A four year old boy and a “lipstick” could have caused a major incident.

I live in Ireland and have a very strong sense of my own identity. I love this country, and am proud to be Irish.

I was a child during the seventies and eighties. A time of tremendous unrest in the North of Ireland, when a lot of wrong was done on both sides, by the British and the Irish. It is rather typical of this country, and one of the many things that I love about the Irish, that this period, during which there were almost daily murders and bombings, is referred to as “The Troubles”. What an understatement!photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/qbix08/3043825190/">qbix08</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Growing up, I lived in Dublin. There was no fighting or bombing there except on one occasion, and for those who lived in the South the “Troubles” seemed far away. Most did not understand it, and were not overly concerned about what was going on. For them it was irrelevant.

However we had Grandparents who lived in the North of Ireland, in County Donegal. Donegal is part of the Irish Repbubic, but it borders the six counties governed by Britain. In order to travel to Donegal we had two choices. Go the long way through Sligo, or our preferred choice,  cross the border.

As a child sitting in a packed car, I always knew we were getting close to the border when my mom would begin to address the five of us in the back of the car. “These boys (the British soldiers) are only somebodies children, sent over here” she would say. “They had no choice whether to come or not”. One of my older sisters was of an age where she had made her own mind on the situation, and her opinion was  that these “children” should go back home. She would voice this opinion loudly back to my mother, who would cut her off by saying “I’m warning you, behave yourself, and put away that bag”. My sister had a bag which was covered in hand written graffiti. It would be fair to say it had an anti British, pro Irish slant to it.

I was a child at the time with no great opinion on the matter. I tended to listen to my Mom, yet wonder at the situation. As we drove closer I took no notice of what looked like square rooms made of brick and barbed wire. Lots of barbed wire. These “rooms” had tiny windows through which a gun poked out.

Some days we got through the border quickly but often there was a long queue of cars. Eventually, a soldier with a rifle across his chest would call us forward. I can clearly remember thinking their strong British accents were very strange, and being fascinated by their guns. My father would hand over his drivers licence and then inevitably the soldier would stick his head in the window to see who else was in the car. Without fail at this point my sister would let go our small but deadly shih tzu dog, who would jump up between the back of my fathers seat and the window, barking her brains out. The soldier wouldn’t be long getting his face out of the car, but it did nothing to warm him to us as a family. The fact that we shared a surname remarkably similar to a notorious IRA leader, did nothing to speed up our check in.

There was always an air of tension as we approached the border. My parents were on edge and so too were the soldiers we encountered. I know now that these soldiers were sometimes shot at or bombed, but as a child it was just something I could sense.On the lookout

On one memorable occasions we were returning home to Dublin after our holidays with my Grandparents. My youngest brother was only about four at the time. There was no such thing as strapping up in the car, so we sat anyway we liked. With five of us and the dog at times it was very uncomfortable, so my brother was small enough to stand up for a while, which gave the rest of us a break. We were coming close to the border, (my mother had begun her early warning conversation), and my little brother was standing up trying to see himself in the rear view mirror. He was busy with something in his hand which he was pretending was lipstick. My Dad asked him to move out of the way of the mirror and as he did he looked closely at my brother and shouted “What have you got in your hand?”. My mother looked back and quickly grabbed the “lipstick”, whilst shouting “It’s a bullet!”. My brother began to wail for his “lipstick” and my mom was shouting “Where did you get this?”. At this point my brother produced a few more “lipsticks” from his pocket, and told my mother who had given them to him. My father, who I always remember as a gently spoken individual, went ballistic. He grabbed all the bullets, opened the window and flung them out, cursing loudly the said individual who had given them to my brother. My brothers wails got even louder at the sight of all his lipsticks disappearing, not to mention my fathers raised voice.

However, as we drew up to the border his tears stopped and the rest of us kept quiet. Eventually we were called forward. As usual my parents tried to sound polite, the name on the drivers licence caused a bit of a stir and my sister once again “accidentally” let go the dog, but we did eventually make it through.

But just imagine what might have happened if we hadn’t spotted what sort of lipstick my brother was using!

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc
photo credit: qbix08 via photopin cc
photo credit: fa1th via photopin cc

28 thoughts on “A four year old boy and a “lipstick” could have caused a major incident.

    1. Yes, but then you see today’s meeting of Michael D and the queen and I see we have come a long way. My own children are already a generation away from all this.

  1. My husband who’s American never fails to find the irony in the phrase “the Troubles”. I took him on the murals tour of Belfast when I was last home. I wondered how odd it all must sound to his ears, how petty and complicated and violent. I try to explain some of the back history and usually give up because it’s so boring. Having grown up with it and hearing about it relentlessly it’s hard to comment on. I remember the check point Charlie in the middle of our town and how the teenage girls, knowing no better, used to flirt with the young army men passing through. I often wonder how growing up in that environment has formed me as an adult…

    1. We used to go up regularly but only stay a few weeks at a time. It was a massive eye opener, especially when we visited cousins in Derry. Such a different life they lived.
      I remember my mother saying two things about the North when I was growing up. One was, when we would fight with friends or each other, she would comment, “no wonder there is trouble in the North of Ireland when you are fighting about something so small”. The other was in response to me being a rather tempestuous character in my teens, “Tric, if you were up North you’d be throwing bombs”. Thankfully I lived a 100 miles away and never got caught up in any of that way of thinking.
      I’ve been looking at your blog. However it happened you’ve done very well!

      1. Thanks very much for stopping to look around my blog. Yes, I find it interesting how removed from all of it, those of you in the South were. There was no escape as a child/teenager. Relentless on the TV, in newspapers and on everyone’s lips. Now with distance I can only start to understand it a bit from both sides but still can only conclude “What a bloody fecking mess!” We can be such a thickheaded tempestuous people sometimes–it’s not just you, Tric. I was a similar teen :-). It must be a result of our history. I can still identify this trait in people when I go home even if it’s not in regards to politics. Of course we have lots of lovely characteristics too, but this one annoys me every time! Let’s keep in touch. I’ll be over for a visit soon 🙂

  2. Over twenty years ago, and at around 2 am, we had a knock at the front door. A British army patrol wanted to know if we were being held against our will. My father reassured them that we were fine and not being held against our will. After a few more questions and reassurances, the soldier said ‘are you aware there is a pipe bomb in your garden?’ My dad was a little shocked (to say the least) but quickly remembered my little brother was playing with pipes and wires in the garden that day! We were getting some work done on the house. The poor little soldier nearly collapsed. They had sent the youngest, smallest soldier to our door..
    The troubles have had such a long-term, devastating effect on people. Some have never truly experienced peace and a life without bigotry.

    1. Yes I am so aware of that as I clearly remember the talk of my cousins and uncle when we would visit them in Derry.
      I am so glad this is alien to my own children although it is difficult not to talk to them about it, but I think it’s best if this next generation get to leave it behind.
      I didn’t realise you lived in the North.

      1. I’m from Belfast. I left with my boyfriend (now husband) when I was only 21. My family are still all living there, so I go up to visit them a lot.
        I do worry about my nieces and nephews when things flare up. It’s so unfair on everyone, but especially them as they have no clue what it’s all about, and if they’re not careful they can be easily influenced into believing things that aren’t true.

  3. wow, what an amazing post of amazing memories tric. i’ve always wondered how it was for families living amidst the troubles, not for or against either side, but stuck in the middle none the less. wow. wow.

    1. A different world. Time has marched on so quickly and things are happening now we would never have dreamed would happen in our lifetime. Tonight a leading ex IRA member is eating at a banquet where the queen is entertaining the Irish president. It sounds crazy just writing it.

  4. We spent more than a week in Donegal for our last trip. We rode our bikes in and out of Northern Ireland all week. With all of the reading we had done we knew the history and half expected it to rear it’s self in some form. But for all of our trips to Ireland and our excursions in to Northern Ireland, we have never had a bad incident. Though we did get a very personal tour and story from the head of security for the courthouse in Omagh who we ran in to by chance. He gave us history and a tour. It was very somber. He was very kind. It’s all so very sad.

    And if I was your dad I would give ‘what for’ to the individual who thought bullets were a good idea for a 4 year old!

    1. I have no doubt my Dad had a “chat” with that individual. The North of today is not recognizable compared to the North of my childhood.
      Long may it last.
      But isn’t Donegal beautiful!

      1. Forever may the peace last! Omagh’s tour was heart breaking.

        Donegal is GORGEOUS indeed! We stayed on the mountain for a week. Rode our bikes. Went every where we possibly could. In and out of Northern Ireland. Best Ice Cream I ever had was in Northern Ireland. Tickety Moo!!!! 😉

    1. Many who lived in Ireland during that time never traveled North and like you had no idea what the reality of it all was.
      Thankfully we were not discovered as future trips would have been very difficult.

    1. We can laugh about it now, but at the time we would have been in big trouble. High anxiety and tension mixed together with a republican teenager, a catholic southern family with a questionable surname, and a child with bullets!

      1. I liked your comment on how we refer to it as ‘the troubles’ too. it always me smile a little, such a typically Irish thing to do, it sounds so quaint, like it was just a little bit of a kerfuffle and it was all over before it started. A boys will be boys kind of thing…at least that is what I always thought of it.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. Just the other night, we were discussing travel desires. We touched on the subject about what it must be like for regular families living among, or between such enormous tensions, or “troubles”. The States haven’t experienced that since 1865—or I suppose the 1960’s could be a time of Troubles. Very sobering.

  6. Wow, what a neat memory! I admit, I don’t know anything about Ireland, or the “Troubles” that you mentioned. History, Geography etc; were never my favorite subjects in school. I’m a tad bit older than you, growing up in the 60’s, but my ancestors are Irish and from my research I know that Donegal is one of the areas they originate from. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading! We have a very long and checkered history here in this country but in the past few years we have seen a peace develop. Long may it last.

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