Betty’s Story

Betty Keogh[audio version available]

My memories of the North Strand bombing come from very clear images of a 5 year old. My name is Betty Keogh and my parents were Dora Dempsey, married to Jack Keogh.  My brother Noel was 8 years old on that terrible night. We lodged with a family in no.10 Charleville Mall. I woke up that night to the screams and crying of my mother and everyone around us. I could see my parents clearly by the window looking skyward and clinging to each other. Shortly after, my father went out and joined up with other men to go and find out what exactly was happening. He was gone a long time so my mother put myself and my brother Noel into a bed with the son of the family we lodged with so she could search for my Dad.

I can see clearly in my mind the three of us in the bed which faced the back wall of the house. Lying there just confused and being so young not really understanding what was happening.  All of a sudden the entire back wall of the house completely collapsed and disappeared. My next clear memory is being taken to an air-raid shelter underneath St. Agatha’s Church in William Street. Only women and children were there; the women praying with rosary beads and the children amused at seeing everyone in sleeping attire- pyjamas and nightdresses! How the night went I don’t recall as I probably fell asleep eventually.

The next clear image in my mind is of everyone being ushered to the convent where the nuns with the big white headdresses gave us tea and bread. I heard much later that every single thing we ever owned had been lost and all we had left was what we were wearing. My mother’s sister took us in, even though she had 9 children of her own! and we stayed until we got lodgings somewhere else. It was only my mother, brother and myself for the next 8 years, as my father had gone to Newry and joined the Royal Engineers Corp in the British Army, and was sent to South East Asia after a very short training period. We were offered a house in Cabra, but my mother didn’t accept it because, to her mind, Cabra was in the countryside, and very far away. Her compensation for losing the entire family’s belongings was £18. The North Strand remained a bomb site for a long time. How long, I’m not sure, but as kids, we played there among the rubble. My father was in Burma through the second world war and then joined the American organisation U.N.N.R.A. in Germany. The next time we saw him I was 12 and my brother 15. We had a very hard but mostly happy childhood, thanks to a wonderful mother who worked exceedingly hard to raise us single-handed.

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