I grew up in Coatbridge. For those who’re unaware it’s a fairly large town on the outskirts of Glasgow.
It’s commonly termed as “Little Ireland”, this is due to the very large influx of immigrants from Ireland during the 19th century who settled in the town for work in the iron and mining industries.
Jumping to the present day, the heritage has continued and Coatbridge still has a very large percentage of its population with Irish ancestry.
This is my story:
My parents are mixed religion: one Catholic, one Protestant. I, like my brothers and sister, were raised as Catholics, we mainly grew up in the 70’s and 80’s.
Obviously at this time The Troubles in Northern Ireland were in full swing and the horrors and atrocities were in daily evidence. This, unfortunately, was a catalyst for some people to latch on to this terrible situation and channel their lives through it.
Some of these people were joke figures and were ridiculous, but some were more sinister...
When I hit my mid-teens I briefly flirted with the Hibs walk but very quickly became embarrassed by this, not least because of my parents’ heritage, but also down to the fact that it just wasn’t my thing.
I still had my friends who were involved and I respected this as did I respect, to a point, some of my cousins who were linked with The Orange Order. I just thought it was all a bit bonkers and not worth bothering about.
Things became more sinister when I was 18. I was approached by a person I sort of knew, one of these people you know but don’t really know. He quietly asked if I was interested in contributing to the cause.
I knew instantly what he meant and made it very clear that I wanted nothing to do with any of that.
“I thought you were one of us“, he said “but maybe I got it wrong” and he walked away, with the parting shot of “maybe it’s a family thing“. I didn’t respond to the goading.
After that I was always wary of situations where I was in the vicinity of these people. Although mostly avoidable, there were occasions when this happened. On these occasions there were whispers and stares but I generally just ignored it.
One night though, while walking home, I was confronted by some of these people and told “you’re not welcome here!!”. “What”, I said, “you’re having a laugh – I live here. I’ve stayed here all my life and grew up with most of you guys”. “Well we don’t want you here anymore” the ring leader said.
The other guys seemed a bit uncomfortable with the situation and when I asked if they felt the same way they just shrugged and shuffled their feet uncomfortably.
I saw this hesitancy of the group as a weak point and used it against them to a point.
To my surprise, I suddenly said “I know all you guys, I’ve grown up with you, this is absolute crap. Because I don’t fit into your ideas of rebels and causes I’m not welcome??. I DON’T THINK SO!! Have your beliefs if you want them but don’t force them on others”.
“AHM NO A REBEL, ITS NO MA CAUSE!!!”.
I walked away shaking like a leaf and suddenly heard the steps behind me; Here we go I thought, I’m going to get beat up for stupidly opening my mouth.
I turned round to face my ‘attackers’ only to discover it was most of the group who were coming towards me smiling, a few of them shook my hand and said they had never seen anyone brave enough to stand up to this person. We then walked home as a group.
I fully expected some retribution from this guy in the weeks and months afterwards, but it never happened, and about six months later I heard he had moved to Northern Ireland.
I remain friends to this day with most of the group and some of us still have a beer or play an occasional game of football together.
As an epilogue to this story I recently met the guy who was the instigator, it was the first time we had met in many years but we both recognised each other instantly.
He was over from Ireland on a break and we bumped into each other in the pub. He was pleasant enough at first, as was I, but after a few drinks he told me more about the events of years ago. “I really respected you” he said “I thought you and me would be great leaders but you weren’t interested, it was only after that night that I knew it wouldn’t work, I was really disappointed”
I explained that while I had respect for him then, as now, I wasn’t interested for obvious reasons. He was fine with that. “Ahm no a rebel anymore” he said with a smile.
We parted on friendly terms and though not best friends, we will look each other up occasionally.
I have never visited the island of Ireland but I have heard many wonderful stories and I assume it is very similar to Scotland.
I will go there soon.