The Day our family cried- Sunday July 16th 1972

It should have been a normal Sunday morning. The sun was shimmering through a partially open unlined set of curtains allowing the room to be filled with warm shards of light. But today was different. Different and life changing. My name is Shane, I am a retired former principal of two post primary schools here in Northern Ireland. Just for clarification, I do not say that out of any sense of superiority or to try to elevate my status in any shape or fashion. I say it because it is important to know that I am the evidence that the trauma and grief experienced as a result of the loss of a loved one through criminal terrorist actions is no respecter of social or employment status or indeed personal economic viability. Position and status are irrelevant in the context of the events of 16th July 1972. I am through no fault of my own inexorably and inextricably linked to the conflict we often refer to as the troubles. Like so many others who have hitherto remained silent, I am a victim by default. Today I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about a year and a date which no doubt will mean very little to most of you. In fact none of you were even born in 1972 and therefore you are probably unaware that 1972 was the worst year for killings during the whole of the troubles in Northern Ireland. In total, 3,531 people were killed in northern Ireland between 1969 and 2001. But 1972 was the worst year by far in terms of fatalities. Of the 497 people killed, over half were civilians. The deaths were also concentrated on certain hotspots. 40% of deaths that year occurred in the greater Belfast area and of those, 75% occurred in west and north Belfast. My brother Robert was just one of them! I was 10 years old. Robert was 18 ..really just out of what we might consider childhood. Robert had left his apprenticeship with Monsanto in coleraine to pursue his passion for policing. He joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He was proud and as his little brother and youngest of our family of seven I was also proud. Robert was only a rookie, just out of the training depot in Enniskillen. At 12.03am on July 16th Robert was technically just off duty. However An emergency call to his station, a call for help from a member of the public in an exclusively nationalist area of north Belfast required the immediate attention of the police. Operational requirements meant that three police officers were needed in each patrol car and as there were only two available on this occasion, my brother eagerly jumped into the back seat. He was needed by someone and it was his job to go and help. Five minutes later he was fatally shot by terrorists hiding in a hedgerow in what was a planned ambush! I do not want to dwell on the impact and effects his death had upon my widowed mother and my other family members .. suffice to say it was a life changing moment for all of us and not least for our mother and provider! Life was different from that moment on for me. Our home was harassed. New security measures were required. I was regularly physically targeted.. you may call it bullying! My early education suffered. Choice of schools was limited. Participation in sport curtailed due to my mothers trauma. Career choice restricted. I could go on. The strong Christian Faith of my mother had a massive impact on our family. We were consistently reminded to love our neighbour even those that hurt you or offend you. We were reminded that Jesus Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice for us and we should take our lead from the love he showed. The lessons from my early childhood and upbringing stood me in good stead. I became deeply interested in community relations and decided that as a part of my teaching career education for mutual understanding and building cross community relations would be part of my studies and my focus. Later when I became principal of my own schools I considered it paramount to establish relations between my schools and those considered to be more nationalist in their approach. I am proud to say that through the sharing education programme I was able to sign off on a shared education campus amounting to over £8million pounds in the town of Limavady where that groundwork is ongoing and helping to create a better understanding of the differences which we can celebrate and not feel threatened by. I am happy to commend the work and support which I have only recently received from SEFF in relation to the trauma I have suffered through my brothers tragic death and to declare that his sacrifice does not define who I am today, and more significantly to declare that the silent voices of many thousands of people, whose stories until now have remained untold must be heard, and that they should not be confined to the dustbin of rewritten histories and the narratives of terrorists and their latter day apologists. I would like to conclude by sharing two poems with you: the first is based on a murder of an off duty soldier and the children caught up in the attack: and the second is for my brother Robert;

Delivering Shadows 28th Jan 2018

It was a December day

Bright, but a cold northwesterly breeze

Delivered it’s icy blast.

Two kids in t shirts played kerby,

Oblivious to their goose pimpled forearms

And, the darkly clad figure hurrying past.

Milk bottles clinked on their concrete resting place,

Delivered diligently, daily,

As midday sunlight cast

Elongated shadows.

A good delivery,

And the heavy leather ball

Rebounded, for another score.

None of them heard the deafening cracks

Of the automatic rifle

Making its own despicable despotic

Delivery of death..

No more milk today

From part time Tommy,

And air gurgled from the leather ball

And blood filled lungs

As from this life he passed.

Two kids lay on the road,

Oblivious to their goose pimpled forearms,

And the darkly clad figure,

Hurrying past

The rotten fruits,of his ill gotten labour.

Now casting their own tragic deathly shadows.

Poem Forget me not !

Robert David LavertyR.U.C, murdered 16th July1972 aged 18 years ….Forget Me Not.

Forget me not

I didn’t choose to die at eighteen years

My time was chosen for me

Not for me some grandiose battle plan fought out o’er foreign fields.

I did not go to war

Nor to defend some great ideal…

I just went to work in a bitter urban landscape.

There were many good people…

But the cowards sought me out

Lurking in the darkness they carried out their poor misguided act,

Another piece in the endgame jigsaw ..or so they thought .

‘’Ourselves alone’’ this puzzle will never be complete,

For there are no straight edges

And over three thousand pieces are missing.

Forget me not.

My hour of darkness came in a blinding flash.

Was there time for pain or perhaps a solitary tear?

No time for last goodbyes.

Where is my mothers hand?

My brothers loving eyes?

My sisters caring smile?

Remember me.

For I cannot pass this way again and memories are all you can have.

Unlike those who put me here

Was it I who broke the law or they?

Yet they live to fight another day.

Don’t grieve for me.

For at the outset my time was chosen

But not by the ‘’brave men’’of darkness who shot and ran,

By the Creator of all men, before whom all men unjustified

Will stand in final judgement.

Until That Day Forget Me Not

Remember My sacrifice

Forgetmenot copyright1997©shanelavJSL

The Berrins Winch

The Berrins Winch

The rustic winch lies in permanent slumber..

Spins no more to heave its clinkered load

Symbolic of the bye gone age of revolution,

Patinated beauty now resting on it’s less travelled road.

Redundant molars grind no more

As wind-borne salt and gnashing teeth,

On endless foam crested waves,

Bound together now encrusted static jaws that lie beneath.


The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair…

It’s just always there

Like night to day and day to night

Dependable, in a peculiar way,

its regularity, it’s context

The empty chair.

For some, it periodically returns to fruitfulness like a seldom flowering orchid,

But mostly,

It’s just there, content to withhold a plethora of memories,

That empty chair

©️2018 JSL


The Referendum on Brexit.. what David Cameron said, what we voted for.

David Cameron was clear and unequivocal about what the referendum meant ; “This is a huge decision for our country, perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be the final decision. So to those who suggest that a decision in the referendum to leave…would merely produce another stronger renegotiation and then a second referendum in which Britain would stay…I say think again.

The renegotiation is happening right now. And the referendum that follows will be a once in a generation choice. An in or out referendum. When the British people speak, their voice will be respected – not ignored. If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum.” Is it right to ignore what he outlined as the parameter through which the democratic will of the people was to be exercised? The UK of Great Britain and NI has always been resilient and resourceful. There is already a bilateral agreement with our near neighbours in ROI vis à vis common travel. This is still the case. No one wants a hard border. The backstop is unacceptable as it divides the UK and gives unilateral control over a part of the UK(NI) to the EU with no timeframe for a withdrawal. I think there is a real danger of an attempted parliamentary hijacking of the whole process in an effort to revoke article 50 and remain in Europe. Parliamentarians must reject self glorification and accept the will of the people regarding Brexit otherwise there is a real constitutional crisis because democracy will have been fatally wounded in the mother of parliaments! The EU is failing as an entity, is undemocratic and will resort to violent suppression of democracy eg – gillets jaunes in France. Let’s hope and pray that good sense will prevail in the coming days.

The Principal and the faerie bun!

A wee girl came up to me in canteen today. Looking up with big brown eyes and an eager smile she held out her hand. In the middle of her palm was an iced bun, a kind of faerie cake type of thing. The icing had run off slightly to one side but it looked- Well.. quite nice actually! “Would you like a bun sir”. I was overwhelmed with this kind gesture as it was made with sincerity and I was the only one being offered “a bun” in the assembled company of teachers and classroom support staff. You see, these little gestures are what teachers really love because it reflects a certain popularity amongst the children. Coy glances towards the staff and a little self indulgent chuckle, well thank you so much Amber this is a lovely gesture (haha see how she offered me the bun and you lot aren’t even being considered for one, crosses my mind!! Momentarily!) “When did you make these” I asked, (to keep the conversation going and as I smiled David brentlike) (smug) at staff. “A few weeks ago” she said, still smiling broadly and obviously feeling very satisfied that the headmaster had accepted her meagre offering. I hoped she hadn’t noticed me gulp at the impending culinary disaster that lay ahead. Like the iceberg waiting for titanic I thought. “A few weeks ago” I stammered. Laughing nervously I glanced at staff who were trying to control their heaving geffaws and giant belly laughs. I looked for signs on the bun. It was too small to make out whether the icing was off colour due to decay or by design. I gently squeezed it as I spoke, all the while trying to stay positively engaged with the proud little girl. Squeeze test inconclusive I thought. “Emm where have you kept it for a few weeks”. “In the fridge”she said through smiling white teeth waiting expectantly for my first forage into what I now felt could be a dodgy little fairy cake. “Is that a little blue mould round the icing” my mind was imagining the journey of the bun. Probably in the school bag for a fortnight, or worse still in the lunchbox getting all sweated up! Through whose mouldy little fingers has this wannabe bake off, pseudo artefact, made its journey towards my unsuspecting (until five minutes ago) palate. Who has raised it lipwards only to reject and replace it at the last gasp- literally breathing the latest version of cold and flu virus, itself innoculated so that it can reap its sickly dividend upon my person. Eyes flitting to awaiting staff, themselves basking in the glory of my predicament with suppressed convulsions. I can’t let the wee soul down I thought. I swallow and hold my breath as I plunge my teeth through the rocky vulcanised icing and into the mantle. Then onward to the outer and then inner core. Taste buds are furiously trying to send signals to my brain .. aversion.. Mouldy moughty abort this mouthful, get rid, but I just couldn’t spit it out. I’m the boss, I’m the one who always blurts on about manners and kindness and giving. She has shown it all in her little gesture. I swallow against all the signs, overcoming the natural propensity to gag a little. Hey, that wasn’t so bad. It’s done and dusted and I manage to gurgle out a “thankyou, that was lovely Amber Eccles, and you have a perfect name for making buns”. Her eyes light up and her smile broadens. Turning towards me again she holds out her hand. “Would you like another bun sir”. Staff exit left and right. I am literally tongue tied taste negative. I think “miss” deserves one Amber, try the office, I’m sure she will be thrilled by your kindness, oh dear what’s happening over there in the playground.. headmaster exits right !