Growing Up in Ardoyne: An Interview about Northern Ireland with Darryl Petticrew

Darryl, far left, joins me and a few others for Thanksgiving dinner in Belfast.

Darryl, far left, joins me and a few others for Thanksgiving dinner in Belfast.

My In the Fray essay about Northern Ireland from a couple days ago focuses a lot on the Protestant side of things. Below, you’ll find an interview I conducted a couple years ago with Darryl Petticrew, a Catholic friend of mine. Darryl grew up in Ardoyne, a part of Belfast that is mentioned in the essay. I think you’ll find the transcript of our conversation interesting:

Me: “What was growing up in Ardoyne  like? How often did you cross over into the likes of, say, the Shankill?”

Darryl: “Ardoyne has such a bad name as a rough area, like everywhere you go you’re going to get into a fight or something. But for me, I didn’t know any different. It was just a normal place to grow up. People were friendly. I walked to school but didn’t venture too far away from Havana Gardens. I came from a good family. My mom and grandma were pretty forward-thinking. My uncle married a Protestant. Of course, as a young person I picked up stupid habits like throwing stones at police, and when I saw some rioting, I jumped in for the craic of it. But sometimes when I speak to some of my more middle-class friends, it seems like they think all I did was make paint bombs and burn stuff.

“I love Ardoyne, though. I think a lot of people would say the same. Most people never leave. I still love it when I go back to drink with my Granddad. One of my friends did get in a really bad accident from joyriding, though. It was a wake-up call for him. He ended up doing some traveling, got involved in youth work.

“The turning point for me was going to St. Malachy’s, which is a Catholic boy’s school. I was exposed to some different people there. It had a big impact on me. I could have easily gotten drawn into the whole drugs thing, but I was able to sort of steer clear of that. Some of my friends would give me a hard time, say things like, ‘Oh, Darryl is the wise one.’

“I used to box, but everyone boxed. I started playing basketball. It took me away from some friends, and I formed other ones. I believe St. Malachy’s is probably the main reason I got involved in community relations, went to university, and moved away from Ardoyne.

“I still see my friends from Ardoyne all the time. A lot of them are doing manual work, spending their money on drinking, had kids when they were 17. Some of them I don’t speak to much anymore.

“We lived on the bottom streets and used to feud with the top streets.  On typical days, we played football, found something to burn or something to climb. There used to be a big warehouse that stored a bunch of products. We came back from a youth trip, and it was on fire, people were running in and out, stealing shit. Thinking back, my mate’s mother told me to go over there. It ended up in a riot with the cops. They couldn’t do anything because there were so many of us. I came away with some good bags of sweets. A few people got lifted. I was pissed that I didn’t get a playstation.

“The first time I remember walking around in the Shankill was when I started working for a supermarket. It was based where the old warehouse got burned down. I was one of two Catholics who worked there, but they invited me to go out with them after a Christmas party. In the pub, everyone was wearing Lindfield and Rangers tops. I was nervous as hell, but I got drunk and it turned into a normal night out.”

Me: “What, if any, interactions did you have with paramilitaries?”

Darryl: “A lot of people on our street were involved in some capacity. My granny lived across from us, and I lived with her for a while. There was a guy three doors down who was heavily involved and then one day the power got cut, and Loyalist paramilitaries came and shot him in his house.

“There was always someone. We were pretty disciplined because there was someone a street over who would kneecap you if you weren’t. For stealing cars or something. Or if we were too noisy. They  kept the order.

“In my experience, the police just drive about, but that’s it. They don’t do anything. Kids don’t respect the police; they respect the paramilitaries.

“Now, people kind of say, fuck the IRA, because Sin Fein is working with the DUP. They’re not respected any more than the police are. My granny used to work at the bottom of the street. One time she called and was freaking out. Someone had been kneecapped behind her shop and they came in and told her not to say anything. You can tell someone who’s been kneecapped because they’ll walk with a limp. They’ll be in wheelchairs for ages. You can’t really recover from it. If you come down to the Shamrock, there’ll be someone in there that’s either been shot or shot someone.”

Me: “Can you talk a little bit about your father? What was his role in The Troubles?”

Darryl: “I don’t realy know him at all. He left when I was two and my sister was born. He was really involved in the paramilitaries but was moving away from the IRA to more extreme dissidents. I would see him around and hear that he got arrested for whatever. He was in jail for five years, I think. He was on the run for a while in Dublin, but the police spotted him. I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard he tried to run a police car off the road, and he had a gun on him. He’s a bit of a nutcase.”

Me: “Do you think you’ll ever have much of a relationship with him again?”

Darryl: “Not right now. I don’t want to mess up what I’ve got going. Maybe down the line. I’ve got a lot of questions for him. He wasn’t a very nice person. He’s tried to get in touch with me in the past few years. I responded once when I was drunk. I’m clearly not ready for it, but probably at some stage. I have a lot of curiosity.”

Me: “So at what point and what made you want to work toward peace and integration and cross-community relations? When did you begin interacting with Protestants?

Darryl: “First time I met a Protestant I was 12. Two names got picked out of this hat to go to Chicago, and I got picked. I thought it was sweet. But there were like 60 other kids and ten adults going, which freaked me out. Being involved in that program kind of opened my eyes. Three years later I got to go back to Chicago. The program talked a lot about difference and all that. I made several good friends in that program. It was also the first time I saw a black guy. I began to make connections that if I was throwing a stone into the Shankill it could hit my friends.

“When the British Army used to patrol our streets, we used to love it because they would show us their guns and all. Sometimes we’d talk to them like mates but other times we were throwing bricks at them.

“I’ve been hit with stones in the face and some of my friends have been shot with plastic bullets. I remember shouting certain words without knowing what the words mean. I can also remember a distinct moment of lifting something to throw at the police but then putting it down. At that point I started spending a lot more time with my mates at St. Malachy’s.

Me: “I’ve heard you talk about being a police officer. Do you still have those aspirations?”

Darryl: “When we were in school we had to do work experience. I wanted to do something interesting. I was obsessed with those police-pursuit shows. So I went to work with them. We were asking loads of questions. He was telling us everything that was good about the job. Pay’s good and everything’s different every day.

“I would love to see policing being done in a different way, community outreach from a different uniform. Make sure that Ardoyne or wherever was a safe place to grow up. Change the perception of what the police are. I remember a police officer telling me a plane was turning around to drop all the shit off in Ardoyne. It pissed me off. Don’t hate, infiltrate, you know? What holds me back, really, is my family. I’m not sure it’d be fair to my family to put myself in danger like that.”

Comments are closed.