A few years ago I heard about a man who was shot dead in a disused quarry in Belfast. He was a Catholic civilian shot dead by the UDA.
I used to go for walks there. I knew the quarry well. The entrance, off the main road, had a massive concrete block at the gateway, chipped and broken. It was covered with the requisite graffiti. The quarry was a dangerous place: a meeting place for glue sniffers and kids. A psychopathic boy who lived next door to me once saw me on one of my walks and shouted out to two skinhead teens he was with: “Get him! He’s a Fenian!” I ran for my life along the country road along the edge of the quarry. I lived in the nearby Protestant estate and we were one of the few Catholic families scattered around there. I found a hiding place on the other side of a ditch while the boys passed me along the lane. Gluesniffers were frightening and unpredictable. I felt lucky to be alive as I listened to them passing.
I often sought escape when I ventured uphill to the quarry. There was another occasion when a car drove up to me and slowed down as I walked alongside. I was soaking wet and my hair was flattened by the thick cheap hair-gel running down my forehead and face and neck. The driver just gave me a strange look through the windscreen, wondering who the hell I was. Sometimes, sharp and nasty stones were hurled at my brothers and myself. I remember a so-called friend joining in with the stone throwing. He was a Protestant.
I frequently dream about Belfast. I find myself in the dream moving away from my home and family, taking the manmade path up the hill, towards the top of the quarry, trying to find a makeshift shelter. Then I find myself back in my old home, in an altered state, and my home is altered forever, too.
The entire quarry was a relic to an unknown time, a time of working machinery, with dark brown mining cranes, and great rusted iron coils plunging into dark and treacherous slopes. The remaining skeletons of the buildings now had the type of plants growing over them you would associate with vermin. The structures still remained, but they were now shit-stenched houses, like concrete bunkers, and the grass and dirt was taking shape around them and taking over the broken buildings. The wind could be fierce, dark and low. You struggled to get through the immediate environment and your ears were blocked off to most natural sounds, apart from the wind. I remember always seeing blackened burnt out mattresses with the damaged springs visible.
There was a worn out thoroughfare leading upwards past the machines and dark graffiti covered shells. The path became smaller and led up to the foot of the rocky cliffs. A few rusted crashed cars could be found at the bottom of the cliffs amongst the rocks and shallow dirty pools of stagnant water down there. Before you reached the cliffs, you had to pass the strange buildings with square black holes for windows.
Human shit and piss, condoms, dead cats, damp stone, and rust was everywhere. Graffiti displayed the names of dangerous death linked UDA men, who once passed through. THEY HAVE NO SYMPATHY, it read. I remember seeing a huge woman in a long black coat with a big white face. She had blonde hair in tight rings on either side of a freakishly large face. She stood in a garden of rubble in front of one of these buildings. You’d often see strange people on dark afternoons like this, usually on the distant path going across the skyline – the same pathway you would later take on the circuitous route back home.
The dead man must have ventured through the ghost town, as we called it, but he had not survived. Hearing about his death made me wonder if the quarry buildings were still there, still abandoned to nature.
Copyright © Paul Synnott 11.04.12.