MAN UTD, GEORGE BEST, SIR ALEX & ME – MEMORIES OF A BELFAST BOY – PART 2

Taken from Kicking Through the Troubles by John White (empire-uk.com) – Buy your copy now

My Early Years

I was born on 23 August 1962 in Belfast City Hospital, the first born child to John McDermott White and Rosaleen White (nee Doherty). Mum told me that for the first five years of my life we lived in her Mum’s house at 34 Harper Street, Short Strand, Belfast. My brother David was born in the front bedroom of my Granny Doherty’s house and in December 1966 the first of my three sisters, Donna, was born. I cannot recall everything that happened to me during the first five years of my existence but I can recall some trips to a little cottage in Tyrella, County Down which is a beautiful place and has a beach. My Dad had to walk a few miles with two buckets to get fresh water as there was no fresh running water in the cottage. In June 1967, we moved to a new housing estate on the outskirts of East Belfast named Ballybeen which had just been completed in 1963. We lived in 16 Craigleith Walk, Ballybeen Estate, Dundonald. Ballybeen was a predominantly Protestant area, although before 1970 and the onset of The Troubles, approximately 20 per cent of the population were Roman Catholic. My Mum is a Catholic and my Dad, May God Rest Him, was a Protestant, so moving to Ballybeen was the right choice for a young family to make in the summer of 1967. In September 1967, I started school at the nearby Carrowreagh Primary School. I have no real memories of my early school years but I can remember walking to school during the winter months with a pair of Wellington boots on and carrying a torch to make my way across a large grassy area known as Brooklands. I attended Carrowreagh Primary School for three years (1967-70) but for my P4 year I went to a new school.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland began in the late 1960s but by 1970 there was an explosion of political violence across the country. In September 1970, I was sent to Saint Joseph’s Primary School, Ballyhackamore, Belfast because by this time Carrowreagh Primary School had virtually become an all-Protestant school and of course I am a Catholic. Saint Joseph’s Primary School was several miles from my home so I had to get a bus to school but it was the ordinary Ulsterbus and not a school bus. This was a daunting journey for an 8 year old to make on his own. Around this period of my life I did notice my Mum getting upset quite a lot but at the time I did not know it was because she was being verbally abused for being a Catholic. Things came to a head in early April 1971 when our family was forced to leave Ballybeen Estate. We were told that if we did not leave we would be burnt out. Left with no real choice, I found myself sitting on the back of a lorry with my brother David (aged 7) and my oldest sister Donna (aged 4), the three of us huddled in between a settee and two armchairs. I was still only 8 at the time. Everything we owned was on the back of that lorry.

My memory of the exact date is not precise but it had to be early April 1971 because I can definitely remember living in the Short Strand when I saw George Best play for the first time which was 21 April 1971. My best mate lived up the street from me in Craigleith Walk and I was looking around to see what lorry he was on with his family and their household contents. There were a couple of lorries in the large car park area at the back of our homes so we weren’t the only family who were being forced to leave against our will. With so many people and vehicles around it reminded me of a photo I had seen in school depicting children in Devon, England being evacuated from their homes in September 1939. But these kids were being sent to the country to avoid bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Our war was a completely different one, a war waged by people from the same background, with religion at the heart of it.

Like me, my best mate was a Catholic and his bedroom walls were adorned with photos of Glasgow Celtic’s famous Lisbon Lions team which won the European Cup in 1967. Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone was his favourite Celtic player and my mate lived and breathed Celtic. He did not support any English team, Celtic were his pride and joy. I was frantically looking all around me for him and when I couldn’t see him I thought the worst. Maybe his mum and dad refused to move and were lying dead in the house. All sorts of things were racing through my frightened young mind at the time. However, just as we were driving off I saw his dad in the back garden. I was about to shout “Stop!” when his dad unfurled an Ulster flag and placed it on a large pole. My heart sank. No one must have known what religion he was and I was his best, and come to think of it, his only real friend. Religion was never a topic we kids discussed at primary school or when we were out playing football. So by virtue of flying the Ulster flag his family hid the fact that they were Catholics. I was devastated but not because my best mate’s family had denounced their religion but because I really did not want to leave Ballybeen either.

I had no idea at the time how Mum and Dad managed to do it but we ended up moving into the Short Strand and we got a house two doors away from my Granny Doherty’s home. I later discovered that Mum and Dad had done a straight swap with a Protestant family named Harper which was the same name as my new street, Harper Street. Obviously the Harper family was also forced to vacate their home for their own safety. The Short Strand was a huge culture shock to me as we had a lovely garden at the front and back of our home in Ballybeen and there were several grass pitches to play football on. Our house in Harper Street was a two-up-two -down and did not have a garden, none of the houses in the area did. In fact there was no grass anywhere in the area unless someone was growing the other stuff! Outside our front door was a pavement and at the rear of the house there was a small yard with an outside toilet which had a bath. Our home in Ballybeen had three bedrooms and an upstairs toilet. But there was no point in feeling sorry for myself, I just got on with life and quickly adapted to my new surroundings like most kids do when faced with a major change to their daily routine.

I have always ben into listening to music and in April 1971, T Rex were to No.1 in the UK Singles Charts with “Hot Love.”

Memories, good and bad.

To be continued ………………………………………………………………………..

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