When the Troubles came our way, Meath folk stood firm to help

Jimmy Geoghegan

This is an August unlike any other but the passing of John Hume last week brought back memories of another August, the August of 1969, when the Troubles in the north kicked off in earnest. John was there throughout what effectively became a civil war, working away, often without much hope, trying to find some kind of compromise; some kind of peace.

He eventually succeeded of course, his efforts, and those of others, finally resulting in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. "Peace at last" as Martin Luther King might have said.

When I heard of John's passing one of my first thoughts was of that summer of '69 and seeing TV images from around that time of him out in the front leading Civil Rights' marches.

I remembered particularly that year when the whole sorry story of the North kicked off in earnest. My father was a hobby farmer who had a few acres of land and that month I was involved in helping to bring in the haycocks and putting them into larger reeks. All hands were on deck including a few neighbouring men. My mother would cook a dinner for these men as tradition dictated.

I will never forget the men eating and chatting with the radio on in the background. Suddenly they stopped as the news came on. They listened intently to reports of vicious rioting in Belfast. People were being burned out of their homes.

There was that feeling of dread as I listened to it all. Even though I knew little of the political background I was aware that terrible events were unfolding - and it wasn't long before the consequences of that war spread to our part of the island.

Gormanston army camp was prepared for 387 "refugees" from the North, 58 men and woman and 235 children, and the quota was quickly filled up. Other efforts were made to cater for what was feared might be a tsunami of misplaced people from the North.

Meath Civil Defence co-ordinated the offers of help provided by voluntary organisations and individuals throughout the county. They aimed to provide accommodation for a further 400 refugees. An appeal was made to the people of the county for what the Meath Chronicle described as "accommodation or bedding." Also needed were "toys and clothing."

Accommodation was offered in schools throughout the county as well as places such as St Columban's College, Dowdstown and the Salesian Agricultural College, Warrenstown. Private households in places like Dunshaughlin offered to take in refugees as well. Offers of help also came from Kells where an Northern Aid Committee was formed. A local woman Mrs Bridget McLoughlin told the Committee how she had relatives burned out of their homes on the Falls Road.

At the time it must have seemed the world was on fire; in a state o'chassis as Sean O'Casey would have described it. John Hume certainly did his bit to eventually quench the flames.

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