion just by looking at them, theof the ‘mixed marriage’ is still cause for a good gossip, at the very least. During the Troubles period it was an excuse for deep embarrassment, banishment, a paramilitary beating, or worse. Those Protestants and Catholics who married and stuck it out either slunk away into some quiet corner of Northern Ireland, trying to ignore the conflict while hoping the neighbours wouldn’t ask too many questions, or left the place altogether, never to return.
The marriage of my own parents, John Chambers (Protestant) and Sally McBride (Catholic), fell apart in the late 1960s as Belfast burned in the early days of the Troubles. The ferocity of hatred between the city’s two warring communities scorched many people desperately trying to find sanctuary in a country heading towards allout civil war. As we’ll see, my parents’ marriage was among these early casualties. Their lives, and the lives of their four children, would change forever and were shaped by the sectarian madness that tore Belfast and all of Northern Ireland apart and brought us all to the brink of an abyss that threatened and ruined our daily lives.
This isn’t a book about the day-to-day events of Troubles. There are plenty of excellent histories available detailing the period in all its gory glory, and from all viewpoints. If you need deep context, I’d recommend reading one of these, or even visiting Belfast. It’s safe now and as a tourist you won’t find a warmer welcome anywhere on this earth. As we say, Northern Irish people are the friendliest in the world – just not towards each other.
Although I love history I’m not a historian and I don’t intend this book to be a dry run through the events of 1969 onwards. As I child I learned the stories and legends of the Battle of Boyne and the Siege of Derry at my grandfather’ and father’s knees, becoming immersed in the Loyalist culture that would shape and dominate my whole existence.
I just happened to be there at the time – an ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation made even more complicated by the secret of my dual heritage. This is simply the story of a boy trying to grow up, survive, thrive, have fun and discover himself against a backdrop of events that might best be described as ‘explosive’, captivating and shocking the world for 30 long years. I’ve written this book because even I find my own story hard to believe sometimes, and only when I see it on the shelves will I truly know that it happened. In addition, it’s a story I would like my own children and grandchildren to read.
I want them to live in peace, harmony and understanding in a multicultural world where everyone tolerates and respects each other. I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer….
When they read my book, which I hope they will, they might understand what it is to grow up in conflict, hatred and intolerance, and work towards a better future for themselves and others. When I was 20, 21, I knew that if I didn’t leave Northern Ireland soon, I would end up either in prison or dead, or on the dole for rest of my life. This was the brutal reality I was faced with. My own personal journey through life and the Troubles had lead me to a crossroads in my life and I made the monumental choice to leave Belfast and all those I loved behind and start a new life in London.
I would hate to think my son, daughter or nephews and nieces back in Belfast would ever have to make the same drastic judgement about their own situation.
My Loyalist heart and soul respects and loves all mankind, and providing theyou worship or the political system you follow is peaceful and respectful to all others then I don’t have a problem with you and wish you a happy future. Just because I am proud of my Loyalist culture and traditions doesn’t make me a hater or a bigot; it just means I am happy with the status quo in Northern Ireland and wish to maintain and celebrate the union with the UK and honour our Queen.
As a child growing in Loyalist Belfast during the worst years of the roubles I hated Catholics with a passion and I could never forgive them for what I saw as their passive support of the IRA and other Republican terrorist groups. However, unlike many of my peers around me I was never comfortable with the killing of non-combatants, regardless of political or religious background, and I mourned the death of innocent Catholics as much as innocent Protestants. In my childhood I looked up to the Loyalist warlords and those who served them and when they killed an IRA member I celebrated with those around me. As I grew older and wiser my views changed. I no longer based my opinions and hatred on religion, but on politics and the humanity shown to others.
I’m a peace-loving Loyalist and therefore want everlasting peace in Northern Ireland. We do exist, despite perceptions from some quarters, but our voices are rarely heard, drowned out by the actions of the few, and certainly nowhere near as frequently as our Republican neighbours who are very much ‘on message’ with their own take on events. I hope this book goes some way to redressing that balance, and that whatever ‘side’ you might be on (or on no side at all) you will enjoy it, and that it will make you stop and think.
Finally, the story you are about to read is my own personal journey through the Troubles and my perception of growing up in Loyalist Belfast. In no way am I speaking for the wider Loyalist community or Protestant people and the views expressed here are my own. For reasons of security, some names have been changed.
Things I miss ( and some I don’t ) from home – Belfast
Ok so here’s a list of things I love and miss from home , food and drink I grew up with which are still firm favorites and will be known to all Belfast/Northern Ireland folk the world over. And the good news is you can actually order some of these iconic foods online , including Veg Roll ( who knew ) , Dulse and my fav Tayto Cheese and Onion. So if you have a husband or wife originally from Belfast/Norther Ireland you could bring a smile to their face and the taste of childhood memories. See individual listings for order details were available.
Having just returned from a trip home, working on my forthcoming book and taking in the glorious 12th whilst there I’ve feasted on many of these childhood favorites and so I’m not missing them as much as usual, but give it a few weeks/months and I’d sell my granny for a Pastie Supper from Beatties on the Shankill after a few jar in The Royal or Blues.
The list is a work in progress, so if you notice something missing please email me, leave a comment below or send me a Tweet .
And a MASSIVE BIG thank you to all my Twitter friends whom helped me compile the list and offered many comments and suggestion along the way – I couldn’t have done it without you guys helping me – so Thank You All.
Barmbrack is a yeasted bread with added sultanas and raisins and has long been a favorite of Northern Ireland folk.
It is usually sold in flattened rounds and served toasted with butter. The dough is sweeter than sandwich bread, but not as rich as cake, and the sultanas and raisins add flavour and texture to the final product.
I loved this toasted when I was younger , the smell of hot sultanas and raisins was to die for.
Although beef sausages are available all over the UK the ones from Belfast and my childhood remain a firm favorite and no Ulster Fry is complete without one or two in my humble opinion. I do love a sausage now and again , but I’m very fussy and only eat the top brands or those infused with herbs. cheese , onions, peppers or spices etc . But given a choice I would give them all up for one from home.
Big, crusty bread famed throughout Northern Ireland and Belfast the stuff of legends and a firm favorite for generations of Norm Iron folk.
Often split in the middle and stuffed full of any filling you like , a pastie, crisps or some folk like Dulse in them, but that’s just wrong in my book.
Brown Lemonade is a brown coloured lemonade flavoured fizzy soft drink sold in Northern Ireland. It is made by companies such as Cantrell & Cochrane (C&C) and by Maine.
When I first moved to London and went drinking in the bars and clubs I couldn’t believe that none of them sold or had heard of brown Lemonade. Grrrr……..
Brandy Balls, a traditional Irish hard boiled sweet, with a sweet brandy hint about them and a taste that transports me back to 1970’s Belfast.
My granddad always seemed to have an endless supply of these in his “magic ” pockets , which held all sorts of weird and wonderful things he would randomly produce. Looking back I think he sucked them so me Granny wouldn’t smell the smoke on him & as he was supposed to have stopped and he’d get a telling off.
Buckfast Tonic Wine is a caffeinated fortified wine originally made by monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England, now made under a licence granted by the monastery, and distributed by J. Chandler & Company in the United Kingdom and Richmond Marketing Ltd in Ireland.
This stuff is legendary and splits the crowd big style. I’d drank it when I was younger back in Belfast , but had not had it in ages. So whilst I was home ( working on my book & taking in the 12th 2019 ) I decided to try a bottle, small to be fair. But I’d been on the Shankill drinking all day and by the time I drank it , mid afternoon I was already pissed outta my head. To be fair i had drank about 15 pints of Harp & countless Gin n Tonics. Anyways I lost a few hours of my life and had little memory of what i got up to during this sad period. Ive been informed that I was drinking like there was no tomorrow in the Royal, The Blues and various other pubs in and around the Shankill. How I managed to stay conscious long enough to watch the Bonfires is a mystery, but I did have a monster hangover whilst watching the bands on the 12th
See my Tweet below , posted whilst I could still stand, just .
Club is the brand name for a series of Irish carbonated soft
drinks produced in Ireland by Britvic Ireland and previously by Cantrell &
Cochrane (C&C). It is bottled by the Britvic plant in Dublin. The series
includes Club Orange, Club Lemon, Club Rock Shandy (a mixture of the orange and
lemon flavours) and Club Apple soft drinks.
Club Orange, an orange flavoured carbonated drink, was the first
orange fruit juice to appear on the Irish market. It was launched in the late
1930s, with the formula refined since then to its present state. The name Club
derives from the Kildare Street Club in Dublin, which commissioned C&C to
make an orange-flavoured drink. In 1960, Club Lemon was introduced as a sister
product, and in the 2000s several other flavours were added to the range.
In 2004 C&C relaunched Club Lemon, which now also contains vesicles. Over the years a number of drinks have appeared under the Club label, including Club Orange and Cranberry, Club Berry, and Club Apple. Diet and sugar free versions were also produced.
Not a lot I can say about this apart from it was a childhood favorite and there were always a few bottles lurking about in the cupboard or fridge at home. Its got a unique flavor that I’ve never tasted in an fizzy orange drink elsewhere in the world!
Champ is an Irish dish, made by combining mashed potatoes and
chopped scallions with butter, milk and optionally, salt and pepper. As
recently as the mid-20th century it was sometimes made with stinging nettle
rather than scallions but this is rarely seen now
I never liked this for some reason and when my wee granny use to make it when I was a kid in Glencairn back in the early 70’s I’d wait until she’d left the room and then throw it in the bin or dog, whichever was closer. My wee granny wasn’t the kind of person to take cheek from a nipper like me and i’d have been in trouble if I’d complaint about the food. Plus i loved her and didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
Cowboy supper (plural cowboy suppers). (Northern Ireland ) A meal of sausages, baked beans, and chips or mashed potatoes.
Ok this one’s not strictly traditional Northern Ireland cuisine but once again a firm childhood favorite and a treat on a Friday night when me Da got paid. Once again plastered in HP sauce and a Belfast Bap to make a piece ( Northern Ireland slang for sandwich ) beans and all!
The wife often makes it now, but with posh sausages , caramelized onions , mash and she tries to get me to have it with carrots or some other veg, but sometimes I rebel and much to the amusement of her and the kids I insist on having it with beans ,the taste of my childhood
Dulse (Palmaria Palmata) is a wild seaweed that grows on the North Atlantic coast of Britain. Its Gaelic name is duileasg, and the fronds are long and membranous with a dark reddish-purple translucent hue. It formed part of a regular diet for coastal-dwelling communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland for centuries, as it is highly rich in vitamins and minerals, and a good source of protein. It is a very versatile ingredient; it can be eaten raw, having a salty flavour and chewy texture, like a natural chewing gum. It can also be dried and consumed as a snack or added to broths and stews to enhance the flavour and act as a thickener. It can be boiled for several hours into a pulp which has a porridge-like consistenc
Always loved this as a child growing up in Belfast and it was one of my
favourite childhood snacks. We use to get it in Bangor , Millisle and Donaghadee and it was served in
a small white paper bag and fresh from the sea, covered in dry salt. My mum and
many others would make a sandwich (piece in Northern Ireland slang ) and eat it
like this, but I thought that was gross !
Nowadays it seems harder to come across and it just doesn’t taste as
good as what I remember.
Guinness is a dark Irish dry stout that originated in the
brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate, Dublin, Ireland, in 1759. It is
one of the most successful beer brands worldwide, brewed in almost 50
countries, and available in over 120.
Now I know its controversial, an Irish man not liking the the “ Black Stuff”, but I have a good excuse , trust me!
When I was in my teens my granda use to take me down the Woodvale/Shankill whilst he put a few bets on the horses and watched the results as he supped a few beers in the bars. I was always given a coke and told to be quiet whilst he watched ( and lost on ) the races. As I got a bit older I kept on and on at him to let me have a “real” drink and so one day in order to shut me up he got me a half pint of Guinness . One sip and I hated it, but he insisted I drank the lot and I was sick as dog afterwards.
So that’s why I can’t stand the “Back Stuff “
The perfect pint of Guinness
Harp Lager is an Irish lager created in 1960 by Guinness in
its Great Northern Brewery, Dundalk. It is a major lager brand throughout most
of the North of Ireland, but is a minor lager brand in the rest of the
What can I say apart from the taste of Belfast in a glass. The crowd is split on this one, but I’ve always enjoyed it and any time I’m home it’s my drink of choice , apart from gin off course
A pint of Harp and packet of dates please Harp Lager TV Ad 1992
Irish stew is any variety of meat and root vegetable stew native to Ireland. As in all traditional folk dishes, the exact recipe is not consistent from time to time, or place to place. Common ingredients include lamb, or mutton, as well as potatoes, onions, and parsley. It may sometimes also include carrots.
In recent years Ive perfected a recipe that uses lamb on the bone and I gotta say its to die for. But when I was a kid in Belfast my family use to make in with mince meat ( we couldn’t afford real lamb ) , loads of spuds, onion, carrots and thickened it up with gravy. A big bit of bread ( Belfast Bap ) and HP brown sauce made it a winter favourite that would leave me stuffed and needing a wee lay down on the sofa.
Maine Sarsaparilla – For over 65 years The Maine Man has continued the tradition of delivering quality soft drinks to our doorsteps.
Families throughout Northern Ireland have fond memories of
regular weekly orders of their favourite flavours such as Sarsaparilla,
American Cream Soda, Pineappleade and Cloudy Lime in glass returnable bottles.
Practically everyone who grew up in Northern Ireland
remembers the Maine mineral van coming with a crate of goodies every week.
Flavours like Sarsaparilla, Pineappleade and American Cream Soda came in glass
bottles which were returned empty and new ones replaced them.
It all began when the Harkness family established a soft
drinks business, Braid Mineral Water Co., in Ballymena in 1919. The founder’s
son, John Harkness, decided to branch out on his own in 1949 and formed Maine
Soft Drinks. In 1959 the business relocated to its current premises in Ballymoney.
The company is still owned by the Harkness family and is now
into its 4th generation.
It has expanded and branched out in different ways including
supplying to supermarkets and contract bottling. They are also exporting to
various companies on the UK mainland. Regardless of expansion the doorstep
delivery side of the business is still very important, with more than 40,000
homes supplied on a weekly / fortnightly basis.
Maine Soft Drinks employs more than 100 people, half of which are based in Ballymoney and the other half spread throughout Northern Ireland in depots located in Lurgan, Belfast and Derry-Londonderry.
What can I say apart from this is another childhood favorite and I loved all their drinks especially Cream Soda, Pineappleade and Cloudy Lime , which in my book all have a unique flavor I’ve never come across before throughout my 30 years of living in the land of the English. And having it delivered straight to your door was an added bonus.
Nambarrie was launched back in 1860 and for over 150 years
has been our wee country’s beloved bold and hearty tea that can be relied on
for the perfect cuppa at any time of the day.
Nambarrie is the brand name of a tea company based in
Andover, Hampshire, now owned by Twinings. Nambarrie Tea Co. Ltd. now operates
delivery depots in Mallusk, County Antrim and Glasgow, being the third biggest
brand in Scotland
On 10, April 2008 Nambarrie announced its plans to close its
factory in Belfast. The factory is now closed and production currently takes
place in England. The signage at the Belfast Nambarrie factory is still
attached, however the building is now disused and has since fallen into disrepair.
Writer and comedian Will Self is a self-confessed fan of Nambarrie.
This was the only tea served in our house when I was a kid and has a very distinct strong taste that lingers on the palette . great for dipping Rich Tea biscuits in and the odd Hob Nob. The wife doesn’t like it so we have “English” breakfast tea at home, which is ok to be fair, but not the taste of my childhood. When I’m back in Belfast , tucking into an Ulster fry or Pastie Supper I always have a big mug of this on the side, with two sugars , sometimes three if I’m feeling rebellious . Don’t tell the wife though , she’s got me on sweeteners at home !
Nambarrie TV Advert
Pastie Supper/ Pastie Bap
Pastie Supper – A pastie /ˈpæstiː/ is a large to medium-sized round battered pie common to Northern Ireland. Generally served with chips to form a “pastie supper” (“supper” in Northern Irish chip shops meaning something with chips), or in a bread roll as a “pastie bap”, it is a common staple in most fish and chip shops in the country.
Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients are minced pork, onion, potato and seasoning formed into a “round” (just like a burger) which is then covered in a batter mix and deep fried. Traditionally, chip shops coloured the pastie’s filling with a cochineal dye, giving it a bright pink colour, supposedly to make the snack more appetising. Many shops have stopped using this method due to cochineal allergies.
Another taste from home that I yearn for after a beer or six. Although the crowd is split on this I’ve always preferred the pink ones
This is one of the things I miss most about Belfast, the good old Pastie supper, preferably from Beatties on the Shankill. When I first moved to London after a skin full of beer one day I went into the local chippy and tried to order a Pastie Supper. To my absolute horror and continuing disappointment they hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and tried to give me everything from Jamaican Patti to a plastic bag and some very funny looks.
Grrr…… I was gutted
Thrush and Jen challenge. Join us as we make Belfast pastie baps
A pig’s trotter, also known as a pettitoe, is the culinary term used to refer to the
foot of a pig. The cuts are used in various dishes around the world, and
experienced a resurgence in the late 2000s. Before sale, the trotters are
cleaned and typically have the hairs pulled with a hot tank and beaters.
They are often used in cooking to make stocks, as they add
thickness to gravy, although they are also served as a normal cut of meat.
Back in the early
70’s my Da use to bring these home from work every Friday night and I use to
love them, although sometimes they still had hair on them and that was kinda
gross to say the least, but didn’t put me of eating them. These days I wouldn’t touch one with a barge
pole , but they bring back memories of my beloved dad and therefore will always
be special to me.
Plain Bread , preferably O’Hara’s – O’Hara’s Plain Bread is a batch bread made in a large baking tray, which means the loaves only form a crust on the top and bottom. it differs from a pan loaf, which is baked in an individual tray and so forms crust round the whole bread. I know the picture is Sunblest , but I couldn’t find a picture of an O’Hara’s one ! If you have one please send it over.
Another thing I really miss from home is plain bread. Nothing tastes better toasted or fried and the crust is always the best bit. I can’t understand why they don’t sell/make it in England .
If they do , where please ?
Potato bread is a form of bread in which potato flour or
potato replaces a portion of the regular wheat flour. It is cooked in a variety
of ways, including baking it on a hot griddle or pan, or in an oven. We fry it
in our family as most others in Northern Ireland do.
This is as iconic as its possible to be when talking about food from Belfast / Northern Ireland. A must have in every Ulster Fry , best served fried in a shallow pan with loads of oil , although some folk like them toasted and covered in butter, my wee granny use to love these served that way. Nowadays its readily available in most of the big UK supermarkets, but it’s just not the same as back home and the taste of my childhood O’Hara’s . Although I do buy and eat it in England , its always a bit of a disappointment.
Also known as Tattie Scone to our friends from Caledonia . I ran a poll on Twitter last year and had over 25,000 votes (see below) and surprisingly Tattie Scone came up tops by a vast margin. I can only assume more Scottish folk responded as its clearly “ Potato Bread “ to most folk in Belfast /Northern Ireland .
Shandy Bass is a 0.5% ABV shandy made with Bass beer and
lemonade Introduced in 1972, it is made by Britvic.
When I was 12/13 me and my cousin Wee Sam were given a tin of this each ( or did we steal it ? I can’t remember) on the 11th of July. It was the first time I recall drinking alcohol ( I know ) and we were both pissed as a newt, or acted as if we were anyways and we sang and dance to all night long until me granny came and dragged us of to bed. Innocent days I’ll never forget.
Funny Drunk People Compilation
Soda bread is a variety of quick bread traditionally made in a variety of cuisines in which sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as “baking soda”, or in Ireland, “bread soda”) is used as a leavening agent instead of the traditional yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Other ingredients can be added such as butter, egg, raisins, or nuts. An advantage of quick breads is their ability to be prepared quickly and reliably, without requiring the time-consuming skilled labor and temperature control needed for traditional yeast breads.
Another icon of Northern Ireland foods and star of any Ulster Fry. Like the good old potato bread it can be served toasted or fried and like most of my peers I love it well fried with the yoke of a runny fried egg running all over and soaking into it.
A kind of round bun , dense sponge covered in coconut flakes and held together with icing sugar in the middle.
I loved these as a kid and when I started secondary School, Cairnmartin Ballygomartin , after the bell went I would hang about out side the O’Hara’s at the bottom of Glencairn in the hope that there would be some cheap cakes/buns left over before closing, which they always sold at a knockdown price to get rid of them. If I was lucky there would be a few snowballs on offer , which I loved pulling apart and licking the icing suger from the middle and dunking some in my after school cup of Nambarries tea. Heaven ! They are very popular in Scotland also, but there not the same as the Belfast ones of my childhood.
Steakette – Is kind of like a hamburger coated in batter and deep fried in oil.
Not for the faint hearted – These are another favorite of mine and when I’m home and on the beer I head straight for Beatties if I’m on the Shankill and get one. Last time I was home I order a Pastie & Steakette in one sitting and I gotta say they booth went down well. They are normally swimming in fat and grease, but I love them just like that ( don’t tell the wife ) smothered with loads of salt and vinegar. Yum Yum
Tayto Cheese and Onion
Set deep in the heart of the Ulster countryside in Tandragee is Tayto Castle where Tayto crisps and snacks have been made for the past 60 years. A ‘Taste of Home’ our products have been a big part of growing up in Northern Ireland.
Established in 1956 and still owned by the same family – the
Hutchinsons, we pride ourselves in employing local people and using local
ingredients and materials to produce great tasting crisps and snacks for
everyone to enjoy. In our 60th year, we are also proud to support Northern
Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016.
Within the Castle is a closely guarded room where the unique
Tayto Cheese & Onion flavour is made to the same recipe as it has for the
last 60 years. Only a very select few know the secret recipe which has been
carefully passed down to the current day.
Come and visit us at Tayto Castle to see for yourself how
our crisps and snacks are made and meet our very own Mr.Tayto – why not book a
Another of the things I miss most from home and something I always stock up on when visiting Belfast. My daughter orders me a box for Xmas, which was very thoughtful of her. But the problem was they came from the Tayto brand in Ireland (ROI) , in an insulting bluepacket, lol. They just aren’t the same as the ones I still love and crave since childhood.
Tennents is the most popular draught lager beer in Northern
Ireland, according to the latest research. 2007It was piloted in Northern
Ireland before being rolled out across the rest of the UK.
Tennents lager was produced by the Bass Brewery on the Glen
Road in west Belfast until a cutback in 2003.
Now it comes from the Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow, but the company, owned by Belgian group InBev, still has a warehouse and logistics operation in Belfast.
A specific draught is brewed for Northern Ireland with an alcohol volume of 3.7% compared with the 4.1% Scottish drinkers buy as research has shown it to be what local consumers want.
Another iconic Northern Ireland ( and Scotland ) drink from my childhood in Belfast and one which cause much uproar and debate, regarding the sexy ladies on the them. You’d never get away with that now ! I remember my Da and uncles having card schools and drinking vast amounts of this stuff and me and my brothers,cousins always had a good wee look at the ladies on the tin and we all had our favorites. For the record my favorite was Linda
The best known traditional dish in Northern Ireland is the
Ulster fry. An Ulster fry, although not originally particularly associated with
breakfast time, has in recent decades been marketed as Northern Ireland’s
version of a cooked breakfast. It is distinguishable from a full breakfast by
its griddle breads – soda bread and potato bread, fried (or occasionally
grilled) until crisp and golden. Sometimes also including small pancakes.
Bacon, sausages, an egg, and (as a modern development) tomato and sometimes
mushrooms complete the dish It is usually served with tea and toast.
This is a the king of Northern Ireland foods and has been enjoyed for generations of folk from Belfast and throughout the six counties since time began, relatively speaking . It will satisfy any hunger or cure any hangover and is served with an array of tasty N.I things , depending on your preference , including fried eggs, the all important fried potato and soda bread, perfect pork sausages or beef sausages in my house , crispy bacon, black and white pudding ( optional ) and a few slices of Veg Roll (always in my house ) and a mug of strong sweet tea to wash it all down.
With or without Beans?
That is the question – OK I’m going to get slated for this, but I always have beans with an Ulster Fry, blame my English wife for teaching me bad habits. HP sauce is also a must
Ulster Fry Up: Full Northern Irish Breakfast in Belfast, Ireland
Veda bread is a malted bread sold in Northern Ireland and
the Republic of Ireland . It is a small, caramel-coloured loaf with a very soft
consistency when fresh. Allied Bakeries Ireland (ABI) is the market leader with
over 81 per cent value share of the Veda market within Northern Ireland, which
it sells as “Sunblest Veda”.
Stylish Belfast city centre hotel Malmaison has teamed up
with Northern Ireland’s biggest bakery Allied Bakeries Ireland (ABI) to serve
up one of the Province’s best loved bread brands to residents and customers.
Veda bread, while very much a Scottish invention, has become
a Northern Ireland phenomenon since Allied Bakeries Ireland launched its first
Veda loaf back in 1930 and continues to grow from strength to strength.
Sunblest Veda, launched in 1956, is the market leader with
over 81 per cent value share of the Veda market within Northern Ireland and an
established local favourite.
I love this toasted and its smells amazing when covered in butter and eaten whilst still hot. we always had this in the cupboard at home and whenever there was nought else to eat this always filled a hole.
Vegetable Roll is a uniquely Northern Irish delicacy, made
up of cuts of lean beef and seasoned with fresh herbs and vegetables such as
leeks and onions.
Always served with an Ulster Fry in my family and controversially we always kept the plastic cover on whilst cooking, although take it off before eating , if I’m sober at least ! In another of those little Northern Irish things that make my England friend laugh, its as far from being “vegetable “ as can be. I think it just makes us feel we’re getting one of our five a day as it has ” vegetable ” in it. LOL
A traditional soup made by my parents and grandparents and a
traditional winter soup in Northern Ireland and especially popular served as a
starter to Christmas dinner. Pure, simple, wholesome comforting and natural
food. As with all one pot dishes, it always tastes better the following day
when all the ingredients have had time to marinate and got to know each other
so if you want to impress, make it the day before serving.
Another classic I love and miss from home and I have never had this outside Belfast or a soup taht tasted anything like it. It’s common to cook it with a whole chicken (I know ) or shin bone and this is often removed and stripped before being eaten, my family use to leave it in.
Once my veggie sister in law was half way through a bowl before anyone had the heart to tell her it was made with a chicken involved.
An edible sea snail – The common periwinkle or winkle (Littorina littorea) is a species of small edible whelk or sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusc that has gills and an operculum, and is classified within the family Littorinidae, the periwinkles.
This is a robust intertidal species with a dark and
sometimes banded shell. It is native to the rocky shores of the northeastern,
and introduced to the northwestern, Atlantic Ocean.
The common periwinkle is sold by fishmongers at seafood markets in large cities around the world, and is also commonly found in seafood restaurants as an appetizer or as a part of a seafood platter. In some countries, pubs may serve periwinkles as a snack.
Most of the volume fished, is consumed by France, Belgium,
Spain and the Netherlands.
I loved these as a child and we use to go round the coast of Antrim and beyond collecting, cooking and eating. We’d spend ages boiling them and when they were cooked we would all gather round, with a pin in hand, to pick the eyes out and tuck in. A taste and smell that always brings me back to my childhood.
Once I was in a French restaurant with the wife and she ordered snails ( Escargots ) and I had the cheek to turn my nose up. Hee hee , The contradiction was not lost on me, but Willicks are just one of those things that I was raised eating/liking and was way more civilized than eating slimy French snails in my book. LOL
Belfast Granny just won’t let him cook his Willicks in her home.
Other things Northern Ireland folk grew up with and love and know know
Mickey Marley and his roundabout are woven into the fabric of Northern Ireland’s tortured history and generations of Belfast folk, catholic and protestant alike will have fond memories of grumpy old Mickey and his horse drawn roundabout.
As a child I remember vividly riding on his roundabout one glorious summers day in the Woodvale Park and this memory always brings a smile to my face. Life was simple and innocent back then and the joy of a ride soothed my childhood soul and the world seemed not so scary for a few short moments.
Thank you for the memories Mickey!
Mickey Marley Story
Mickey Marley (died 28 April 2005) was a street entertainer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Born in the Markets area of Belfast, but spending most of his life on the Grosvenor Road in the Falls area of West Belfast, Marley was a common sight in Belfast City Centre for over forty years.
Drawn by his horse Joey Marley would tour the streets of Belfast with his hobby-horse roundabout. When he retired he sold the roundabout to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
His local fame was enhanced by a recording of the song “Mickey Marley’s Roundabout” (written by Belfastman Seamus Robinson) which was a popular children’s request on BBC Radio Ulster. BBC Northern Ireland also made a documentary on his life. The 1973 film followed Marley’s everyday life, against the backdrop of the heavy British Army presence on the streets of Belfast during the early years of the Troubles
Mickey Marley’s Roundabout – Barnbrack
Lyrics to Micky marleys roundabout
Micky Marley had a wee horse
He kept it at the back of the house of course
It wouldn’t eat grass and it wouldn’t eat hay
But it would eat sugarlumps all day
Micky got wood and wheels for a start
Then he sat down and made a wee cart
He hammered and he hammered and he foutered about
Until he had built a roundabout
Round and round and up and down,
Through the streets of Belfast town,
All the children laugh and shout,”
“For here comes mickys roundabout”
And then he went from street to street
A penny a time and pick your seat
A hobby horse or a motorcar
Jump on son and hold the bar
The children’s faces smile with glee
Laughs and smiles a sight to see
You haven’t got a penny and your ma’s gone out
You can still get on his roundabout
But then alas to his dismay
The roundabout was burnt one day
Poor Micky lost everything he had
And all the children were so sad
But his friends they gathered round
From every part of Belfast town
They hammered and they hammered and they fouterd about and built him a brand new roundabout
Hobby horses don’t get old
I’m winter beds they all feel the cold
But Micky knows each winter pass
The roundabout is still at last
No more we’ll hear the happy sounds
Of his roundabout in Belfast town
We thank the horse and the wee small man
For the joy they spread across the land
Showman Mickey Marley’s funeral
The funeral of one of Belfast’s best known characters Mickey Marley, immortalised in a Barnbrack song, was being held today.
Mr Marley, who was made famous in Barnbrack’s hit single Mickey Marley’s Roundabout, died last Thursday. He was in his mid 80s.
Requiem Mass was celebrated at St Peter’s Cathedral this morning followed by cremation at Roselawn.
Mr Marley, who lived in the Grosvenor Road area, and his horse-drawn roundabout was a familiar sight on the city’s streets for decades.
After leaving school at a young age, he saved up to buy his first pony and his roundabout was a huge success, first in the Falls area, then Belfast city centre and beyond.
After Sean McRobin, of local band Barnbrack, penned a song about him he became a local celebrity.
He became so well known that during a trip to Stormont in the 1970s, Prime Minister James Callaghan got his driver to stop so he could have a word with him.
His roundabout is currently being restored to its former glory in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra
At first Wee Sam and I got on brilliantly and spent every-spare minute together, getting up to all sorts of mischief as teenage boys will. We were in the same year at school and after the bell went, along with David and Pickle we would head towards the glens that surrounded Glencairn and spend hours playing by the river and trying to catch the rainbow trout as they swam up and down down river.
Half way up the glen there was a natural bowl shaped area of the river called The Spoon and in the summer , we along with other children would strip off to our underpants and spend hours swimming and playing in the water. One day when we were swimming in The Spoon the water suddenly changed colour and started flowing a deep red colour. This frightened the life out of us, we all thought it was blood and legged it out of the water as fast as our legs would carry us..
We ran home and told Aunt Gerry and although she couldn’t throw any light on the situation, she told us to keep away from the river for the time being , which of course we ignored.
About a week later, after school we all rushed up to The Spoon again and stood transfixed as we watched the river flowing a deep shade of purple. We all stepped back from the bank and pondered what might be making this strange event happen and came to the conclusion that it was a magic river, possibly evil and we should avoid it all costs. From that day on we renamed the river Rainbow River and every time we returned the water would be a different colour of the Rainbow and remained a magical place.
Then one day months later we heard through the grapevine that the reason for the river changing colour was that there was a clothes factory further up the Glen and they had been fined for emptying their waste , including dyes into the river. We all felt a bit sheepish about our earlier fears and before long we were once again spending large parts of our spare time playing and swimming in Rainbow River.
You have been ready extracts from my Autobiography Belfast Child – See home page for more chapters and PLEASE share.