Growing up in Enniskillen 1946 -1964
Life in Enniskillen during my early years was of course severely impacted by the Northern Ireland political problems of the time where the Protestant majority and Roman Catholic minority were more or less segregated and continual violence , shootings and bombings were an everyday way of life. To give you an idea of how this situation arose and how the final peace process was formed the following video is one of the best documentaries on the subject
Segregation of catholics and protestants in Enniskillen
On my part, coming from a protestant orange family the biggest impact that was immediately obvious was that the schools were separated into catholic and protestant schools. This meant that, as I was growing up, most of my friends in my early years were also protestants and I got little chance to meet with catholics. Any friendships that began to develop were quickly discouraged by my parents, especially my father who was a staunch member of the Enniskillen Orange Order.
The teaching in the protestant and catholic schools was also substantially different especially when it came to the teaching of Irish history, with the protestant teaching being pro British and the catholic being more predominately nationalistic and anti British. The Irish Gaelic language was also only taught in the catholic schools. Discrimination and segregation was also evident in the work place, especially the larger factories such as the Belfast Shipyards. Even the cemeteries were segregated.
Religious tensions and violence in Enniskillen
Tensions and violence usually came to a peak on 12th July each year when the orange order held their marches to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where the opposing armies in the battle were led by the Roman Catholic King James II of England, Scotland, and Ireland and opposing him, was his nephew and son-in-law, the Protestant King William III ("William of Orange") who had deposed James the previous year. James's supporters controlled much of Ireland and the Irish Parliament. James also enjoyed the support of his cousin, Louis XIV of France, who did not want to see a hostile monarch on the throne of England. Louis sent 6,000 French troops to Ireland to support the Irish catholics William was already Stadtholder of the Netherlands and was able to call on Dutch and allied troops from Europe as well as England and Scotland. King William and his protestant forces won a famous victory which is still celebrated by the Irish protestants to this day.
12th July Orange Parades in Enniskillen
In Enniskillen we celebrated with a huge bonfire on the night of 11th July followed by the marching bands on the 12th. Fighting usually broke out between rival protestant and catholic groups as the day progressed and as more and more Guinness was consumed. For those of you who have never experience an 12th July Orange Parade the following video of the parade in Enniskillen on 12th July 2012 will provide you with a feel for the occasion. On this particular day 18 bands took part in the parade
Enniskillen war memorial bombing
Enniskillen is the home to the main training barracks for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and as such was targeted on many occasions for terrorist bomb attacks. The worst atrocity suffered by the people of Enniskillen happened on 8th November 1987 when a bombs exploded at the Enniskillen War Memorial during the laying of wreaths on memorial Sunday. The explosion killed 11 people with 63 being injured. My family was lucky with my mother and sister narrowly missing the carnage but the 20 year old daughter of a close friend Gordon Wilson died in that terrible event. He has since been a major advocate for peace in the town. The following 2 videos deal with that tragedy.
Whilst the war memorial bombing took place 20 years after I had stopped living in Enniskillen it is indicative of the type of terror threat that we lived with on a day to day basis. The fire station siren used to sound when a bomb threat was discovered to warn us to stay indoors.
Meeting catholic friends in Enniskillen
In my teenage years and after going to Portora it became more difficult for my parents to control who I was meeting and so my circle of friends began to include many catholic. We would meet whilst walking to school and in various cafes in the town after school. We also began to meet at sporting events such as soccer matches and at my rowing regattas.
As I got older of course I discovered the Irish passion for bars and dancing and so the opportunity to meet more catholics and add them to my circle of friends grew. I was also greatly encouraged when my sister Mabel, 17 years my elder married a catholic much to the chagrin of my father.
Bar Music in Enniskillen
There is nothing quite like the Irish pub as everyone knows and this is why they have become so popular all over the world. Enniskillen is no exception and as teenagers growing up there we frequented these fine establishments quite regularly. Here is a small sampling of Irish jigs being played in a pub.
The only problem with Enniskillen Pubs when I was living there was that they closed very early at 10.00 pm. Luckily we lived only 13 miles from the border with the Irish Republic where the pubs stayed open much later but the drinks were dearer. This resulted in our staying in Enniskillen till the pubs closed and then driving like lunatics, often drunk, over the border to continue drinking in the republic. Needless to say I lost several close friends at an early age in road accidents all of which could have been avoided if they hadn't been drinking before driving.
Enniskillen and her lakes
As I have already said Enniskillen sits in the middle of two magnificent lakes, Upper & Lower Lough Erne so everywhere you look around the town you find water. As a result all water sports are very popular past times,swimming, boating, sailing , water skiing and fishing were a large part of my life growing up in Enniskillen and this love of water has stayed with me throughout my life. I am still a keen SCUBA diver in the Philippines today.
Luckily for me, despite the daily violence, the constant trips out on quite dangerous reaches of the lakes and the drinking and driving, God was obviously watching over me even from that early age so I escaped and lived on to leave Enniskillen and continue with my studies in Manchester, England. That period of my life will feature in my next blog article.
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Great post James. I fully understand what you are talking about. Although my father was Scottish he was a staunch Protestant and I had a catholic friend when I was about 9 years old and he did everything to stop me being friends with her but he eventually gave in. Thanks for sharing your life and look forward to more.