I think the important part about my story, it’s not being shot and blinded — although that is a significant event, it’s a life changing event. It’s the reaction to being shot and blinded.Richard Moore, 2018
Richard Moore’s Interview
What is the first thing you ever remember?
I suppose that the first thing would be when I had the measles. We lived in a three bedroom house in the Creggan, there were 12 children, plus my parents. Nine boys and three girls, so there wasn’t a lot of room in the house. I can remember as a child being in the cot and my legs sticking out the bottom because I was too big for the cot. My mother and my next door neighbour Mrs Bradley coming in. I remember lying in the cot and Mrs Bradley saying to my mother, “Yes, he’s definitely got the measles.” The fact that my legs were too long for the cot means that I obviously overstayed my welcome in the cot. But that was the nature of the space available at the time.
Was your dad working? And your mum?
My daddy was an unemployed shoemaker, my mother was what they would probably describe today as a home maker. Both of them didn’t work. I was born in 1961, my parents were married since the late ‘30s early ‘40s. My daddy might’ve worked at some stage in his life, but I don’t know how much of his married life he might’ve worked.
Say you are about four years old or so, what would be a typical day for you…?
I remember going to school for the first time. My mother taking me to the local primary school. Back in those days, the school had two sessions. You had a morning and an afternoon session, I was in the morning session. The Holy Child School I went to, in the Creggan. I would’ve played football, kicked a football around a lot in the street, or there was a greenfield site at the bottom of our street, I would’ve been in there. Creggan was a big estate, lots of streets. I wouldn’t of ventured out of our street too much.
It was a very sort of adventurous area to live, there was a lot of houses with gardens lined with hedges. There was a lot of intrigue, climbing in and out of gardens. It seemed like one big adventure. They started to put a park in at the bottom of our street. They used to have these big sewage pipes, big stone pipes that you could walk into. You know it seemed to take forever to build that park and while that was being built, it was like an adventure area. It was a building site, obviously, with the grass all dug up and these pipes there and other bits of metal lying about the place, but for us it was adventure! You spend your day down at the park and you were absolutely filthy coming home. It was great, you know! (Laughter)
Our house had a front garden and the back garden and my father had built a fence around it, so it was a very contained area. When very young I can remember just being at the back garden. You’d no toys or anything, no such thing as toys. You maybe would’ve had a bit of wood that you would’ve played with.
I can remember playing with a cardboard box! I remember, daddy cut a hole in it so I could put it over my head, then I could run around pretending to be a car or pretending to be a robot.
There was no such thing as nursery school, you were in Primary School, you were in Primary 1. But we only went for a half day for the first three years.
The little bottles of milk. Oh God, aye. Maggie Thatcher stopped all of that. See that was fantastic, the bottles of milk in the school, used to be amazed at the size of these wee bottles. Taking your milk break. It just shows you how, from a nutrition point of view, we were obviously challenged in those days, there was a level of poverty. That’s why milk was given at schools.
Now I’m glad enough to say I never felt I was poor, never missed out on having a meal, never remember being hungry in me life. I was luckier than some because by the time I was going to school, some of my brothers had jobs, so they were paying into the house. They were working in shops, like a butcher’s shop, where they could bring home meat and get a discount. I was pretty well-fed in the great scheme of things.
What was the spirit like in your family? Do you think of it being a happy place?
Absolutely! My childhood was very happy, I’m glad to say it. Big family, boys in the house, a lot of people to look up to. Music was a big part of our house. My brothers, every Friday they’d go and buy the latest pop record. We had an old Bush record player in the boys’ bedroom, but it had a second speaker connected from it. A hole that connected through the ceiling, and that speaker was down in the good room.
The good room, you really weren’t allowed into it that much, that was for visitors. And in that room we had a nice suite of furniture, a green suite of furniture. We had a piano in there, so if there was a party or anything going on, then the records would be upstairs but music would be coming through this extension speaker. There was a lot of music, some of the fondest memories I have of Mullen Gardens. Being in the street and listening to my brothers up in the bedroom, windows open and the music playing. Tom Jones, Green Green Grass of Home, or Delilah, or something like that blurting out. I used to think our house was so hip cos we had pop records playing out the windows y’know, and me brothers were all into it.
It was a very happy household, very contented household. My parents were omnipresent, they were there all the time, every day and they were very solid parents. It wasn’t like there was a drinking problem, or a culture of drinking in our house, or anything like that. I think I only saw me daddy drink a pint of beer once and that was when we went to Buncrana one time.
I remember me daddy was sitting there with a pint of Guinness, a black drink with a lot of foam on top of it. Only time I ever remember seeing me daddy take a drink, and I never saw me mummy take a drink. Very religious parents, devout Catholics, they prayed a lot, didn’t really shove it down our throats. Obviously got us up to go to Mass all the time, made sure the boys went to Mass. Daddy saying, “Once I get them out and send them down the street, then I really can’t do much more after that. If they don’t go to Mass, they don’t go to Mass.” But he would’ve been very devout that way. No, my childhood was very happy.
They sound great. What was the community like? …The road where we lived was a sort of extended family…
I think definitely the Creggan was like that, Mullen Gardens. They were all big families, we had 12 children in our family, some of them were 15, 16 children. We were all out on the street, we were all roughly the same age, spent our time on the street playing. Football, hide and seek, Red Rover, Tig. There was all that sorta stuff, a great atmosphere, a great atmosphere in the street. We were in and out of people’s houses. There’s a bit of a folklore in our house, and I don’t know if it’s true or if it’s not. One night me daddy put all of the children to bed. One of them came downstairs and he said, “Get to bed! Get to sleep, it’s getting late.” And down again, “Get to sleep, it’s getting late!” Eventually one of them came down and said, “Mr Moore, I don’t live here!”
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but they had that many children, y’know?
In my childhood I remember a lot of great things… there was a lot of optimism. The hippy movement. Things had got better and perhaps they were going to keep getting better…?
I came in as a ‘60s child, came in during the Civil Rights campaigns in Ireland, in Derry. I come at a time of political unrest, eventually. I wouldn’t’ve been aware of any of the political element of it, would’ve been more aware of the unrest and sense of people marching and stuff, but not necessarily understanding the reasons why — and the potential seriousness of it. For me, it was all very exciting as a child, in the Creggan. Going from a normal everyday life on the street, the Bobby on the beat walking round the Creggan, to suddenly barricades at the end of each street, hijacked vehicles. Young men driving vehicles, dumper trucks carrying bottles and bricks. Military coming eventually into the area, seeing the British Army in their visors and their armoured helmets, armoured cars, rifles — it became an awesome sight really. And very soon the barricades became our playground; the vigilante huts were put at the end of each street, they became our hangouts.
What was a vigilante hut like?
What happened was, Creggan became a no-go area and the British Army and police weren’t welcome in these areas. Then you had the army and police coming in, to make arrests at times. The Raids they called them, when they come in, bust down people’s doors, pulled young men out of bed and arrested them for some perceived activity, or for no reason at all. Eventually they decided to set up a vigilante routine, where the men of the street would take turns and do a night each, or whatever. They would keep an eye in case the army set off an alarm — and the alarm was lifting the lids off the metal bins and just literally banging the metal lids on the ground. This used to reverberate around the Creggan like drums. The hut was like a workman’s hut. They would stand there and warm their hands round the fire and eat their sandwiches or whatever was made for them, and maybe shoot round the house and get a quick cup of tea. So the vigilante huts were empty during the day.
We used to hang around there as children, ah it used to be great. We used to slide off the roof of it, play outside it. It was brilliant. Got to the stage where lighting fires on the barricade, people didn’t frown on it. Try and light a fire, normally on your street people would give off about it. But lighting a fire in this standalone fire pit that they had… fantastic, great fun.
When you talked about the army appearing and that whole escalation, your voice changed. It became much more measured. Now I look back on that as a really bad moment, but as a kid you see army trucks… armoured cars shooting by, it’s very exciting…
Och aye, it’s real live movies acting out in front of you. One of my memories was standing looking down West Way, and the army were lined across the road at the very bottom. And they were standing right across the road, with their big see-through shields, holding them up. Rifles pointing towards the crowd. Holy God, an amazing thing to see. Of course you’d see the riots and people throwing stones at the army, stones pinging off lampposts and pinging off the army vehicles and pinging off the shields.
And then eventually of course you got the IRA and the IRA used to patrol our streets, walking in the street with an assortment of rifles. Anything up to 4 or 5 guys walking down like they were a British Army foot patrol, only they were an IRA foot patrol. Walking about on the street.
Did you have that feeling… the word I have in my mind is presentiment? Where you get that feeling this is going wrong, it’s no longer just exciting. It stops being funny, it’s not just “awe” as you describe it. D’you remember a moment when it changed?
No as a child I never felt frightened by it, it was only after I lost my sight that I became very nervous about it. Maybe for obvious reasons, probably one of the scariest moments in my life was Motorman. Operation Motorman. I remember all the hype around the army coming in that night, I remember the British Prime Minister at the time, whoever it was, saying we should stay indoors. I remember a couple of shots being fired at night and me in the house finding that really scary. But before that I never thought I was at risk.
Motorman happened in 1974. Internment was ’71. I was shot in ‘72 and Motorman was ‘74. So you remember all of that. After those times you were very nervous if the army was about on the street, after Motorman when they started to patrol the streets and the IRA would’ve opened fire on the army at various times and points, that’s when you began to feel nervous.
It was ‘72 when you lost your sight? If you don’t mind me asking.
No I don’t mind you asking, yes I was shot in ‘72. The 4th of May 1972. That was a rubber bullet. A rubber bullet that was fired into the school playground. I was at school and a soldier fired into the playground. There was a British Army lookout post position at the bottom of the school playground. The kids used to torment the army, to be honest I’ve done it myself. Because there is an army lookout post at the bottom of your school playground, what are you going to do? Shouted things at them at times. And then if there was a stone lying there… It was innocent fun, it really was, you couldn’t have got at the soldiers with a tank. They were completely enclosed in, you may as well have thrown a stone at a brick wall.
But what possessed them to fire a rubber bullet into a playground?
As you probably know, I met the soldier. Me and Charles are good friends now. I think that Charles would say he fired the bullet to get the children to go home. There was two schools. There was a primary school, I was at the primary school, and the other was a secondary school, both beside each other. Over maybe a 20-minute period you would’ve had a couple of hundred children running about. Maybe they would’ve taunted the army or whatever, but you weren’t able to hang about too long because your teachers knew that the lookout post was always gonna be an attraction. So the teachers were always there, making sure that nothing ever materialised, which it never did to my knowledge.
Charles would say that he fired a rubber bullet to get the children to go home. There was only one rubber bullet fired from that post that day. So… That’s what he would say.
I’ve got one last question. The remarkable thing that you’ve done with your experience is that you’ve turned your life outward, to other people. It seems to me that that experience you had as a child, rather than something that embittered you, you’ve taken it and you’ve done something else with it… I wonder if you could talk a little about how are you’ve taken that experience and made something grow with it.
I think the important part about my story, it’s not being shot and blinded — although that is a significant event, it’s a life changing event. It’s the reaction to being shot and blinded. I think that no matter who we are in life, we all have our challenges and we all have bad things that happened to us. Some worse than others. But the important thing about it is how you react to that. I was kind of lucky in the sense in that my parents reacted in a way that maybe people didn’t expect them to. My uncle Gerry was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, my mother’s brother, Gerry McKinney. Less than three months later I was blinded. All by the British Army. My parents reaction wasn’t anger. They were deeply, deeply hurt, they were completely brokenhearted. I can remember my mother crying beside my bed at night and pleading to God to give me back my sight. For two years my mother had a mental breakdown, although that was never diagnosed. When I heard, heard about the things… her walking in the middle of the road, talking to herself and stuff like that there. Clearly me mother had a mental breakdown and me daddy, who was a very strong man, had to deal with all that.
Their reaction wasn’t anger, their reaction was hurt, coming from a position of love for their young 10-year old boy. They found it hard to cope with, watching me dealing with blindness. The young boy who was into doing fancy flips with a football, or playing in the street. In a very short space of time, I couldn’t walk across the living room without tripping over a chair, or tripping over a shoe, or banging my head off an open door. That’s very hard for a parent to watch, so that was the reaction, no anger, no hatred, just pure hurt. But as well as that they put a plan together. In their own innocent, unstructured way. “We’ve got to make sure that Richard gets back to school. We’ve got to make sure that Richard gets an education. And we’ve got to make sure that this incident doesn’t turn into an angry response.”
I remember sitting at our house after I came out of hospital, in the living room, and my mother was in the kitchen, and one of my brothers, who was about 17 at the time, was having a go at my mother. Very colourful language, very angry terms. “They murdered my uncle Gerry, they blinded Richard, it’s time to get our own back.” Mammy said something like, “If you want to help Richard, go in there and help Richard. But you’re not helping Richard by hurting somebody else.”
They prayed a lot, my mother relied on her faith, my father relied on his faith. They fell back into the chapel, that was their comfort. Me mummy tells stories about just going up into the chapel and sitting and crying and just placing herself in God’s hands. All that impacted on me implicitly. So I didn’t have any anger and that’s why I say it’s not the incident that’s important, it’s their reaction. And because of the compassion that I experienced from my family, from my local community and the friends that I had, the special efforts that were made by teachers to help me, because of that overwhelming sense of kindness and generosity, compassion that poured towards me and my family from the wider community.
I remember there was a woman that my mummy never met — Theresa Matheson, sent me mammy a letter every week, just saying things there like, “Mrs Moore, I just want you to know that I said a wee prayer for you this morning and I put a candle up in the chapel for you — and I want you to know I’m thinking about you.” Maybe she would enclose a prayer in the letter. That support that me mammy and daddy received, that the family received, and that I received, that’s what’s important. I suppose it’s in stark contrast to the idea of pulling the trigger and firing a rubber bullet. That’s what became prevalent in my life, that’s what ruled the day.
And what happened because of that? I was able to get back to school, I was able to get an education, I was able to accept blindness. And not only accept blindness, but see blindness as a positive experience. I was able to have a life for meself and ultimately that’s why you have Children in Crossfire. I only set up Children in Crossfire in response, not to being shot and blinded, but in response to what people did for me when I was shot. All’s I ever want to do is give some of that back.
You know in some ways I’m grateful for the life I’ve had, in some ways I’m grateful for blindness. There’s a lot of lovely things about blindness. I was just talking about this earlier on today. I experience people in a different way to the way you experience people, because my needs are different. My needs are different from your needs, I need help every day. What I find is, when you need help then it brings out the goodness in other people. It’s an opportunity for people to offer help, it’s an opportunity for somebody to do something that they like doing. And I love that, I love that, I love receiving the help, I love acknowledging it. In many ways life has been very enriching for me because of blindness. If I reflect on my life, it hasn’t been a life of darkness, it hasn’t been a life of sadness. It has had its times and its moments, like everybody. But it’s been a life of positiveness and opportunity and joy — and all that sort of stuff, you know?
Philip Davenport interviewed Richard Moore in Derry, 2018