“The British soldiers would have marched on the road in front of us”
March 12, 2022
Aimee Mackin vs Eva Woods of Monaghan
by Daragh Petit
The sight of helicopters flying over Ukraine over the past two weeks, with conflict and tension on the ground, has brought back horrible memories for those who lived through the Troubles in the North.
Aimee Mackin grew up in Camlough, expecting a footballing career in Armagh that would help her become one of the game’s finest representatives, but she witnessed how British forces lined up on the pitch.
And the stories emanating from Eastern Europe in recent weeks have rekindled the trauma of people who lived through the unrest in South Armagh and across the province.
“I don’t think there’s been a day where we haven’t had the news channel,” Mackin said.
“We are monitoring it and hoping things change. We’re not in a world where we should be fighting, we’ve come a long way so there’s no point in going back to days like that.
Camlough has a lot of history when it comes to those dark days.
Hunger striker Raymond McCreesh hails from the area while Mackin’s father Michael suffered British aggression from the front line.
“My dad used to tell a lot of stories about how it was. There was a bit of a hot spot between South Armagh, Derry and Belfast, obviously those were the places that were hit the hardest,” Mackin said.
“When we were young there would always have been British soldiers around, the Troubles as such were gone. But Dad always had stories and we would be interested to know why they were there and we couldn’t wait to get rid of them.
Watching events unfold in Ukraine is all too familiar to Michael Mackin and people of his generation – and there was still a lingering conflict when Aimee was growing up.
“The Troubles were sort of over, but the presence was still there,” Mackin said.
“Dad used to tell stories of when he was younger and the fear that was there then, it’s probably quite similar to what’s going on in Ukraine right now.
“Dad is watching what’s going on, he’s very absorbing and constantly watching the news channel. I didn’t talk too much about it with him. But I would say he has the same opinion as me, it’s not a pretty sight.
“When you come out of that time, it’s not something you want to go back to. You don’t want to see those times again. But hopefully it ends soon in Ukraine.
The conflict in the north finally subsided before the millennium, but Mackin, now 24, has an idea of what Ukrainian children are facing.
There are striking similarities between each example and although the worst was over when she was young, she knows that Ukrainians today are not so lucky.
“We saw them, you would have been playing football in the garden and the British soldiers would have marched down the road in front of us because there was a barracks quite close to my house,” Mackin said.
“There would have been helicopters flying all over the place too, but since we never saw any shots or anything, we never thought they were going to do it on us.
“But maybe if you had witnessed some of the things that people witnessed here years ago, you would have been more scared. But we were only young and didn’t really understand why they were there.
“You wouldn’t have thought they were going to do anything to you, so the fear wasn’t really there, no.”
On the pitch, Mackin is preparing for a Lidl National Football League Division 2 semi-final against Laois next weekend.
Armagh had been the promising county in the All-Ireland TG4 Senior League and Championship in recent years, but they were usurped by champions Meath in the senior quarter-finals last year, having played a semi-final in 2020 against the eventual winners Dublin.
County Orchard was many people’s fantasy when the teams met in the All Ireland quarter-final at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on August 1. But despite 1-6 from Mackin, his side fell to a heartbreaking 3-15 to 1-14 loss.
“I think Meath was brilliant last year, we’ve played them in the League before and we knew how strong the team would be,” Mackin said.
“In our own side, we knew how difficult it would be. They opened the whole championship and they fully deserved it. I don’t think anyone was going to beat them, the roller they were. They just exuded confidence.
“We can take snippets of their journey and hopefully create one of our own. It’s tough when you have teams like Meath, Dublin, Cork and Donegal all trying to do the same thing.
But Armagh showed his intent at the start of 2022 and is set to have another extended season on both fronts, with Mackin once again front and center.
She was the top scorer in the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship last year and the year before she won the 2020 Senior Player of the Year.
And she is determined to help Armagh cross the league line before they turn to summer competition.
“It’s vital for our development, we’ve also said over the past few years that we want to get out of Division 2,” Mackin said.
“We don’t look any further until the next game. If you’re in the semi-final, you want to win it, but the problem is that the other team in the semi-final also wants to win it.
“It was a goal to get to this stage and now that we are there, we want to progress even more.
“It’s all about development and getting into Division 1, but there are three other teams that want to get into Division 1, so it will be an uphill battle.”
Mackin is one of the best known faces in women’s football these days and star Shane O’Neill is also an ambassador for Glenveagh Homes Gaelic4Girls.
“I’m thrilled to be back as an ambassador,” Mackin said.
“It’s a great program to have. We were lucky to have her at our club last year, I coached there and it was great to bring out young girls in our community who had never played football, especially for involve them in our game.”