Collapse of Stormont: My family feared things would get worse... and they did

HENRY MCDONALD: There were rumours that someone had lit a bonfire at Belfast’s Cromac Square to celebrate the fall of Stormont on March 24, 1972.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 12:10 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2022, 12:24 pm

As a curious, inquisitive seven-year-old living for three years on of the many frontlines of the ‘Troubles’, I was keen to check the rumours out.

Our house was only a short stroll from the famous junction into the city centre where Ian Paisley had been stopped in his tracks during a riot in 1964.

Even before the conflict exploded in 1969, Cromac Square was an iconic place for protests and demonstrations. But my parents barred me from going out that evening. They, like most Catholics, would not miss what they saw as a unionist-dominated parliament/government but the mood in our house, like so many others, was one of trepidation rather than celebration; they feared things were going from bad to worse.

The News Letter front page the day after Westminster collapsed Stormont on 24 March 1972

Just a few days before, on Saturday, March 18, 1972, Bill Craig’s Vanguard summoned 92,000 unionists and loyalists to Ormeau Park. I remember vividly the day of that mass gathering because Craig’s rally scuppered a Saturday sleepover and the chance of a five-a-side match with my cousins and their friends in the Upper Ormeau-Ballynafeigh area. My parents deemed it far too dangerous to travel anywhere near the park where I had played so many times with relatives and mates.

Instead, I booted a Mitre ball all alone up against the giant wooden door of the keg house belonging to our next door neighbours, Mooney’s Bar.

On that Saturday before Stormont was prorogued, I can remember hearing the roar of a mass crowd and the menacing, doom-laden messages carried in the air across the River Lagan from the Vanguard protest.

Some families we knew were already planning to move in with relatives across the sea in Greater Manchester but we stayed put. And it did get worse.

William Craig, leader of the Ulster Vanguard Movement on the balcony of Stormont as tens of thousands of unionists gathered for the last session of the NI Parliament before direct rule. Photo: News Letter library file

Two years after that bloodiest year, I was belting the ball again up against that wooden door when a machine gun was fired by loyalists from a passing car, forcing a local lad and myself to dive on the ground to avoid the bullets whizzing over our heads.

A year later on the same spot a car bomb exploded. This is what the fall of Stormont 50 years on recalls in memory.

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