July 4, 1999 issue of London’s The Sunday
Telegraph newspaper carried an excellent full page
account of Sheila’s experience when as a 16 year old
student touring Ireland she got caught-up in rioting in the
Bogside during which she took a photograph of children
making petrol bombs which were being used in the fracas.
The article described that event and a trip back 30
years later during which she located and interviewed the
children in the photograph. Sheila is the
daughter of Betty Tinneny of Killahurk, Carrigallen.
was August 12, 1969 and I stood in Rossville
Street, in the Bogside district of Londonderry,
surrounded by a Catholic crowd. Earlier in the day, the Apprentice Boys
had marched through the city, in their annual
comoration of the Siege of 1688. Tension between Catholics and Protestants
was palpable. Trouble was expected.
started with jeers and stone throwing.Within hours, it had escalated into
fierce rioting between Catholics and the RUC.
The Battle of the Bogside had begun,
marking the beginning of 30 years of violence.
stood, transfixed as a line of RUC officers 20
abreast, wielding batons and riot shields, broke
through makeshift barricades and charged
straight into us. A crowd of Loyalists taking advantage of
the breach, followed behind the catholic crowd
scattered in panic.
was not a rioter, I was an English schoolgirl
hitchhiking around Ireland in the summer
holidays with my friends, Pat and Laura. We each had Irish Catholic parents.
They believed Ireland would be a safe
place for our first solo holidays. We had simply fetched up in Londonderry
– the wrong place, the wrong time.
at facing a wall of charging policemen gave way
to panic. We
turned and ran. We scaled a high wall and sought
sanctuary in nearby flats.
was impossible to leave the Bogside that night.
A Catholic family, the Quiggs, kindly put
us up and we left the next morning.
knew little of Irish history at that time.
My father talked of being a runner for
the IRA as a child. He told stories of the Black and Tans
cruising the countryside in drunken mobs,
randomly shooting at passers-by and burning down
cottages – along with their inhabitants.
He described how in Belfast, pigs heads
were stuck on spikes with the label “Cured in
had laughed and walked away. What had that to do with my life as a
teenager in London in the late 1960? I was listening to Pink Floyd in Hyde
was more interested in Vietnam than Ulster.
and inadvertently, I had entered my fathers’
took six photos that day with my Kodak
Instamatic: the Apprentice Boys’ march, the
Rossville Street crowd, four children making
did not visit Londonderry again for 30 years,
not until I returned last week to make a
programme for Radio 4. I wanted to find the people in the
pictures, to see what had happened to them in
the intervening years, to find out how their
lives had parralled the Troubles. In particular I wanted to find the
children in the petrol bomb picture. Had they
grown up to become bank managers? IRA men?
Would they want to be found?
the help of the local newspaper, the Derry
Journal, I tracked down the family we had stayed
I hit luck.
that’s one of the Kelly brothers, probably
Tony,” said a lady at the community centre
after studying my photograph.
was sent to a taxi rank in a dark street to find
Patty Kelly, Tony’s brother. From there, I was directed to Paddy’s
arrived unannounced asking for Tony. Paddy was wary, but invited me in.
I showed him the photograph.
that’s not Tony,” he said. I felt deflated.
Had I been sent on a false trail? Later I discovered that Tony was an IRA
prisoner who had escaped from Long Kesh. He is still on the run.
seized me up for an hour, while we talked about
the peace talks and my Dad. Then he picked up the photograph again.
one there. I think that’s Jim Muldoon.”
phoned Jim, he agreed to come round to Paddy’s
after work. Jim is a burly, humorous man, now working
as a butcher. He was delighted to see the photo of his
was 10 or 11 then,” he said. “Those petrol bombs were shipped down
older would have put in the petrol and the rags.
We were on school break. It was to pass the time. You were never doing it hurt anybody. If
my Mom had seen me she would have killed me.
She thought I was a saint.
I hadn’t been involved, I would have been the
odd one out. I use to get out of bed at night, put my
mask on; you had to follow the crowd. I thought I was the Lone Ranger; it was
all a game, but there were bullets sometimes.
did well to track me down. My wife can’t even
find me some weeks.”
pointed to the dark haired boy leaning against
the wall. “Hey,
Paddy. Isn’t that your brother Mickey?”
It was. I was taken to Mickey’s
flat. Mickey, too was pleased to see me. He was married and
worked as a painter and decorator.
“There were some crazy times
then,” he said, “We were only wains. The police were
trying to move in and the wains were making petrol bombs and the big
fellas would come up.
“There use to be a side gate
and we’d take the petrol bombs and put them in the boot of their car,
and then we would go up and down the barricades. It wasn’t too bad
as long as you weren’t smoking. It made us feel big then, helping.
My Mom could smell the petrol on my cloths, but she couldn’t do much.
“I just grew up in the Troubles
same as everybody else. Some people got caught. Some people
didn’t get caught. At the very top of the Rossville flats, the
army had a post. There was a fire door and a young fellow set a
booby trap and the army came and the booby trap went off.
“Bloody Sunday was the scariest
time of the lot. I was in William Street with two boys behind me and
they shot the two boys whom I was standing beside. They just dropped
beside me. One of the boys was killed. I was 14.
“It’s not as bad now as it
was. My wife works in a factory. Two of her friends are
Protestant and we went to Blackpool last year with them.”
Mickey pointed to the other two
children in the picture. “They are Gallagher children. That’s
Lizzie and Denis Gallagher. Denis got life in jail. He’s out
My next visit was to Mrs.
Gallagher, the children’s mother. She reared 12 children in a
staunchly republican family and was proud of her son Denis.
“I don’t regret one minute of
what he was in. I don’t. He was fighting for his
country. That’s all that mattered to me. There was not
trouble with Denis at all. He was very good.”
daughter, Lizzie, was visiting her mother but she was quiet. ‘I
don’t remember,” she replied, when I asked her about August 12,
1969. For her it was another day in a long-forgotten childhood.
The next day, however, I met
Denis. He was a cautious man, slightly wary of me, but welcoming and
hospitable. He lives with his wife and two small children.
Like Mickey, he now works as a painter and decorator.
He looked at the photograph
wistfully. “At that times all the wains were running around and
helping as much as possible. I remember the air being full of CS
gas; we were always choking. Later it became really serious. I
ended up in Long Kesh for 14 years, all because of the Troubles.
“I had just turned
19. I was arrested and charged with handling explosives and
attempted murder. I got two life sentences for it. I suppose
today, looking back at that photograph, that was my starting off on the
way to prison.
“I never had regrets. I
never ever believed that I was wrong. It was just the way things
worked out. Violence was part of life. I always believed there
will never be a solution until there is total democracy in this
country. I would like to see a united Ireland: you can’t divide a
country then tell people they can have no say in it.
years is a big chunk of anyone’s life, but hundreds went through the
same thing, on both sides. I would rather have had a normal life, a
life like anybody else: to have got a job, got married before I did.
I am nearly 40 years of age and my eldest child is only six. I
should have been going to my daughter’s wedding now.
“But I’m glad the violence
has stopped. If it’s not going to be resolved in the near future,
there is no point in people dying. It is up to the people to
implement the agreement or it will spiral out of control again.”
When I left Londonderry in 1969,
I was in a state of considerable excitement after all that had
happened. I was just as excited when I left last week; my trip could
not have been more successful. Yet it was excitement tinged with
deep sadness; a sadness for all that has happened in Northern Ireland in
the 30 years since that first visit, and sadness that I had not made time
to listen to my father. It is too late now. He died in 1986.
and photos courtesy of Sheila Keegan.