Blackmen or not?

There was a programme on Radio Ulster recently about the Bessbrook Mill.  It reminded me of a story told to me by Billie McCaigue who was, at the time, a Unionist Councillor for Newry Town. 

During the Second World War some Divisions of the American Army were stationed in Bessbrook prior to their departure to France.  One afternoon one of the soldiers came into a shop in the village and the young lady asked,

‘ Sir, what can I get you?’

The soldier wondered who she was talking to as he was the only person in the shop.

‘ Sir, I asked you can I get you anything?’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘It’s just that no one has ever called me ‘sir’ before.  Being black I get called many names but never- Sir.’

For many days after that he became a regular customer of the shop and brought with him some of his friends who were also dark-skinned.  The shop did a roaring trade.

Anyway, after some time the soldier was getting familiar with the young lady and asked were there any dances on at the weekend.  She replied that there was one in the local hall on Friday.

‘Are you going to it?’ he asked.

‘ I hope to be there, yes,’  she replied.

‘ Well, I’ll see you there, then,’ he said, on his way out the door. He was gone before she could tell him what the dance was about.

Friday night came and the soldier and three of his friends arrived at the hall to gain admission but before they could get one foot inside the door they were refused.  The conversation went as follows:

‘Why can we not get in?’

‘I am sorry but this dance is only for Blackmen.’

‘But we are black. Can you not see?’

‘ Yes, sir I can see that but you are not Blackmen and only Blackmen can get in.’

‘ So let’s get this straight; you say that you have to be a black man to get in to the dance but you will not let us in even though we are black.

Is that correct?’

‘ Sir to gain entrance to the dance one has to be a member of the Royal Black Institution and I’m afraid you are not members.’

The soldiers took their leave muttering to themselves something about being black and not being allowed in because they were not black.


Billy always said it was a good job they did not arrive at the hall the week before when the local Orangemen were having a dance.






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