I lost my dad at the age of eight, And this opened a secret gate. I went down this path of sorrow, Only to return the next day, tomorrow. If only people knew, Of thepain I’d gone through, They would think twice, And take my advice, To stand your ground and face the threat, Rather than run away and later regret, That you did not makethat vital stand And someday shake the hand That you once feared.
Note: Names and dates of this incident have been altered to protect identities, but that does not change the fact that this murder took place and nor does it diminish the everlasting affects it has had on me and my family in the years that have since past.
We each have an origin story. A series of events that have taken us from one location and have led us to where we are now.
In my short intro I state:
“I am someone who has spent the last 30yrs living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of being a Victim/Survivor of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. My PTSD has driven me to the brink of suicide more than once.”
The question you are probably wondering is…how did I get here?
It was the late 1980’s and ‘The Troubles’ were still going on. The news frequently mentioned punishment beatings, bombings, shootings and murders.
My mum had just left with my baby sister to go to a local Chinese to get some dinner and my dad was standing at the end of the driveway have a beer with a few of the neighbours.
Late one warm, dry summer night as I was playing on the pavement outside my house with my younger brothers toy car, I noticed a pair of car lights coming up my street.
The car stopped outside my house and as soon as I saw the men wearing masks I knew there was going to be a murder.
I ran for the house and when I was mid-flight I turned and saw the sparks coming out of the barrel of the gun and my dad falling to the ground. I knew he was dead.
I later found out that he had been shot between 5-7 times, including twice on the ground, and any one of those bullets would have been fatal.
Subsequent police investigations discovered that this was a purely sectarian murder of an innocent family man, who left behind a widow and 3 young children…one of whom witnessed his murder.
Our lives were forever turned upside down that night and we have been living with the consequences ever since.
But as this is my journey, and I cannot speak for the other witnesses or family members, I can tell you that I cannot remember the 12 months following this murder. For that year my mind was, and still is, a complete blank.
The ripples of that night are still flowing today as the blood flows in my veins. In the years that past I have developed PTSD and its affects are life-changing and impact on every aspect of my life. The older I get the more I can see just how complex and destructive it is.
I have been through more counselling than I ever believed possible (I lost count after seeing my 15th or 16th counsellor/psychologist. I have spent the last 30yrs (and I will expand on this, and other issues raised in this post, in a separate post) trying every coping strategy I can think off, whilst avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol abuse.
I have battled suicidal impulses, self-harm, depression and much more. But sharing these behaviours is the point of this blog.
At the time of writing this I am older now than my dad ever will be…and brings its own problems.
To date, despite knowing the identities of the gunmen, no-one has been brought to justice and due to the forensic counter-measures taken at the time, it is unlikely anyone will ever spend even so much as a single day in jail for this horrible crime.
And to make matters worse, I was told that even in the extreme unlikelyhood of someone actually going to jail for murdering my dad, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998, the maximum the person(s) would be sentenced to is 4yrs and they would be freed in 2yrs or less. I wouldn’t call 4yrs for intentional and premeditated murder is not justice; but these killers have given myself and my family, through their actions, a life-sentence.
My dads death is, and always will be, an unsolved murder…
After a long dry period of warm sunshine during which time we spend many a day going for walks or laying about and basking in the heat when we get the chance, it is easy to forget the cleansing affect a downpour can have, especially early in the morning just after sun rise.
The leaves on the trees open up and the air feels fresher and is filled with the smells of nature, as if the earth has just awoken from a slumber and is now stretching and readying for the day ahead.
As I drive towards my place of work I see a layer of cloud resting on Cave Hill like a veil, partially cloaking the mountain from view. The memory of a once occupied ancient fort perched atop and now in ruins, returns to my consciousness and I can’t help but wonder about the thoughts of the former inhabitants of this ancient land and what it would have been like to be amongst them on a morning such as this, overlooking what would become Belfast.
Looking out to the shore as I drive along continuing my journey, the high tide of the sea is filled with hundreds of seabirds all resting on the gentle movements of an otherwise apparently calm sea.
Occasionally I catch a glimpse of an upturned bird seconds before it disappears below the surface of the water in search of a tasty marine meal before resurfacing like a bobbing cork.
The sound of the rain against my windscreen pulls my thoughts out of their daydream and, with a rush, all the sounds of traffic associated with modern life rush to greet my ears.
This entire time, which may only have been a few seconds, my eyes have been staying alert to the possible dangers of the road which accompany 21st Century living.
When I have a few quiet moments at work to reflect on today’s car journey, my thoughts once again return to the past.
The Norman Castle which has stood ever vigilant over the Lough for nearly 800 years now stands out amidst the modern world. It’s presence never waning and constantly serving as a reminder of where we came from and with closer thought, of battles fought and won. Brave warriors throughout the centuries fighting to survive countless savage and bloody battles.
I often wonder what it would have been like to have lived during the time of its construction. How different would Carrickfergus have been and looked. What remains today of that ancient landscape that is still recognisable today? Some of the town streets have barely altered their path from the Medieval period during which they were first marked out. The town walls still stand just as imposing as ever, though now the threat has passed and their defensive purpose now rendered obsolete; they remind us of a more violent time during which they were very much needed and actively used.
Along the Marine Highway still stands the original sea wall marking a shoreline that was still in existence 100yrs ago. The main road and associated gardens now occupy land that was once owned by the sea and reclaimed at the hand of man in an effort to keep up with the ever changing and evolving society in which we now live.
The full moon and stars of our own galaxy would shine like billions of fairy lights hung high in the night’s curtain, brighter and more startling in ways that there are few opportunities to observe in today’s world of light pollution, which shields their glory from view.
Still, we must carry on the traditions of old laid down by our ancestors, in the best manner appropriate for the outcome that we seek to achieve.
We find ways to incorporate our love of the Goddess and God into our everyday life and each environment in which we find ourselves.
And all we have to do to reconnect with nature is to go for a walk and feel the same wind, sun and rain upon our bodies as did our ancestors before us and become at one with them and with the spirits of the earth and sky.
As a resident of Northern Ireland I have the privilege of having access to a huge amount of local and interesting history and all parts of the provence are within a 2 1/2 hr drive from my home.
I recently ventured to the North Coast, Kinbane Castle to be exact and, having been warned about the steep descent along concrete steps, down I went anyway; knowing the steep ascent back to the car park would burn my legs and torture my lungs.
I knew I would be in trouble as soon as I started down; but the enticing view of the castle combined with my trusty Canon EOS 650D, was enough to override my caution and I had already decided the end price would be worth the experience.
Perched on an outcrop of rock and mostly in ruins, I was already seeing the Black and White photos begging to be taken. The deep blue sky with vivid white clouds and low angle would make a wonderfully striking image of a once striking structure.
I could sense the history of the castle as I got closer and closer. I could almost see the people who built, lived and died in this castle…over 400 years ago. I could easily see their hard labour and toil taking place. The sounds of happy children once laughing and playing was whispered by the wind as it blew across my ears.
Inside the remains of the Keep, I had no idea how the former residents accessed the level above; the only remaining evidence are the familiar large square holes where the wooden joists once stretched across the void to create rooms above. I couldn’t see any recesses or protruding foundations that would indicate the presence of a stone staircase.
Looking around the remains of the courtyard, I wondered about the lives of the people who once walked upon the same earth on which I now stood. I am a visitor to their home…and in some cases I am sure I walked upon the same ground where they also bled and died. That realisation triggers a deep sense of respect in my heart.
But in other ways these memories of history live on. Their descendants walk the land which has remained the same. I’ve no doubt that I have spoken or seen them during my many visits to the North Coast.
I also took away a degree of comfort and familiarity with these locals, whose names history has long forgotten, when I think that they looked across the water and observed Rathlin Island. The same sun and wind and rain strikes my face that also warmed, blew and soaked these Irish Ancestors.