Blag

Faoi dhraíocht an tSléibhe dhuibh (Under Black mountain’s spell)

Where we grew up, our mountain was ever-present, a constant source of cover that was all-encompassing. As the stunning green backdrop to the Dermott Hill housing estate, it was inextricably bound into the everyday fabric of our daily lives. In the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the wider Upper Springfield area was imprisoned under the jackboot of a highly suffocating British military occupation. Just under 12,000 people in eight housing estates were caged it by four British army barracks: Fort Pegasus at the bottom of the Whiterock Road which had dispossessed the local O’Donnells GAA club from their land; the Henry Taggart Police barracks a quarter of mile to the West of our estate beside Springfield park which was a renowned torture centre where locals were battered, often into forced confessions, on their way through the conveyor belt system that punctuated Castlereagh holding centre and Belfast Crumlin Road remand prison en route to the final destination that was Long Kesh; Fort Monagh at the bottom of the Monagh road and to the left of the Turf Lodge estate; and next to our street was the colossal Fort Jericho, also known as Whiterock base which stretched for half a mile, making it the largest in the city.

Whiterock Industries community co-operative were the evicted tenants on this occasion with the MOD writ overriding all legal concerns and obligations. The rent accrued from the forced squatting of this belligerent occupying force would later come full circle to help the Irish medium revival in the 90’s but not before 19 members of the local district lost their full-time employment in 1977 under the duress of British SLR rifles. Smaller makeshift bases also displaced local schools like St Bernadette’s and Vere Foster for long periods. In the loyalist Spingmartin area, Black mountain primary was also taken over and used as an experiment lab for apprentice torturers who practised water-boarding on teenagers from our community.

As a helicopter landing pad with the highest and most sophisticated spy-cameras in Western Europe, Fort Jericho overlapped seamlessly with the British Army Spy base on top of the majestic Divis Mountain which yielded a panoramic 360 view of the entire city and most of the occupied north of Ireland.

Therefore for us, as children growing up, the ‘hill’ became a serene sanctuary of freedom and joy where space, silence and stillness unfolded in nature’s vast abundance before our eyes. It didn’t matter that camouflaged ‘spies in the grass’ with green feathers in their helmets sometimes shouted abuse at us in Glasgow and Cockney accents through the luscious Hatchet field green ferns, because we could be out of sight and ‘over the top’ in the blink of an eye. Sometimes we discovered 007 Brit army knives and tiny listening devices which became collectors’ items planked in the specially designed secret compartments of our ‘huts’. No matter what occurred on the streets below, the mountain always seemed unmoved, oblivious and unblemished. Even when some unsavoury youngsters among us set fire to its ferns, trees and bushes on boiling hot summer days, it had a knack for recuperating and recovering way ahead of schedule and quickly reclaiming its damaged sod.

In adolescence and teenage years, two-man hunt was replaced by mass camp-outs, where Olde English barrack busters, ten-deals of blow and flumps for the camp fire were all the rage and were supplemented with rebel sing songs at the ‘sandpit’ and old style ghetto blasters when Oasis took the mid-nineties by storm. If anything, our late teens and early twenties saw an increased penchant for mountain snow excursions where wrapping yourself from head-to-toe in Black bag linen in order to slide down the mountain at breakneck pace seemed more desirable than buying safety conscious snow boards that would break a nasty fall.

In my case, however, my relationship and love of the hill was defined by my Da, Terry Enright. Early excursions were wrapped up in storytelling shaped by powerfully evocative imagery from Irish mythology where Fionn Mac Cumhail, Oisín and the Fianna, Cú Chulainn, Ferdia, Méabh, and Aoife were interspersed with tales of Naoise Ó Haughan, the Black mountain highwayman who stole from the rich to feed the poor in that liberal mix of fiction, historical fact and fable where truth rarely interrupts the flow of a good yarn.

Sitting with our perfectly hand-carved ‘bow and arrows’ amongst the beautiful May bluebells, myself and my older brother Niall would take the role of ‘the Indians’ and be regaled by the legend of Thasunke Witko (Crazy Horse) whose famous phrase that ‘you cannot destroy the land upon which the people walk’ reminded us to respect the one-ness of our immediate surroundings. My two eldest brothers Terry and Liam ploughed the same furrow of fun whether it was eating sarlic leaves, chopping blackthorn wood to make and varnish skilfully carved walking sticks; picking dandelions and blackberries for the latest wine experiment or heading ‘over the top’ to tickle fish in the Trouty with barbecued black spuds in tow, to collect sprics or build a dam or even swim in the hidden lakes of Colin Glen.

For my Da, however, this innate love and appreciation wouldn’t quite become fixation and obsession until 1989 when a short story he wrote in the local Andersonstown Newspaper about the mountain ignited a flame in him that would never be extinguished.

Born in Beechmount, just off the Falls Road, during the Belfast Blitz in the Second World War, his story conjured a timeless picture of 1950’s children roaming free in fields that had since been occupied by estates like Dermott-hill, where the rocky-dam and the ‘gusher’ provided hydration and swimming space for those with no shoes on their feet. Having provided his contact details with the article, he was inundated and overwhelmed with phone calls and letters.

Everyone had their own stories to tell and memories to share. Many wanted to meet him and most of them did. He began to record their stories and collate the local social, cultural and environmental history of the hill. One of the more interesting was that of the Ireland family, the ruins of whose cottage are still visible on today’s Hatchet Field. They lived there until the early 60’s and gave him photographs of the house in its heyday. Some, whose parents worked in the 1930s linen and flax mills and adjoining bleach greens, were also eager to share their family stories and any photographic memorabilia that corroborated their living history.

One elderly woman named Eileen Fulton from Hannahstown was particularly taken with the piece and wanted to introduce him to a newly established group named the Black Mountain Action group who had been trying to make an issue of the ongoing quarrying on Black mountain. He immediately seized on the issue and flung himself headfirst into action.  His oft-phrased slogan that in ‘community activism, everything you do is political’ would define his relentless determination to mainstream the issue of environmental access into the maelstrom of our community struggle for human rights, freedom and justice. The following year the documentary ‘Moving Mountains’ was made to publicly highlight the destruction of our ‘community asset of outstanding natural beauty’ and then he helped establish the Black Mountain Environmental Group which fused community education with collective action.

In the years to follow, the curriculum in local schools, including the Gaelscoil I attended, became flush with the social history of the Linen mills, the archaeology of pre-christian hunter-gatherers, fossils and flint discoveries, the mythology of Naoise O Haughan, whilst unique wildlife and birdlife were beamed down to us in an old style projector slide show that was the prelude to the class hike on the hills which would go ahead whether in rain, hail or shine.

As a pupil, my embarrassment would always be tinged deep down with pride at how his enigmatic, charismatic, irreverent and eccentric style managed to bring all this to life in a vivid, humorous and accessible way. Yet the schoolchildren ate it up and wrote letters to the Minister of Environment about the quarry after sampling the stillness therapy of going ‘over the top’ and the issue of the mountain seemed like it was on everyone’s lips. Our house was swallowed up as my Ma tried to cope with letters, leaflets, posters, arrow-heads and wild-flowers decorating every work-top, table and cabinet in the house where campaign meetings and French TV crews were the order of the day.

He guided thousands up the hill and every August during Féile an Phobail walkers would come from across the town, and throughout the world to sample his wisdom. Ultimately it was his energy, his organisational and people skills, his experience, his self-assured confidence, his political acumen, his personal contacts and influence that brought the mountain into forums, arenas and platforms where it previously had no relevance.

Trade union disputes, community campaigns for socio-economic regeneration, the development of Irish Medium education, employment for ex-prisoners, services for women, employment opportunities for children and young people all managed to get joined at the hip with the campaign to reclaim the mountain for community use. It was thus little wonder he became known as the ‘Mountain Man’….

That night, 11 January 1998, 28-year-old Terry Enright from Dermott Hill was murdered in central Belfast. A father of two young daughters, the dead man was the son of Terry Enright senior who led the campaign to save Black Mountain. Like both of his parents, young Terry had been involved in community work for several years, earning considerable respect across Belfast and was now employed by the Upper Springfield Development Trust in its URBAN youth initiative…the Irish news reported that it had received an unprecedented 150 death notices indicating the calibre of person that had been lost…more than 10,000 people of all persuasions attended the funeral, the biggest in the north since the Gibraltar killings…

Describing the tragic column that wound its way from the murder victim’s home to the church in Turf Lodge, journalist Brendan Anderson wrote, ‘As the procession passed slowly down the Monagh Road…the sun came out, a fine misty rain fell and a strongly-coloured rainbow rose from the nearby Black Mountain to frame the cortege in magnificent colours before falling away towards Belfast Lough….

People said that the mountain, so loved by his father, was bleeding. (De Baróid 2000: 267-8)

                                                                                                   *****************************************************************************

 

… yet the campaign and the struggle continued unabated though he would never be the same again. None of us would.

In 1999, he took more people and schools on the mountain than ever before. He argued that ‘Terry’s killing made us stronger, while the personal loss was very difficult for all the family, it strengthened our resolve and made us stronger and more determined’. The mountain seemed to take on an even greater significance and added value.

A comfort blanket and a place of refuge. A place to reflect and remember. To find space and solace. A place to grieve, a place to be… with the all the beauty and the pain that would remain for everyday thereafter. Where broken hearts and wounded spirits could perhaps begin to heal. With the hope and belief that the sun would again come out from behind the clouds.

And the Cairn would go there, on its highest point, in memory of Terry Óg. As a permanent stone landmark, that native peoples had used for millennia, when remembering, honouring and defending what was rightfully theirs. The panoramic view on this spot of five of the six occupied counties and beyond into beautiful co Donegal could take your breath away on a clear day.

Our local GAA club, Gort na Móna named the new pitch in Terry’s honour in 2000. My Da seized on an idea from some of Terry’s colleague to establish a community foundation in his memory in 2002. However, the aim, in this case, was to continue the good work rather than remember.

In a crude and almost cynical sense, he realised that political capital could be made from family hardship and devastation in the interests of the most marginalised. For those young people whose voices had been inaudible and whose rights had been continually trampled upon.

Another vehicle to challenge inequality and ask the difficult questions. A platform to shout from whilst injecting hope and positivity that could lay bare that emerging sectarian discourse of deceit that broke peace on the backs of the poor.  A means to build influence and alliances through speaking truth to power. To expose the rhetoric and give voice to the reality. To bring people in from the cold, show them their seat at the table, and allow them space to take ownership of their own destiny. To draw strength from Larkin’s ‘divine gospel of discontent’.

Nevertheless the dots would always be joined and the mountain and the outdoors remained central to all of this. The Mourne Challenge would become the Terry Óg Enright Challenge and young people from across the city would learn resilience and peace via stillness and blistered feet. In 2005, Divis Mountain came back into public ownership and the armed invaders charged the people for claiming back our land. Youth-led camp-outs have been organised at the scene of the victory ever since.

Then the new public trails opened and are now enjoyed by tens of thousands of people and families every year. The Summit Trail, the Heath Trail, the Lough Trail and of course the Ridge Trail which would have been his favourite, if he had lived to see it completion.

It cuts right through our mountain in spectacular style before slipping underneath the Cairn which is in clear view to all who embark on the journey. The first day I walked there, with my own son Ferdia strapped to me, four sparkling new Carrera racing bikes skidded by us with cyclists suited and booted in the best of gear. They headed into the reddening, brightening sunset that slouched down over Scrabbo tower in the distance. The idyllic Strangford Lough beckoned out towards the marauding and majestic mountains of Mourne that connected our view to Slieve Gullion in South Armagh which had dispersed any remaining clouds that dared hinder its ascent. That moment, on that day felt like a vision realised…

…and sometimes I can still see him trailing behind me with his unmistakable brown pipe barely visible under his cap. In between puffs, he whistles ‘the march of the O’Néills, both subtly and eloquently….Other times on the hill, I can clearly hear his voice.

‘Goitse Feargal, eistigí…druid do bhéal and give your fuckin arse a chance……Take a big big deep breath through your nose. Can you smell those May flowers?…Beautiful…Now SSSSHHH!…Do ya hear the mountain stream…SSSHHH!…CUUUKKKOO, CUUUKKOO!…There she blows, what a bird…now keep your eyes peeled for the peregrine circling above us’.

That’s why it’s part of us. Always in our minds and deep in our hearts…Because:

 Nature, like life itself,
Demands a price, we all must pay,
Still I cherish, the pleasure we have shared,
High up in the Hatchet Field’

In that serene sanctuary of freedom, and joy where space, silence and stillness unfolds in nature’s vast abundance. Where we remember and reflect.

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