Guest writer, Martin Dino McGarrigle with another from his repertoire of entertaining stories about growing up in Strabane under the rule of the British Army.
When I was a child we had those (almost) 3 month school summer holidays and our parents (God love them) would always take us away on holiday for a couple of weeks to Dundalk or Bray. Then they bought a caravan in Rossnowlagh in the early 70s. We would go there the weekend school finished and not return to Strabane till the weekend before school started again. I hated having to spend three months in the wilds of Donegal but looking back now I realise that my parents were trying to protect us.
The first summer before we went to the caravan in Rossnowlagh (1974) our house had been raided twice by the Brits and they totally trashed the place. I found the long months on the beach totally boring, apart from the 12th July when the local Orange Lodge would parade through Rossnowlagh and we’d give them dog’s abuse! They’d never seen ragamuffins like us and were shocked to the core that their years of KKK marching were rudely interrupted by a band of scruffy Strabanimals playing rebel songs on our wee cassette players!
I mind playing a song called Say Hello to the Provos at full blast as they marched past and this huge, red-faced Orangeman stormed over and tried to snatch the cassette player from my hand. I spat in his face and ran away … I was 11 FFS!
Anyway - On returning home the weekend before school started again my poor Ma was all over the place trying to get everybody ready, ironing uniforms, making sure this wan had that and that wan had the other. Spick 'n span for the return to school on Monday morning. Got us all into bed early on Sunday night. 4.30am Monday morning the Brits smashed our front door in. I remember waking up and the tiny bedroom I shared with my brother being filled with Brits with blackened faces pointing rifles at us. “Move, Move, Move!” We moved. We all haddy sit in the living room. I remember laffing cos it was the first time all eight of us had tried to sit in the same room together and some of my sisters haddy sit on the floor. My Da insisted on accompanying them round the house. The Brits protested but he was adamant.: 'youse aren’t planting anything in my house!' There were no RUC present; as per usual for those days they were hiding in their barracks.
After an hour of going through my teenage sisters’ bedroom drawers and emptying their underwear all down the stairs this fucking idiot started screaming like he’d won the lottery. The officer who was “negotiating” with my mother shouted back “what is it Corporal?” We were all sat with bated breath and starting to look at each other! 'Ha ha ha' Your man shouts “I’ve found explosives sir!” My Ma’s shouting in your man’s face saying “he’s a liar!” And fair play to him, he was a gentleman; he said “excuse me Madam.” He shouted up the stairs to your man “don’t move them Corporal, we’ll need the bomb squad.”
My youngest sister had got a “Potter’s Wheel” the previous Christmas. Like any toy that has been in a houseful of kids for more than 6 months it was long gone. What still remained however was the plastic bag full of potter’s clay that came with it. My Da snatched it outta your man’s hand and brought it down stairs – “You really wanny get the bomb squad for a bag of potter’s clay?” he sez to the red-faced officer. Ha ha ha ha – Speechless Brit officer (rare occurrence) It was like Dad’s Army – I swear to God; he went “Corporal !!!!!!” Swung the bag in his face and said “I’ll deal with you later!” Ha ha ha haa!
They beat a hasty retreat, trying desperately to regain the upper hand, calling us “Bog-wogs” and “stupid Mick scumbags.”But it was like nothing in the face of our combined laughter. They knew we’d won that round ….