James and the Early Troubles

The first time I ever heard any deep discussion on the Northern Ireland political theories, apart from being warned during the war not to go up the Falls in uniform, was one night when there had been some trouble or other in Belfast, long since forgotten. That night Jimmy told me of the twenties and thirties. He was not a political animal, and, as will be seen in the next instance, he held no brief for discrimination. He knew the form in Ireland, how could he not? But he did not have to conform and he did not. He told me of how, in the early thirties, the men at the shipyard were worried for their jobs as so many had been laid off, even to the extent that through lack of traffic passing along the Queen’s Road supplying the shipyard, grass was growing between the granite sets. He said that there had been marches to Stormont and the City hall and the interesting part of those marches was that both factions had buried the hatchet, and Catholic and Protestant were marching in unison. He alleged, that when this situation was realised, a false wedge was driven between the two factions so that they went back to addressing their separate grievances and left the unemployment problem alone. James was never given to hyperbole nor political extremism, therefore I believed him and with hindsight I am convinced he was right.
There was another alarming state of affairs which Jimmy got himself into through his broadminded attitude to religious bigotry. The situations in the twenties and thirties were very much similar to those we have been experiencing over the last decades but it lasted only a short time. People were shot on the doorsteps or put out of their rented houses simply because they were of the wrong religion, and people who had the lack of foresight to marry someone from the other religion, even if they never went to church, were also shot.
On more than one occasion customers of his, who were Catholic, living in a mainly Protestant York Road area, came to him to be helped across sectarian lines of demarcation to get to their own kind in safety and James was so well thought of by both communities that he was able to ferry them, not in a vehicle but on foot, by his own routes to the Catholic districts. On one occasion though, things were not so simple.
James had been standing in the door of the shop one evening when he heard a shot coming from the shop on the corner of Alexandra Park Avenue. It was an off-licence owned by a Catholic, Paddy Blaney. Most pubs, bars and off-licences were owned by Catholics. Without thinking James entered the shop to find Paddy lying dead on the floor of his shop and at that moment the door opened and a policeman entered, gun in hand, to find James leaning over the body.
“Think yourself lucky it was me who came in.” said the constable, “If it had been anyone else who didn’t know you they would have shot first and asked questions after.’

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