I don’t think there was one person that wasn’t disturbed by the images coming from Ardoyne on Monday night. The photograph of the young girl’s feet protruding from underneath a car and the video of police and residents lifting the car off her was of particular distress.
Like most people, I was at home keeping an eye on events through social media. As a rule, I don’t go near high profile protests – I don’t get paid for this and there’s no way I’d endanger myself for free.
It brought me back to the Summer of 1987. The top end of Lenadoon was a hive of activity. The laughs of giddy children filled the daylight hours. We were off school for the summer and it was baking hot.
My friend Jenny and I had just finished Primary Two and were looking forward to making our First Communion in Primary Three because we would be rich. We put our days in by chalking on the pavement, swinging on lamps, cycling on our bikes, fearlessly flying down hills in roller boots and chasing each other. Life was good.
Behind our house, there was music booming over the estate. A Fleadh was taking place up at the Roddies. Traditional Irish music and outdoor drinking in the summer sun attracted a large crowd that spilled out onto the Glen Road. We had been told to keep away from the Fleadh but it looked and sounded like good fun and we girls went to investigate.
The road was full of merry adults, shouting and singing. We fought our way through them. We were tiny wee girls who’d just finished our infant school years and to us they were giants.
We didn’t need to stop look and listen as Ginger and Tufty from our classroom calendar told us every day because the road was packed with people. But there was a car making its way through the crowds and it pulled Jenny under it.
I was close behind her when the screaming started. But I was pushed out of the way as the adults tried to alert the driver. Someone shouted to me, “get her Mummy and Daddy!” I just remember looking up at the crowd surrounding a silver car and it was revving the engine and it was raising up and down, back and forward. The crowd was banging on the windows and bonnet shouting at the driver to stop moving.
So I ran down to Jenny’s house and battered their front door. There was nobody answering because her family were all in the back garden enjoying the sun. I ran round there and shouted over their back gate to hurry because she’d been knocked down.
By the time we got back up to the scene, she was away.
A man whose mother lived in our street had taken his shirt off and wrapped it round her leg to stop the bleeding. He put her in his car and brought her down to the children’s hospital. I won’t name him here because he probably won’t appreciate it but he saved Jenny’s life. He’s a well-known and respected community worker who was just out of Long Kesh. Today he has a senior position in an organisation that helps people who are battling addiction.
The car that I had seen moving up and down was doing so on her tiny body. The driver had no licence, tax or insurance. The incident was treated as a hit and run.
Jenny was in hospital for nearly a year. Her parents brought me down to visit her a few times. I remember thinking she was lucky because she didn’t have to go to school.
Jenny had the imprint of a tyre on her leg and suffered burns. The leg that had the most damage done to it had to have pins and skin grafts. A part of her shin bone was removed and she got to keep it in a specimen jar. She used to show it to any new people who joined our crowd.
She was in hospital when we made our First Communion and I made double money doing the doors because she wasn’t there. Years ago, when you made your communion, it was customary to knock your neighbour’s doors and show them your dress. It may have been the only time in my life that I curtsied and smiled like a proper girl.
Jenny was chosen to go to America in Primary Seven because of her experience. Her leg has a permanent dent in it. She told the yanks she’d been shot and they lapped it up and spoiled her.
It’s amazing what memories a single image can bring back. I haven’t saw Jenny in years but I’m sure she had the chills too.