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Mary Beckett’s “A Belfast Woman”

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“Belfast Woman” is a short story of an elderly woman, Mrs Harrison, who lives as a Catholic in a street where mainly Protestants own most of the houses. She has to face many difficulties to live on in a country where religion has such a great effect on people’s life.

The story starts with a so called ” in medias res “, as Mrs Harrison gets the threatening letter and reader is initiated in the Irish events without any real fact just he can guess from the feelings of the woman and her memories.

Then we can hear the story of the old lady’s life as she recalls her memories while sitting in the kitchen with her letter. The first of all, she recalled her first negative experience of the Catholic Protestant opposition, when her family were burned in 1921: “I ran down in my nightgown and my mother was standing in the middle of the kitchen with her hands up to her face screaming and screaming, and the curtains were on fire and my father was pulling them down and stamping on them with the flames catching the oilcloth on the floor. Then he shouted, Sadie, the children, and she stopped screaming and said,”Oh, God, Michel, the children, and she ran upstairs and came down with the baby in one arm and Joey under the other, and my father took Joey in his arms and me by the hand and we ran out along the street.” In the background of these rebellious movements were that the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1921, giving Ireland the statys of Free State within the Commonwealth. It was unaccaptable to the Irish since they were just symbolicly a Free State due to the Brithish control and military dominance over them. Moreover, the Irish had to accept that six counties of Northern Ireland did not belonge to them anymore. (In three out of six counties Catholics were in majority.) These bad news caused havy tension and hundreds of people were killed and made homeless.

Meanwhile, these tempestuous years the society was in trouble as well: there was Tuberculosis, not enough job and houses, especially for Catholics thanks to ” segregatin ” . People felt it as they are useless if they can not support their relatives even in these circustances, ” When you have no house and job sure what use are you? “.

The protagonist’s family got a threatenig letter to burn them out again and had to move again. They went to an office where showed their “Get out or we’ll burn you out” note a house and new jobs. There she (Mary-the protagonist) got to know a man, called William, who was a Protestant, got married and moved into a Protestant street. Mary had not got any objections against it although her mother was afraid of what will happen if the neighbours get to know she is a Catholic, ” Don’t go into a Protestant street, Mary, or you’ll be a sorry girl “. The second night after they moved into there was trouble in the Catholic street: ” We heared shots first and then the kind of rumbling, roaring noises of all the people out on the street. I wanted to get up and run out and see what was wrong, but William held on to me in bed and said, “They don’t run out on the street here. They stay in.” And it was true. Things were different in her new home but something never changes: troubles, riots, shots and violence. An example for police violence in the text: “… a poor young lad had stayed at home when he should have gone back to the Brithish Army… the police ran after him and shot him dead. They said their gun went off by accident but the people they beat him up.” I think it can also suggest the bad Anglo-Irish relationship as well.

There were some differences between the neighbours of a Catholic and Protistant street. With the Catholics she had closer relationship, they came into the house for a chat or a loan of tea or suger; in contrast Protestant were not like that, but they were ready to help at any time.

When their first child was born the woman said: ” I suppose Catholic babies had to be strong to get by.” It suggests that if you were a Catholic in Ireland at that time you had to fight everything twotimes as much as a Protistant for they were overlooked in view of their religioneven if they had the same skills as others. This can clearly be seen when Mary tells the story of her children. One of her children, Liam, when left school got a job from a plumber, ” He was always such a nice pleasant big fellow that a plumber in the next street to ours asked him to join in his business…Then when the murders got bad his partner asked him not to come back to work anzmore because he’d been threatened for working with a Catholic. I was ranging…, but then as Liam said, you can’t blame a man for not wanting to be murdered.” Even if a Cathlic can find a good job for himself he could never be sure of that he will still have it the next day.

All in all, to my mind it is not good or fair with others to reprobate them due to their religion,colour of their skin or abilities. We should give equal opportunities to everyone, of course it can be very subjective. And I agree withthe writer when she says at the end of the text, ” It’s not right to put the blame on poor powerless people. The most of us nevr did anything but stay quite and put things the way they were. And we neverthaught our children to hate the others nor filled their heads with their wrongs the way it’s said we did. When all young people thought they could fix everything with marches and meetings: I said it wouldn’t work and they laughed at me….I were warning them, “It’ll all lead to shooting and burning and murder. “

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