Woman born during Belfast Blitz attends commemoration event – on her birthday

Ann McNeilly at the Belfast Blitz commemoration and the launch of The War and Me Oral History Project at the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum in Belfast. Ann was celebrating her 77th birthday
Ann McNeilly at the Belfast Blitz commemoration and the launch of The War and Me Oral History Project at the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum in Belfast. Ann was celebrating her 77th birthday

Among the people who attended a commemoration event yesterday for those who lost their lives in the Belfast Blitz was a 77-year-old woman born under a table in east Belfast as German bombs rained down on the city.

Ann McNeilly, one of seven children, said: “I was born at two o’clock in the morning on Easter Tuesday. I remember nothing of the Blitz. I had literally just arrived to show my face.

At the event were Northern Ireland War Memorial chairman Ian Wilson, museum manager Jenny Haslett and NIWM trustee Dr Brian Barton

At the event were Northern Ireland War Memorial chairman Ian Wilson, museum manager Jenny Haslett and NIWM trustee Dr Brian Barton

“One of my sisters was a bit concerned that a new baby was coming into the house. We were living in a two-up, two-down house in Moorgate Street. Never mind the situation at the time with the bombs, a seventh child was going to be a push.”

Before Ann was born her father, a shipyard worker, had to go out using a metal bin lid over his head as protection as he tried to find the midwife.

The Blitz event fell on Ann’s 77th birthday. The Carnmoney woman said she enjoyed recalling memories of “the old days” in the Northern Ireland War Memorial museum.

Asked if she recognised the importance of her story in educating young people about the Blitz, she said: “When my grandchildren were in primary school they did a composition of my story which got read out in their school.

“I don’t think there’s anything marvellous about me. I get embarrassed when people draw attention to me.”

As well as the Belfast Blitz commemoration, yesterday also saw the launch of NIWM’s ‘The War and Me’ oral history project and an exhibition of previously unseen letters written in north Belfast during the air raids.

The letters – containing a unique perspective on the Belfast Blitz and the destruction it caused – were written by Poor Clare Sisters who lived in a monastery on the Cliftonville Road at the time.

The Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941 was described by an air raid warden at the time as “the most disastrous event in the history of this city”. It resulted in the deaths of more than 900 people and made over half the city’s housing stock uninhabitable.

Invited guests – some of whom lived through the Second World War – gathered yesterday in the museum to lay a wreath in memory of the lives lost in the Belfast Blitz. In launching its latest project – ‘The War and Me’ – researcher Dr Susan Kelly appealed to the public to share their memories of the war years.

The NIWM wants to learn more about the Belfast Blitz, the US Forces stationed in NI, evacuation of children to the countryside, the impact on farming and industry, the work of air raid wardens, Home Guards and those who enlisted in the Armed Forces.