"My life in general was just growing up in care. Growing up in care, changing from different foster families and not making the right decisions in life, putting myself at risk, running away and not being found for days. What anybody done, I tried to join in with them."
The only memory I have of the troubles was the riots on the Ardoyne Road. Whenever I was a child we lived in North Queen Street and the police station would have been on North Queen Street. So, if there was any bomb scares, we would have always been evacuated. That’s all I know of the troubles. My life in general was just growing up in care. Growing up in care, changing from different foster families and not making the right decisions in life, putting myself at risk, running away and not being found for days. What anybody done, I tried to join in with them.
I was born in the 80s. I was a late baby and my brothers would have been older than me. My brother died the year I was born, he was 18. He was my mummy’s blue eye – Sean. What happened was… he went out one weekend, and he shot up heroin for the first time. She got the phone call – ‘Sean’s dead’. And there he had a needle in his arm. So, she took a nervous breakdown from that. From then my mother and father’s relationship wasn’t good. They originally lived in Belfast, but they moved over to England because of the troubles.
My mummy grew up in west Belfast, that’s where she was born, and she didn’t have a good life. Whenever she was on her death bed two years ago she was talking about punishment beatings that they used to give. They used to burn wee girls’ hair and tie the wee girls to the lampposts and tar and feather them years ago. It could have been over something small like talking to a British soldier.
So, then this priest was friendly with the family, he brought me over here to my Daddy’s mummy and daddy. I lived with themins and it was all good. Every day she would have waved out the window, but this day she didn’t. Then I came around and she had took a heart attack… but she was young I think she was about 58. Then my Granda took sick so they couldn’t really care for me.
My granny and granda had two sons and a daughter, but the daughter was very jealous of me because she was the only wee girl. I had took the bedroom and took her place. So, she would have done really nasty things to me like, she used to hit me with bamboo sticks. So I kept running away to a friend’s house and eventually I got put into care.
In total I was in and out of 14 foster families and 4 children’s homes.
A changing point for me was when I went to one particular home - the wee girls were from all over because this home was sitting on the border. I never ever got hit or anything, they all looked after me. You were schooled and all in this place. There were units at the top for people who had committed crimes, then there was the care units. So, I would have been about 12 or 13. We used to put ourselves in so much danger like. We would have hitchhiked to Dublin. We would have got into these big lorries with men. Looking back on it now… the danger that I put myself in.
Then in my teenage years in another home, me and a group of friends would have run up to St. Patrick’s Training School. It was all boys and girls from the children’s homes, we never would have run about with someone who was in a normal family. We were all in them homes because we had problems or families had broken down. It was all madness; stolen cars, joyriding, sniffing nail varnish, sniffing glue. Back then you couldn’t have went and bought an e-tab, because they would have cost you 10-15 pound.
And then I met Angela’s daddy. We were up at Nutts Corner rallying. There would have been a big show of stolen cars years ago for all joyriders and we would have went up and watched. We would’ve had a drink and smoke in his brother’s flat. I would have stayed with Tom, my home were like ‘No, no’. They would have known him from St. Pat’s. But sure, when somebody tells you no, you go, and do it, don’t ya?
I felt like I was trapped. I knew I had to settle down, but Tom wouldn’t settle. I still stayed at home and watched her, and everything was alright. It was just hard because I surrounded myself with his family and I felt content in that. I had never felt that contentedness in a family. But they all still carried on partying.
I was really really thin. I remember the social workers coming in and saying, ‘we don’t think you can take this baby based on your past, we don’t think you’re fit enough to look after her’. So, I ended up bringing them to court and they says I was going to have to go to Thorndale Family Centre and they were going to watch how I deal with Angie. But Tom was still partying and not coming home for days, and I still carried on. It ended up I went to a solicitor and I says ‘look, you can’t base my past on what I’m going to do in my future’. The judge says to the social workers ‘you have to give this wee girl a chance’. I was never violent or anything like that, so they did give me a chance. I never seen them again. 2 years later we had Ronan. Tom still didn’t calm down. Then we had Paul. Just more or less the whole way through they were growing up. He only calmed down like 5 years ago.
Then there would have been the domestic violence. Every time I tried to get rid of him he always came back. So, it just felt like I was trapped, but I didn’t want a broken family. So, I was just trying to hold it all together. Some of the violence would have been bad. There was a few times I went to Women’s Aid hostels. Quakers helped once getting into a hostel. You were just walking on egg shells all the time… and it would have been for nothing. I’ve never cheated, I’ve never ever done anything. I always have loads of friends, he doesn’t have any friends, but he does have a big family. I’ve friends from the homes that have really worked, I have friends who own businesses. So, I don’t know if it was a jealous thing.
Some of the beatings were bad. His mummy would have filled him full of drink. Without drink he was alright. He didn’t take drugs in the house or nothing. But if he had drank, you knew by the end of the night that something was going to happen. But some of the beatings were bad.
There was this one time near my 18th birthday, Angie was about 2. We were at a bar and all of a sudden, he just turned. Then as soon as we got home, his mummy sat downstairs, and I was upstairs, and he was beating and beating and beating me. It ended up I had to ring an ambulance myself to go to hospital. But the mummy was like ‘I’ll take your babies, I’ll take your babies’ and I says, ‘no you’re not, wherever I go they’re coming with me’. So, I think I was unconscious and I woke up on the 8th of January and it was my birthday. The nurse says, ‘Happy Birthday’, my 18th birthday! I couldn’t see out of my eyes I was that bad. Something came over me that day. When I sat down with him I said it would be better if we claimed as 2 single people, so the house was in my name. I told him we would get more money if he didn’t live with me and we signed the house in my name. So, from that day I felt like I had taken a step more towards freedom, as the other houses were in his name.
There was loads of times with the police. There was a Christmas, we had got a new PVC door and he came and booted the door in. He gave me a bad beating then, the neighbours had to come in. I had to get a bar behind the door.
The Mummy would fill him with loads of vodka. I don’t know why she does it. It’s the same with amitriptyline. I’m not sick, I don’t take any prescription drugs, I’m not depressed. But his mum would have been like, if you’re sitting on your nerves take a Roche. So, they have always grew up around tablets and stuff.
Then I moved up north of Belfast. Then that’s when I lost my mummy, so then I lost everything, and I was pregnant with Hannah. So, my mummy died and 4 weeks later I had Hannah early. She was only 4 pounds, so she was tiny. I liked it up there because we were out of the way. Tom sort of calmed down and everything was alright. But see with losing my mummy and having Hannah, I thought it was time to move again. That’s what I tend to do. I can’t stay in the houses. I say I’ve been in 20 houses, I feel bad for doing it. I don’t know what it is. It helps when I move house, I get about a year and a half out of it and then I have to go again. But I want to stay in the houses because I put so much money into them. It definitely has something to do with my upbringing.
Things have been alright, but then Angie was starting to experiment. I had to pick Angie up one night; she had taken an E tablet. It was bad. I’ve always tried to keep them safe, but it felt like Angie was going out of the bubble, out of my bubble. I was afraid of somebody taking advantage of her. She wasn’t running about with a good crowd. I feel like I’m a constant nag with her, but I’m trying to tell her that she needs the education. She needs the education to get a good job, so she can do what she has to do in life. I feel like I lost that friendship with Angie. Angie was going to Tom’s brothers and seeking advice and staying there. I just felt really bad she was doing that, I felt she could have came to me and told me. Tom would always be very strict, but I would like to be like a friend to her, but still set down boundaries about school and having to go to bed early on a school night. But I would still try to give her a bit of freedom at the weekend. I knew this year was important because of the GCSEs. Things have calmed down a good bit now.
If I was to give someone advice it would be to get out right away. I stayed, because in my heart I still love Tom, because I’ve been with him 18 years. There’s days I love Tom, and then… I’m living with somebody with mental health problems. I still get up in the morning, give Ronan his tablets, give Tom his tablets. I’m getting Angie out to school, I’m dealing with Hannah, then I’m dealing with Paul. But I have the strength to do that, I don’t know where I get it from, but I do have the strength to do that. What I would say to people, as soon as it starts, you have to get out. You have to go right away. But I stayed on… I always kept themins safe as much as I could. I wasn’t safe, but they were safe. Maybe it was the wrong thing I was doing because, I don’t know if it was because I grew up in care - but I always tried to keep my family; a mummy, a daddy and the children and a house. I do know that it wasn’t the right thing to do, I should have got out right away. But I kept getting told, things will change. It did change, it changed for maybe 3 or 4 months. Then if you had of said something, it all would have flared back up again. But I always said, once that beating was over and done with, it would have been smooth for a good while. But that’s no way for a young girl to live. I would always say, the first sign of control or abuse, to get out. The main thing is, see with teenagers with the drugs, that’s all I’m afraid of because of what happened to me. I know there are going to be times where we make mistakes, but you have to have your wits about ya. There are bad people out there.
We need a better mental health unit for adults and children. We need something for teenagers. The A&E departments need to be better for people going in and saying they have suicidal thoughts. You always hear of people going sitting hours to be told to go home and well, make a referral.
When I left here, after sharing this story, I thought right through the night. Later on that night, I threw Tom out. I had a good chat with Angie and tried to get myself sorted out. I made him go to rehab. And now I do feel like I’m in a bit of control. Not 100% control but sort of in a way now, I look at my kids and I know they’re getting older, and I know that maybe I don’t have to sit like this every day. I’m hoping one day that if it doesn’t sort out, I can break free from it. D’ ya know? So, I can live the rest of my life.