TRILLICK man, Johnny McNabb’s loft space at home is a shrine to his former army days.

A Catholic serving in the Irish Guards when the Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland, he recalls how he was repeatedly the subject of interrogation for suspected terrorist activity.

On one occasion he was interrogated for seven hours by paratroopers in Bessbrook after he inadvertently ended up in Crossmaglen.

And on another occasion police officers in London detained him for two days while they questioned him in relation to bombings in the capital in the 1970s.

Now a father of three, and having spent 30 years living in Chicago, post-army, he returned home to Trillick, and a very different Northern Ireland, six years ago.

The peaceful province of now is a very different backdrop to the one he left behind after his army days were over in 1972.

“As ex-army it was dangerous for me to be here too long at that time,” says Johnny, “Both sides suspected me of being involved with the other and I was involved in neither. It was rough. I decided to leave it all behind and travel instead. I always had itchy feet.” Hungry to see the world, Johnny joined the Irish Guards in 1967 at the age of 17.

“I had an awful urge for adventure from my feet touch the ground,” he says, “I tried to join the Navy but they turned me down. As a Catholic, people told me to join the Irish Army but they never went anywhere. The Irish Guards was my ticket out of here. “Like a lot of young boys, I joined the army for the wrong reasons!” Because of the national and political sensitivities the Irish Guards were not assigned to Northern Ireland until the conflict had all but died down in 1992.

Johnny’s Battalion initially spent six weeks in Canada on adventure training.

And having spent time in Germany, they then served as the garrison of Hong Kong.

“We were taken to the furthest part of the empire, away from the Troubles,” Johnny explains.

But by 1972, a lot of Catholics were leaving the Irish Guards, Johnny included.

“Things were heating up back home. I purchased my discharge. I had been saving for a year. It cost £2,000.” He returned home to a very different political climate.

“It wasn’t safe for me,” he recalls.

“I worked in the Post Office in Omagh for about three months and then went to the training centre in Omagh and did a few courses there.

“It was getting bad around Trillick at that time. A UDR man had been shot and I was interrogated for that. In many ways coming out of the army was almost bad as going in.

“I decided to go to London.” But the Troubles followed him there too.

“It was like I could be picked out in a crowd,” says Johnny.

“I used to rent a car from a guy in Dublin. I could always get a good deal off him. I remember heading down there one evening with a friend and unintentionally ending up in Crossmaglen. We hadn’t realised there had been a gun battle there the night before. The paratroopers stopped us.

“We were arrested and brought to Bessbrook. We were interrogated for seven hours. They asked everything about us from the day we were born.

“It didn’t matter what I told them. I remember though, one of the officers was wearing a Duke Of Wellington’s Regiment badge. We relieved their regiment out in Hong Kong.

“When I mentioned this to him he looked at me as if he had seen a ghost. It was a wild experience. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” On another occasion police officers arrested Johnny in connection with the London bombings.

“I used to have a car with a Northern Irish registration,” he recalls, “I was coming home from work one evening and all of a sudden I was approached by a couple of detectives. I was handcuffed and hauled to a police station. They asked me how long I had been living there, what part of Ireland I was from, ‘do you know anything about these bombings?’.

“One of the officers there was a guy I had served with in the Irish Guards. I hadn’t seen him since 1971. He was as shocked as I was to meet him there. But knowing him made no difference though.

“I was locked up there for two days and finally released.

“I had an aunt in Chicago. I felt it was time to go there and make a life for myself away from everything that was going on at home.” For the last nine years of his time in Chicago Johnny worked as a fueller for United Airlines before the company went bust.

“I was always going to build a house back home,” says Johnny, “It was always my intention to return to Trillick. I didn’t want my children growing up in Chicago. I saw the bankruptcy as the golden opportunity to return to Trillick.

“I came back home to peace. When I went out in the car I was still expecting to be stopped. It was amazing to come home and not see any of that -- I hope it holds -- nobody ever wants to go back to that again. This is a great country to raise my children.”