Belfast Days: A 1972 Teenage Diary


Eimear O’Callaghan

February 2022

Powerful, candid diary of a 16-year-old schoolgirl living through the horrors of life in West Belfast in 1972.

New edition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the single worst year of the Northern Irish Troubles.



Belfast 1972. It’s the bloodiest year of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ and sixteen-year-old schoolgirl Eimear O’Callaghan bears witness in her new diary. What follows is a unique and at times disturbing insight into the life of an ordinary teenager coming of age in extraordinary times. The immediacy of the diary entries is complemented by the author’s mature reflections upon rediscovering her journal forty years later. The result is poignant, shocking, wryly funny and, above all, explicitly honest.

As Northern Ireland continues to be haunted by the legacy of its turbulent past, Belfast Days demonstrates how one person’s examination of her own ‘story’ gave her a new perspective on one of the darkest periods in twentieth-century British and Irish history.



Table of Contents

Prologue: ‘…prayer is our only hope, seeing we haven’t got a gun!’
1. ‘Wish something big would hurry up and happen.’
2. ‘Sure there will be serious trouble.’
3. ‘Blitzed, strife-torn corner of the earth.’
4. ‘Two months to bury our dead.’
5. ‘The glory of the Lord.’
6. ‘My nerves are shattered.’
7. ‘Unchristian type of satisfaction.’
8. ‘All I could do was pray.’
9. ‘Too good to be true.’
10. ‘The inevitability of civil war.’
11. ‘All my childish instincts.’
12. ‘Cèpes à la bordelaise’
13. ‘Dirty, horrible, backward, dark Belfast’
14. ‘A pity ALL the Catholics hadn’t been killed.’
15. ‘We’ll all be butchered.’
16. ‘No longer is anyone unlikely to be shot.’
Epilogue: ‘Thankful to be alive.’

About the Author

Eimear O’Callaghan is a former BBC news editor with more than 30 years’ experience in print and broadcast journalism. While most of her career was with BBC Northern Ireland, she also worked with The Irish News and with RTÉ in Dublin. She left the BBC in 2010 to set up a communications consultancy, Leapfrog Communications, and continues to work as a freelance writer.

Praise for Belfast Days

‘A startling account of day-to-day life during the deadliest year of the Troubles … O’Callaghan’s memoir makes for a sobering and occasionally mind-boggling read’ — The Irish News

‘Compelling and alive … Belfast Days remains essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what it was like for ordinary families as they struggled to get through a nightmare not of their making’ — Irish Independent

Belfast Days is an unintended history. An extraordinary aspect is the contrast between the everyday lives of people (family, school-friends…) and the bizarre often terrifying series of events going on all around them. Her diary is more than merely worth reading, it is essential reading. If you want to understand an important aspect of life in Northern Ireland at a critical moment in our collective history, then read this diary’ — Belfast Newsletter

‘Amid her expressions of terror and dread at the extraordinary events unfolding around her, O’Callaghan’s entries include mentions of boys, fashion and the odd night out, as she attempts to come of age in one of the worst years in the history of the North of Ireland’ — Irish Post

‘The reader will enjoy the domestic details … but, in truth, this is a very uncomfortable read for anyone who lived through these years. It is difficult because it indicates so vividly not only the scale of destruction in ’70s Belfast but also how ‘ordinary’ people can become alienated from people with whom they share the same patch of earth … To have published this book and laid bare unreconstructed thoughts and mixed emotions is very brave and highly instructive’ — Ulster Tatler

‘O’Callaghan’s diary powerfully and touchingly conveys the destructive impact of war on adolescents … She has made an important contribution to the documentary record of the conflict’ — The Irish Times

‘Harrowing, moving and, at times, almost incredible, Eimear O’Callaghan’s observations of a year that was unprecedented in its brutality and bloodshed are compelling and vivid. Her unique and unadorned record stands testament to the resilience, solidarity and decency of thousands of ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances’ — Derry Journal

Belfast Days: A 1972 Teenage Diary is, in many ways, an extraordinary document…Even at 16, O’Callaghan was a chronicler of her time…She shows flashes of teenage angst, throwing the occasional tantrum, but any impulse towards self-absorption is quashed by the scale of violence around her’ — Sunday Business Post

‘Whatever your generation…read this diary.  In the process you may smile, you may be shocked, you may even see your own reflection. But most of all, read Belfast Days because this story is painful to remember, too important to forget’ — Presbyterian Herald

‘Enlightening, troubling, and profoundly moving, this is a ‘must’ read’ ‘— Irish Examiner

Belfast Days is essential reading. It is not a grisly revisiting of the worst year of our conflict, but an inside look at how extraordinary and horrific events impacted on the lives of ordinary people… This book’s gift is the honesty of O’Callaghan’s teenage self. If truth was the first casualty of the Troubles, here we begin to see some signs of recovery and hope for a better future, now that we can understand what went before, and just how much it changed everything’ — Culture Northern Ireland

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