Mothers of Modern Ireland

Betty Campbell, Antrim

3rd August 2008

Certainly not afraid to speak her mind, Betty Campbell was exactly the kind of lady we needed to get the filming rolling after our day break. We warmed to Betty fast as her outlook on life was easily admired. She'd spent so much time earning a quarter of a million pounds for charity over the years, that she didn't have the time to be getting involved with the Troubles like so many people have chosen to do over the years.

Betty's mum gave her to her grandmother to look after when she was only very young, so this again showed us another unique perspective on this island. Betty's aunts effectively became her older sisters and confidantes in her life story, which was she relayed to us very openly. At the point where her grandparents both passed away, she was alone in the house with her uncle, a World War II veteran. Times were hard for Betty, but instead of putting up with the times, she changed her fortune herself and began renting a room to get away from the home. Betty also told us all about the Credit Union, which has made a massive difference to people's lives on both side of the border, allowing them to borrow up to three times their share in the co-operative, and then borrow more whenever that money was paid off. This scheme, which seems to work so well here for so many people, allowed Betty to pay the massive £10 thousand bill for electrification of her home. After our chat with Betty, we were lucky enough to meet her son Gary who has collected wartime paraphernalia from the age of 16, and now owns a considerable collection that spans eras and borders. Myself and Shane learnt so much about the equipment and armies through Gary's massive knowledge of every war and army of the modern age, but what struck me was his humanity. Usually when you meet someone who has become fanatical about something as strange as weapons, they tend to have almost a maniacal property, that does nothing but glorify the whole ordeal. But Gary was extremely philosophical about his collection, telling us that the more he learns about the wars, the more it puts him off ever wanting to fight in one. Something extremely poignant is his dream to exhibit his collection in his own museum, where he would like to split it up into three sections. The first is the commanders section, a war room with dots on maps and men in suits moving around pieces on a war field. The second is the airman's experience, incorporating his aerial photos showing just how remote the war and landscape looks from thousands of feet above. The third and final area of the exhibition is 'just grass swaying in front of your face', because that's all the poor buggers on the ground would see of the war before they got shot. The fact that we were heading to Belfast after speaking to Gary made our time there even more engaging. Gary does talks in schools where he brings a bucket of old rifle barrels into the school to show the children different guns that have been dug up from battlefields in the last 80 years. The fact that they were in the mud meant that somebody had probably lost their gun and therefore were probably killed. When you scour the battlefield, you find German, American and British rifles all mixed in together, which Gary sees as quite ironic: that all these rifles held by different men from different countries with different ideals, all end up in the same place in the end. We made our way to Belfast with a sense of excitement; I'd never been before and was eager to see a city recovering from something as horrific as we knew the Troubles to have been. As Shane has said earlier, that sense of happiness turned to dread as we were soon surrounded by the largest urban wall I've ever seen, dividing a council estate right down the middle. There were clear signs of recent petrol bomb activity and the road beside the wall was completely deserted except for us and a couple of other War Tourists. It's really impossible to get your head around the complexity of the North of Ireland and the people that are still living on either side of that wall: What they are brought up to believe and the realities of daily life regardless of beliefs. A mixture of thoughts were going through my head as we left. I want to go back and find out more. I wondered why, just because the bombing campaigns had lessened and there seemed to be somewhat of a political peace, there still seemed to be a massive tension in the communities and yet this still isn't covered regularly in the press - at least not in the UK. I also wondered, like everyone, how long more it would go on for, before another generation of children would be indoctrinated into a set of beliefs that pitted them against their neighbours? We stopped at a fair in Falls Road and I got a drink in an newsagent. He heard my accent and said "You're a long way from home..." I told him about the project and the fact that we'd seen the huge wall. "Ay, the peace wall...." I had to ask him, "Does it work?" He gave me a wry smile..."Did it work in Berlin? Does it work in Palestine?"

- Tom