Every day Facebook notifies us of memories: reminders of posts we’ve shared, friendships made, photos uploaded. Undertaking your own research, you’ll likely find celebrated images of places and communities near you; in some cases, horrors and lessons from past conflict.
Take Armagh for instance, my home town; and, more specifically, the Facebook group 1970s Armagh Memories set up and run by members of the community. The Armagh I found online was unrecognisable to the one I grew up in.
In photos I could point out the roads, buildings and housing estates I know well; the bombings of businesses and public halls, sightings of armed British soldiers on streets and civilians marching against internment (detainment without trial) I had previously just read or heard about.
I’m lucky to have lived at a time when Northern Ireland’s Troubles were coming to an end. As a kid growing up by the Cathedral Road in the late 1980s and ’90s, the “hands of history” weren’t on my shoulders when paramilitary ceasefires were called and the Good Friday Agreement was signed, but the benefits of peace and triumph of politics over violence were on my mind as I scrolled through the photos shared on this forum.
This week, reports suggest there were 30% more paramilitary attacks committed here between January and June of this year (62) than during the same period last year (45). Community worker Paul Smyth expressed his view to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme that this rise is “directly related” to Northern Ireland being without a government. Paramilitaries, he said, are “exploiting a political vacuum”.
Memories of 1970s Armagh, and Northern Ireland more widely, are dominated by political instability and violence. Thanks to the leadership of politicians and civic society, lives here have transformed for the better but there is still work to be done. Getting Stormont back up and running would make a good start.
What will our memories of the 2010s be – of a complacent peace? I don’t want trouble coming to my home town again, do you?
Note: Many thanks to Larry Dickinson and others at the 1970s Armagh Memories Facebook group for permitting use of the images below – of conflict, politics. and society Captions provided are guided solely by comments shared by contributors to the social media page; for this reason Northern Slant cannot confirm the dates and exact context suggested. If you’re reading this and wish to share photos of your own, feel free to get in contact with us.
An armed British soldier walks through the housing estate of Drumarg.
July 1973. Woolworths shopping store following a bomb attack on Upper English Street.
August 1973, Thomas Street.
1972. Ogle Street.
October 1976. The late Cardinal Conway marches with Peace People.
Year unknown. A young woman stands beside walls with the words “Smash H Block (at HM Prison Maze)”.
Year unknown. Irish Street Corner.
September 1972. Armagh City Hall following a bomb explosion.
March 1974. A bomb wrecks Lennox department store.
Some time between 1969-1970. People’s Democracy demonstration on Navan Street.
Year unknown. Then DUP leader, and future First Minister of Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley at The Mall..
May 1979. The SDLP’s John Hume walks with Seamus Mallon and Oliver Tobin, canvassing ahead of European elections.
Also published on Medium.