Lynda Walker grew up in Sheffield, England and came from a working class background.
“It was a fairly run down area, we lived in a couple of rooms in the back of a shop, but we moved onto one of the bigger estates that Sheffield had a place called ‘Parson’s Cross’ and that was all red brick houses with gardens – there’s quite a few parks there, one park close to us had a swimming pool, that was fabulous during summer, but freezing cold during winter, but it meant you could go swimming. We tended to play in the street a lot, kids games, come winter when the snow came, because you got snow in Sheffield unlike Belfast, we would go sledging and things like that. When I think about it now, we would actually be called poor, we weren’t the kind of people who had carpets on the floor or that kind of thing, but still everybody lived like that, it was just working class life.”
“Sheffield and Belfast were fairly similar size, work wise, there were plenty of opportunities, I mean I walked straight out of school at the age of 15 and into a job making scissors, I think I earned £3 a week.”
At the age of 24 Lynda left Sheffield and moved to Northern Ireland.
“My sister met someone from Belfast, we were in the Communist Party at that time. It was easy to leave Sheffield, it was great to get to Belfast where you were surrounded by the sea and the hills and you had a ready made family in the Communist Party.”
Lynda became a member of the Connolly Youth League, the youth wing of the Communist Party in Northern Ireland.
“I do distinctly remember I was part of a youth group, The Connolly Youth Movement, and we were painting slogans on a wall at Sydenham Bypass, and three people were supposed to be keeping lookout, and we got lifted, what I distinctly remember about that was being in close proximity to people with guns.”
“…all this talk of the use of guns and Republicans, it wasn’t a history that I had had, and I found that interesting but scary, because we weren’t taught anything in our school about our own working class history, never mind about anyone else’s history, it was all about the Kings and Queens…”
“There were times when you were wondering are you going to get into work, I do specifically remember one day the kids in Andersonstown had been out rioting all night and I went down to Glenand Workshop. We had arranged to go over to the Kings Hall, there was some big exhibition on there, but everything was blocked off, you couldn’t drive cars down Kennedy Way, but we walked across to the Kings Hall and you would have thought it was a different world, and when we got there, nothing, it had all been kept within that area.”
“….then of course there was the bomb scares, especially on a Friday afternoon. I was close to people who were killed and I’ve experienced being in buildings when bombs have gone off, but fortunately never suffered directly from one.”
Lynda made regular trips back and forth from Northern Ireland to England and experienced first hand the anti Irish feelings and paranoia of the time.
“I remember going to England via Stranraer, and we were going on a train with my children, and of course they spoke with Belfast accents, and someone in the station made derogatory comments about them.”
“In the early seventies, Belfast became like a massive prison, even coming into town you had to go through the different check points, open your bags, you had civilian searches, sometimes you had army searches and when you went into shops, you had to be searched so much so that if we went to England and into a shop we would hold our coats open to be searched because you were that used to it…”
“People just stuck to their own areas, where they felt safe and I’m sure there’s a lot people who still do that.”
In 1971 Margaret Thatcher scrapped free milk for over seven year olds to save money. There was a public outcry, which led to the School Milk Campaign.
“Margaret Thatcher, she was the Education Minister, and she took school milk from the kids in 1971 and we had a campaign about that, and I phoned the Farmers Union and they lent us two cows and we walked them down to the City Hall. It was an interesting campaign it ran for three to four months.”
Lynda went to the Rupert Stanley College between 1971 and 1973 to do her A-Levels and her O-Levels and would then go off to University.
“When I joined the party in 1967 in Sheffield, for the first time in my life I mixed with students and teachers on an equal level, and I realised there’s this consciousness that when you left school you thought that was it, you didn’t go any further, I left at fifteen, and didn’t pass my 11+. I got a certain amount of education within the party, so it gave me that ambition to want to learn”.
It was at university that Lynda became a more active member of the women’s movement.
“I did produce a booklet, around 1974, and the booklet made comparisons, like for example in Sheffield there were women bus conductors, traffic wardens, there was much more integration in jobs, these were fairly low paid jobs, but there were none of them here in Northern Ireland.”
Lynda moved with her family to the Twinbrook area of west Belfast, were she sent her two children to Dunmurry High School.
“I lived at Twinbrook. We weren’t Catholic so my children were bussed to Dunmurry High School, and we managed because we had been up at Twinbrook from 1970, so we knew all the people around us. It was supposed to be a model mixed estate, they never built the schools and by the time they did the Protestants had moved out and Catholics had moved in, there was a lot of squatting, it was one of the biggest movements since the Second World War, intimidation, Catholics would move in from Rathcoole and Protestants would move out of Twinbrook. We didn’t because it was a bit difficult for us. We were active in the civil rights movement so we didn’t fit in to all the proper pegs.’
“The kids went to Dunmurry High School and they were called ‘taigs’ at Dunmurry, and they were called ‘orangies’ when they were at home.”
In 1975 Lynda became involved with the Women’s Rights Movement and helped open the first Women’s Centre in Northern Ireland in Donegall Street.
“I have to say it was very ambitious to think that what we wanted was some kind of united movement across the communities. That was really impossible at that time but you’ve got that now, you do have the women’s organisations working together and that’s not saying they don’t have the political aspirations for a united Ireland or to stay with Britain, they do obviously, but that doesn’t hold them back from actually working together on common issues.”
“I suppose the big disillusionment came in the 1990s when the Soviet Union and all the socialist countries collapsed”.
In 1997 Lynda stood as candidate for the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition but was not elected.
Today, Lynda continues to play a crucial role in women’s issues and is chair of the Communist Party of Ireland.
“I firmly believe there has to be something better, a better kind of society from the one we live in, but it will take people to want to change in order to make change.”