Life

TV Review: Schools on the frontline driven to target practice

Fr Aidan Troy with parents and children outside the Holy Cross school. Picture Brendan Murphy
Billy Foley

Schools On The Frontline, BBC1, Monday at 9pm

So endemic was recreational rioting during the Troubles that one school erected a ‘target practice' disc in their playground.

Pupils at Holy Child Primary School in west Belfast were throwing bricks at passing British army patrols on the Andersonstown Road in their lunch break, so school management came up with a clever idea.

Instead of risking the children getting arrested, hit with a plastic bullet, or groomed by the paramilitaries, the throwing of missiles was encouraged in the school grounds - but only at a target metal disc, like an oversized stop sign.

“What's your score?” was painted along the bottom of it to encourage a bit of competition. Who knows how many children it might have saved?

If there was a symbol of the casual damage done to young children in the Troubles the target practice disc would be it.

Of course, there was more serious damage too, as Schools On The Frontline explained.

School buses were blown up, a principal was shot dead in his rural school and children were killed on the streets, but the damage didn't stop with the relative peace of the 2000s.

Two of the most notorious events were after the Good Friday Agreement.

Anne Tanney was principal of Holy Cross primary school in Ardoyne in 2001/02 when following a dispute over a flag, loyalists tried to block access to the school for months, shouted vile abuse and threats and on one occasion threw a pipe bomb as young girls and their parents tried to walk to school.

Rewatching the footage now and viewing the manifestation of hate is disturbing,

"It was important that we kept going. We told the children it wasn't their problem, that they were caught in the middle of an adult and societal problem," said Ms Tanney

Not too far away on the Shankill Road and hundreds of children were also suffering at the hands of extremists.

The loyalists feud of 2000 saw at least six men killed and around 300 UVF-aligned families expelled from the Lower Shankill

Betty Orr, the former principal of nearby Edenbrooke Primary School, said the effect on children was “horrendous”

“These children went through hell and all the symptoms and all the things that I'd seen in the 70s were coming back in the 2000s, but they were nearly coming back worse,” she said.

Adding: “The hatred for each other was far worse than it ever was for the IRA.”

And that hatred spread into her school.

“There was a lot of violence within the school … one child shouted across to the other ‘your father murdered my father'. In that particular class we had five teachers in it trying to get some semblance of control”

The On The Frontline series has been superb. The four more recent episodes - Squaddies, Cops, Firefighters and Schools - are all available on the iPlayer.

***

The Andrew Neil Interviews, BBC 1, Tuesday at 7pm

I can only imagine the second most nervous man watching as Andrew Neil eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday was Boris Johnson.

The prime minister was no doubt sitting with his advisers looking through his fingers wondering if he should develop a week long stomach bug or have to attend a crisis meeting in a British protectorate in the South Pacific.

As I write Johnson is expected before his interviewing executioner on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Andrew Neil may not be to everyone's taste, but he is a devastating attack interviewer and there is plenty of material for him to work with on the Tory leader.

In all likelihood he ended Jeremy's Corbyn's political career on Tuesday.

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