Four times I have turned the lights out while writing this

Eimear O’Callaghan weeks after this diary entry was written
Photo: Eimear O’Callaghan

To live in Belfast in 1972 was to dwell in the heart of a storm, for this was the most violent year of the Troubles’ three decades—a period of civil unrest marked by sectarian conflict and political upheaval. When she wrote this diary entry in July of that year, Eimear O’Callaghan had just turned seventeen. An ordinary teenage girl living in extraordinary circumstances, she was the eldest of five siblings in Andersonstown, West Belfast, her world a landscape of military patrols, barricades, and strife that cast a long shadow over the daily routines of life. And yet, the spirit of resilience found a way to flourish amidst this chaos, and Eimear, like many others, navigated the storm with quiet courage, recording her experiences in a diary in which moments of terror sit alongside everyday preoccupations, the banalities of life offering a poignant counterpoint to the intensity of conflict. Four days after this particular entry was written, on what would become known as Bloody Friday, twenty-two bombs exploded across the city in the space of ninety minutes, killing nine and injuring more than a hundred.

The Diary Entry
Eimear O’Callaghan’s diary, 1972
Photo: Eimear O’Callaghan

Mon, July 17 

Carol woke me at about 10, I was exhausted. She started to play the guitar – I could’ve killed her! Another glorious day. 

Mammy decided to bring Carol back up to school at dinnertime, when she was going to work. Left Carol and me off at La Salle – about 2,000 in school – all ‘Lenadoonians’ AND refugees. Bunged out. Sat on the grass. Babies crying – tired and hot. Harassed, worn faces. Smoking cigarettes non-stop. Army won’t move out, therefore people have no homes. 

Came home and sunbathed. 

Gunmen opened fire on army from next door – I saw them. Terrified! No one hurt, thank God. Got my arms and back roasted with the sun. Same weather forecast for tomorrow. At the moment there is wild shooting going on. Four times I have turned the lights out while writing this.

Further Reading

Journalist Eimear O’Callaghan came across her old diary in 2010, around the time the Bloody Sunday Inquiry Report was released; four years later, it was published by Merrion Press with the title, Belfast Days: A 1972 Teenage Diary. This is an important, shocking, poignant, and humbling reading experience that stayed with me for a long time, and I recommend the book to all.


Diary entry excerpted from Belfast Days: A 1972 Teenage Diary by Eimear O’Callaghan, first published by Merion Press in 2014. Reprinted by kind permission of Eimear O’Callaghan.

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