28 Roe Street, Belfast: That's Mrs Murphy crossing the road to her house. The neighbours are long gone but, despite all the attacks, she and Bernard aren't shifting. Steve Boggan reports

Bernard Murphy cannot remember the date, but he knows it was about 3am one morning in 1988 that the first petrol bomb set fire to his back door. There was a smashing of glass and a brightness and a smell that got him out of bed.

'The flames were up the door,' he said. 'If I hadn't woken up, it could have killed us.' Bernard's 68-year-old wife, Sue, is still surprised she was asleep when the fire-bombers hit. She hardly ever sleeps.

Mrs Murphy has good reason for not sleeping. Few would rest easy in 28 Roe Street, the only house in a road that no longer really exists, a road on the front line dividing Catholics and Protestants in the Oldpark district of north Belfast.

Number 28, a three-storey, four-bedroomed house, stands alone on the Catholic side of the wall - a 15ft corrugated skirt of a yellow bullet-proof material. The property's toughened glass windows are protected by padlocked steel grilles. Either side of the house are two 7ft walls, one topped with barbed wire, the other with an extra 5ft of corrugated plastic. Between these and the house are padlocked steel gates.

At the back of number 28 is the peace wall itself, except here it has been heightened to protect the Murphys. There is a neat, pretty garden and a greenhouse with a steel mesh canopy, protection against the stones that fly over the wall almost every day. And on the back door, there are now two sections of painted steel in case another fire bomb should hit.

Tourists sweeping past on the guided tours given by Belfast taxi drivers would be forgiven for thinking that Mr and Mrs Murphy were making a defiant stance, the last Catholics to leave the front line. But they would be quite wrong.

The Murphys are not crusaders. They still speak highly of the Protestant neighbours they had when Roe Street was a real community some 15 years ago. They blame none of their problems on bigotry but on straightforward vandalism and administrative stupidity. It isn't the politics of religion that has left them stuck in the middle of nowhere.

When they bought No 28 in 1956, the area was mixed. Roe Street was smartly cobbled, with brightly painted terraced houses. Families from both sides of the religious divide lived here.

By the mid-Eighties, however, Roe Street and nearby Manor Street had become sectarian hot-spots. There was violence and intimidation and rioting. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive began offering families money to move away and when they did, it demolished their homes.

Most people, who were in rented accommodation, welcomed this scorched-earth policy, but those who had bought their homes, like the Murphys, were in for a shock. The amount of compensation offered by the Housing Executive was based on an assessment of a property's worth that took location into account.

They offered us pounds 3,000 at first and we told them what they could do with it,' said Mr Murphy, a retired carpenter in his seventies. 'Their last offer was pounds 5,000 but we had to reject it; we were both retired and we have only a small pension, so how could we buy something else? We had no choice but to stay here.

'At first, we had nothing on the windows and they were smashed over and over again. The Northern Ireland Office put in toughened glass and then they said we should cover them with grilles. I didn't want to at first because I didn't want to live behind a barricade, but the police said we should - front and back.'

The couple's request for pounds 20,000 to compensate them for the loss of their home was rejected, a decision that now looks like a false economy. The cost to the taxpayer of restoring the gable ends of the house, after demolition of those on either side, was pounds 12,500, and the Northern Ireland Office says it has since spent pounds 5,000 on security.

The Housing Executive said it would try to re-house the Murphys, but Mrs Murphy doubted she and her husband could afford to pay rent, and they were not entitled to Income Support. A Housing Executive spokeswoman said she knew nothing of the fear in which the couple has been living.

'We won't speak ill of either side because we don't dare offend anyone,' said Mr Murphy. 'We just keep our heads down and try to get by day to day. We have been petrol bombed three times and they throw rocks at our house almost every day.

'But there are other problems, too. We can't even get our mail delivered because they took the name off the street. We get letters weeks late with all kinds of writing on them asking where this place is. We even get some after a while marked 'DAL' That stands for Dog at Large, but we haven't got a dog. It's just an excuse because our street doesn't exist any more.'

Mrs Murphy, who suffers from high blood pressure, anaemia and back problems, remains stoical. The couple refuse to blame either Protestants or Catholics for their predicament, a stance in which fear must inevitably play a part.

'We got a letter once from a student in New York saying he had heard of our house and congratulating us on our bravery,' said Mrs Murphy. 'We just thought 'If only he knew'. This has nothing to do with bravery. We are stuck here. I get very very frightened and I can't sleep any more.

'I don't go out at night. Kids throw stones from both sides, they shout and light bonfires. I'm not scared every day, but you don't know what's going to happen next.'

The violence aimed at their home continues but the petrol bomb attacks appear to have stopped. One hit the back door, one a gable end and a third the couple's garden wall. In the garden, darkened by the peace wall, is a garage built by Mr Murphy. The lawn is neatly clipped and the borders well tended.

Mr Murphy produced a dustbin filled with the rocks collected each day from the lawn and thrown, he said, by youths rather than politically motivated adults. 'One of these just missed me the other week.' Mrs Murphy said she no longer hangs out washing or sits in her garden.

Inside the house, everything is neat and clean. 'That fitted kitchen, that cost us more than the pounds 3,000 they were offering,' said Mrs Murphy. Upstairs are a number of smart bedrooms; the ones at the rear have a view over the wall to the Protestant estate. Most of the houses there look new, built within the past 20 years, but many are boarded up. A Union flag flies high enough for the Murphys to see.

But even on the Catholic side, there is no escape from the misery. Outside the Murphys' front door, flies hover around rubbish dumped on wasteground where houses used to stand. At night, the Murphys see rats in the glow of bonfires lit by noisy children.

Around this wasteground are ugly boulders, dropped to prevent people from driving or parking there. But they also act as a platform from which children can throw stones at the armoured patrols from the nearby Girdwood Barracks.

'The kids miss and their stones hit our door and windows, which is why there are grilles on this side, too,' said Mr Murphy. 'They threw paint once, missed the soldiers and hit the front of the house. I couldn't just leave it there and I couldn't just paint over the bit where it hit, so I got my ladder out and painted the whole of the front of the house a sort of brick colour.

'I wanted the place to look clean and tidy.'

(Photographs omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

    SAP Data Migration Lead

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform