Archive picture of children on Belfast street in 1971 paints a thousand words about the Troubles

Archive picture of children on Belfast street in 1971 paints a thousand words about the Troubles

THE dark, disturbing and violent period known now simply as 'The Troubles' spanned three decades and spread much further than just the North of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Britain.

The black and white picture above was taken in 1971, and if you look closely it reveals much about what life was like in the North for ordinary people during an extraordinary time.

The picture is dated December 7, 1971.

It comes from photo agency Getty's archives. The photographer is not listed but it bears the title: 'Terrorists To Be'.

Its caption reads: "Children jeer at British soldiers while a fire smolders in the street behind them."

Dr. Kevin Bean, Lecturer at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool provides some valuable context on the striking shot.

"It looks to be a fairly common picture of that time", says Dr. Bean. "There were a lot of photographers and reporters in Belfast at the time, and you've got kids there reacting as kids do, acting up a bit for the camera."

In the background, you can make out what appear to be the remnants of a burnt-out car smouldering, and even further in the background is what may be an armoured car and two figures dressed in dark colours, possibly RUC officers.

The photo provides a snapshot of a Belfast that no longer exists.

Dr. Bean points out that most of these streets are now transformed, replaced by modern housing.

"The working class areas in Belfast were the centres of conflict...they have been built or rebuilt two or three times."

Scroll down to see more incredible pictures from The Troubles...

As Dr. Bean notes, even movies about The Troubles, such as the acclaimed '71 starring Jack O'Connell was shot in Blackburn because the streets of Belfast look nothing like they did back then.

But what about that shocking caption: 'Terrorists To Be'?

The use of the caption reflects a view of many outsiders and journalists coming from further afield, photographers in particular saw the violence as inexplicable...a cycle of violence that was inevitable. The children were growing up in this environment, so there was this this idea in a way that it couldn’t be controlled, in a sense that these were the next generation…"

Another striking aspect of the shot is that the children seem completely unperturbed by the scene they occupy, probably because they were used to instability and violence.

“The thing that is interesting is if you took the backdrop away, it's just a picture of kids being kids and poking their tongues out."

Dr. Bean suspects that the picture was taken not in December 1971 but perhaps earlier in the year (judging by what the children are wearing) in the aftermath of internment.

Internment was a period of raids that led to the arrests of several hundred people believed to be members of the IRA.

"They carried out raids often indiscriminately, using out of date intel which led to the arrests of elderly people who used to be involved in the IRA," says Dr. Bean.

In response, the IRA campaign cranked up a notch and the nationalist community began rioting.

1971 is regarded as one of the major turning points in the growth of the IRA, as Dr Bean explains: "By arresting people who were innocent and the allegations of inhumane treatment and torture that followed, a lot of people were tempted towards militant republicanism."

For Dr. Bean, what is most striking about this single image is it shows normal life going on in a city that would have been familiar to many with its schools, chip shops and community halls, even though what its inhabitants lived through was far from normal.

See more pictures from the Troubles here...

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