Events came hot and heavy after that, all before the pogrom of August ‘69. But there was a humorous incident in the street agitation of the time...I say agitation for it was no use us merely getting up of our knees, those who misruled had to know that we were not going back on our knees, we were demanding what was rightly ours. Equality, justice and fair play, and were determined to highlight every injustice that came along. Many nationalist people complained that there had never been a Catholic Lord Mayor of Belfast , the Unionists always seen to that. But on one occasion Martin and myself entered the City Hall Chambers on the day another Unionist was to be enrolled as Lord Mayor, he was a Shankill Road Fireplace manufacturer called Joe Cairns. Martin and myself were in the public gallery to heckle the proceedings gut we got a bit carried away and jumped down from the gallery just as a guy in black tights and other regalia stepped forward with a red cushion in his hands on which was ceremonial mace on it. Then in came Joe cairns with a troop of oddly dressed councillors behind him and him dressed in red and white ermine it looked like a gathering of cross dressers. The peelers came rushing in and things got so heated that Cairns and the guy in black tights were knocked to the floor. The peelers steamed in and dragged us out, a memory I will always have of that incident was the angry face of Eileen Paisley, the “Big Man’s” wife, she was a councillor at the time, in her rage she looked like that wee girl in the movie “The Exorcist,” We ended up being dumped out but Martin and I never laughed for years after it when we would recall the ‘cross dressers gathering.’
But the troubles and nightly rioting went on in Ardoyne and in Derry the RUC and B Specials were making massive nightly attacks on the Bogside area in particular, but strangely the Falls Road was quiet, it was as if they had nothing in common with their co-religionists in Derry and Ardoyne. You can imagine we were calling the Falls Road men a few choice names , but it was decided that we in Ardoyne would have to awaken those men of the West from their slumber. At the corner of the Falls and Conway Street in the premises of the old mill, was a huge Volkswagen car dealership, Isaac Agnew’s, showroom and it was decided if that was put alight it might bring the Falls out onto the streets and help draw some of the peelers from Derry and Ardoyne. These were strange days for the IRA, it seemed the Volunteers had a lot of lee way to decide on operations and carry them out without consultation with the leadership, and there was an even stranger element to this operation. The car used to transport the three volunteers and petrol over to the Falls Road was a top of the range type and it was driven that night by John, a millionaire builder who was not a member of the IRA, I can say that safely now as John is long dead, a causality in a road accident. The car arrived on the Falls and parked in the street opposite the Car Showroom, the three Volunteers stepped out, two carrying the petrol and the other some bricks. A few bricks were thrown through the huge window and it shattered given access for the petrol carriers to step inside and sprinkle it, and at a safe time the brick thrower threw the lit match. With the cars inside containing petrol this acted as an accelerant, the whole four or five storied building went up like a cardboard box, with flames leaping 100 feet in the air. Martin at times could be quite dramatic and colourful in his speech, I will always remember him saying, “There she goes the beacon of freedom”. And it certainly had the desired effect for when the peelers arrived the Falls Road was crowded and they were stoned, and before the night was out they had to call for reinforcements.
Throughout July and into August 1969 there were continual incursions into Ardoyne by the R.U.C but one night in particular will always stand out in my mind, August the 4th. It became obvious as the riot went on that the R.U.C had set about rounding up Martin and any other members of the Action Committee or anyone else who was on their list of ‘Ringleaders’. Up until that night there was only one ‘ battle front’ the Crumlin Road, with most of the fighting taking place in Hooker Street. But that night the R.U.C drafted in hundreds of extra men who sneaked on foot from Brompton Park through the back entries and alleyways into Elmfield Street , Oakfield Street and ultimately into Butler Street at the rear of the rioters. They literally saturated the area. Meanwhile extra mobile R.U.C poured into Hooker Street and Herbert Street from the Crumlin Road. The engines of their land Rovers and heavy barricade removing vehicles roaring in low gear could be likened to the wail of the Banshee. Stones and petrol bombs were useless against this so rioters retreated to houses, hopefully to regroup later. I and two other guys, one a member of the Committee got into Larkin’s, a great oul republican family’s House at Butler Street and slammed close the big heavy front door. At that time any and every door was ‘open’ to rioters such was the support for them and the disgust at the R.U.C. Outside the noise was deafening and the screams of the R.U.C “Come out you Fenian Bastards”, could be heard , even above the merciless cries of a young lad, whom we later learned to be Neil Somers, who lay under the wheels of an R.U.C Land Rover his leg hanging off. At a tribunal later it was reported that a certain well known R.U.C man in the vehicle that ran over Neil had said to the driver, “Run over the Fenian Bastard”.
The R.U.C had completely swarmed the street and two or three more rioters rushed into the house we were in, one of them being Martin Meehan another member of the Ardoyne Committee. Butler Street by now had been completely taken over by peelers they were kicking in doors and pouring into houses, we were well cornered. Suddenly the front door busted in and in piled the riot clad R.U.C, batons at the ready. We were in a double dilemma because the family of the house was also there in the living room. The best we could do, in their interests, was to isolate ourselves from them in the scullery , which worked well. The R.U.C poured through the living room ignoring the family and made for us, we slammed the scullery door closed and pulled the washing machine over behind the door and added our weight to keep the peelers out. It was all to no avail the sheer force of numbers of the R.U.C began to force the door open and they began flailing at us with their batons which weakened our resolve to continue pushing the door against them. Martin gripped onto the side of the door and the door frame and filled the gap through which the peelers were trying to get through , batons reigned down on his head and him shouting, “Get out the back door lads.. Run for it ”, blood was pouring from his head, he was actually prepared to get battered and arrested that we may have a chance to escape. Even with this sacrifice of Martin’s no one rushed to open the back door because we were convinced the peelers would be out in the back alley in huge numbers. “For fuck sake get out will ya’s,” Martin shouted again. The back door was opened and we decided to make a bolt through it half expecting the peelers to be sitting waiting, no parting expressions were made to Martin, it just didn’t seem appropriate to say “See ya Later Martin”, or “Good Luck and thanks Martin”. Surprisingly not one peeler was in the back alley, some how they had not thought about covering the back door and had we have thought earlier we all, Martin included, could have walked out that back door before the peelers even started to kick in the front door. Meanwhile Martin had been so brutalised he had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance where he received the last rites of the church, thankfully he pulled through. But that incident so early in ‘the troubles’ showed me first hand how courageous and unselfish Martin was, for by his decision to hold that door he certainly could just as well have ‘laid down his life for his friends.’
Martin signed himself out of hospital on the 12th August on a walking stick and set about immediately organising some sort of defence on learning that there was not a gun in the area.. The area came under the most determined loyalist and RUC attack and the only thing that saved the area being burned to the ground was the buses that the people commandeered from the nearby bus depot to be used as barricades to block off the streets. For practical reasons some buses were parked across some streets perhaps too far down the street and so those houses beyond the buses were burned by the loyalists. There was not a gun in the area but people went here there and everywhere searching for and eventually turning up a couple of shotguns and an old 303 rifle with only 11 rounds for it, those with those few weapons ran from corner to corner firing them to give the impression to the B Specials, RUC and Loyalists that the area was well armed. The whole Catholic Ardoyne community was under siege surrounded by massive forces, trained and armed to the teeth and with the ‘Law ’ on their side.
Finally the British Army arrived and placed themselves between the Catholic and Protestant area’s, many Catholics seen them as their saviours, others noted that their guns faced Ardoyne , while their backs were to the Loyalists. There was for awhile what was referred to as “The honeymoon period ”.
Through the rest of his life Martin, to say the least, was annoyed as to how Ardoyne suffered so grievously in the August 1969 pogrom. Particularly when he recalled the night only a few weeks earlier that three guns and ammunition had been taken out of the area. Dozens of Catholic homes had been burned to the ground, residents, Samuel McLarnon and Michael Lynch murdered by the RUC, and dozens of men women and children wounded. Perhaps too he was even embarrassed that a movement, the IRA, of which he had been so proud to belong to had left the area without a gun, with no means of defence. Nevertheless he threw his weight into the defence of the area’s helping build barricades , hi-jacking buses from the Ardoyne bus depot to park across the streets as barricades. In truth there were a few guns that people were able to gather mostly shotguns, and it was in one of these shooting confrontations with Loyalists that Martin was blasted in the head with a shot gun, s friend nearby him was blinded in one eye, whilst one loyalist was shot dead.
Martin had to appear in court on the 22nd of August on a riotous behaviour charge following the incident at Larkin’s house and was sentenced to two months imprisonment. “That two month’s prison wrecked me... was the worse sentence I have endured.. I swore I was finished with everything, was going to forget everything and get my life back to ‘normal’, it is not worth it all,” he told himself, “ I found no motivation or ‘cause’ to be in a cell’, he then resigned from the movement totally.
And with those thoughts in mind he got straight back into his job as a Docker on his release, but he returned each night to a troubled Ardoyne still suffering under RUC and Loyalist attack. And more importantly to Martin, as a republican, British soldiers were prancing around Ardoyne being offered tea and biscuits by some of the residents portraying themselves as the‘saviours of the Catholic people’.
Through this period I kept in regular contact with him, politics of course was the subject, and often whilst sitting there with him and Mary, I quietly glanced at Mary to see if there were any tell tale signs that she accepted that Martin was finished with it all. The best I could pick up was a look that said ,“It is up to himself.. I will stand by him either way.”