Priest recalls Blitz as church prepares to honour war dead

Bimpe Archer
13 April, 2016 01:00

A PRIEST has recalled looking out of a bedroom window to see "a huge red glow where Belfast was" as his parish prepares to mark the loss of 130 lives during the infamous German 'blitz' on the city during World War II.

Fr Brendan McGee, (91), who is attached to St Patrick's Church at Donegall Street in the city centre, will be one of hundreds expected to attend two special church services this week to mark the massive loss of life 75 years ago.

Then just 16 years old, Fr McGee was living with his family in Holywood, Co Down and travelling up to school at St Malachy's College in Belfast every day.

"My father had a public house in Hibernian Street, the Ruby Bar and we lived over the pub," he recalls.

On the night the enemy planes came he recalled how he and his three sisters and my mother were together. My mother was saying the rosary and we were all under the kitchen table when we heard the bombers going up Belfast Lough.

"My sister Ida and myself went upstairs and jooked out the window and all we saw was a huge red glow where Belfast was. There were over 200 planes."

Fr McGee said the north was completely "unprepared" for the attack, despite regular air raid warnings when single aeroplanes flew over in what were probably scouting missions.

"We hadn't enough guns or anything," he said.

"There was a little machine gun fired in the high street in Holywood and all it did was blow out all the windows.

"The next day I was going to St Malachy's College, Ida and myself went up and we got out of the bus, when we got into the centre of Belfast all we could see was buildings, they weren't burning, but steam was rising from the bricks.

"I saw two green fire brigades and a red fire brigade. The green fire brigades had come up from Dundalk, Drogheda and Dublin. DeValera sent them up to help with fighting the flames.

"I saw firemen sitting on the fenders exhausted, with a terrible look of exhaustion on their faces."

Fr McGee said even at that stage efforts were being made by the British government to manage information for fear of giving away too much to the German army.

"Altogether between the two raids there were 940 civilians killed. There were soldiers and police killed but we were never told that. We were never told what damage was done to the factories and especially Harland and Wolff. We were never told anything like that. It was all propaganda, that was all kept secret."

The priest can still look at the city scape and see where `new' buildings have replaced those destroyed by the bombings.

Not all of the damage done was immediately apparent. Decades later, when he was parish priest at Greencastle on the outskirts of north Belfast, it was discovered that the church had suffered structural damage in the bombings of April 7/8 and 15 1941.

Between St Patrick's and neighbouring St Joseph's Church, Sailortown, 130 parishoners perished during the two raids.

* A service of remembrance for the victims of the Belfast Blitz will take place on Sunday April 17 at 3.30pm in St Anne's Cathedral while Requiem Mass for the victims will take place in St Patrick's Church at 7pm this Friday.

13 April, 2016 01:00 News