An Armagh nurse and mother who raised six children during the Troubles, and saw at first hand the devastating effects of that period, has written a book on her experiences.
Sheila P Kelly’s book, ‘There is No Flag Worth Dying For’, is an anthology of short stories which she wrote over many years, starting in the early 80s.
However, it was only five years ago, when she showed them to a friend, that she thought seriously about publishing them.
“I was always interested in writing and I went to a creative writing course in the early 80s and that really spurred me on,” she said. “I just gathered the stories up. I had an interest in other people knowing what was happening and leaving a legacy for my children.”
Sheila worked as a psychiatric nurse and had to travel to Craigavon Hospital during the height of the conflict.
“There were a lot of stoppages and barricades,” she said. “We had people from across the divide – ordinary people, security forces and paramilitaries – in the unit with psychological problems because of the Troubles.”
Originally from Keady, she began married life in Irish Street in Armagh in the early 70’s, and the book is a memoir of events as she and her husband tried to shield their young family from the political unrest while earning a living at the same time.
“We had soldiers coming in and out of the house searching it. Many times, they locked us out of our houses or closed off the street,” she said.
“I remember one time walking across the town to my sister-in-law’s with my baby in the pram.
“Another time, I was so tired of it, coming back off night duty, that when the soldiers came to get us out I went back in and went to bed. The next morning there was a big hullabaloo about where I was.”
When their house was vested by the council, the family moved to a “lovely house” in another part of Armagh.
“But then my best friend and neighbour’s husband – they lived about four doors away – was shot at the door coming home from his work,” she said.
“My husband was in the Civil Service and the two men used to travel to work together. They used to vary their times and cars to stay safe.
“At one time the Civil Service was targeted in Belfast and my husband’s best friend was shot getting into a taxi. It didn’t matter what side of the divide you came from.
“There was also a bomb at a shop close to where we were living and our ceilings and doors were damaged.”
The family moved yet again, but as Sheila pointed out the Troubles seemed to “follow” them.
They did think about moving away, and at one point considered America as they had family there.
“But we stayed. We were young then and life went on. When something awful happened, you had to get over it and go on,” she added. “It’s only when I look back now that I realise how horrendous it was.
The book, whose title is based on an expression Sheila’s mother used, is about “an ordinary life, and what can happen to ordinary people”.
“It’s not all scary. There are humorous stories in it too,” added Sheila.
As for the future, Sheila says she has “as many stories again” in her head and admits she does feel a sense of achievement “and a little bit of shock” in seeing her book published.
Her literary agent is her daughter, Ash Kelly, who lives in South Africa.
The book, which has been self-published, is available online from Amazon, mybestseller.co.uk and Apple Books.
It can also be bought locally from the Hungry Goat Restaurant in Caledon.
As Northern Ireland marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Sheila’s hope for future generations is that life will be “much better” and that young people won’t feel they need to move abroad to have a good life.