That year 1976, I was the
invisible teenager. Invisible in every shape and form to all of
those around me. Even though I was present and in the room. Know
one could see my presence. I was simply ignored by all of those
I was the overweight boy
who no one really noticed. The fat boy not chosen for sports
teams because he was useless at sports and hated them anyway and
everything they stood for. At school I was the boy ignored by his
teachers even when he was first to put his hand up to answer some
stupid unimportant question because he was considered a problem
The boy who suffered the
indignity of receiving free school dinner tickets because he was
from a single parent family. Everyone who paid for the revolting
school dinners got a red ticket. Five of them given out at the
start of the school week. Those who had dinners paid for by the
local council received yellow ones. How I used to hate having to
go up to the front of the class to collect them.
In all I was the boy who
longed for a better life than the one he was living one . A life
where someone cared for him with a modicum of affection. Someone
who would listen to his dreams and hopes for the future.
The reality was that I was
the boy ignored at home, told that he should be a good student
like his sister. That I should stop dreaming and think about the
If I had a pound for ever
time I had been told "To get somewhere in life a boy needed to
get a trade, learn a skill, do something useful with his life. To
be a success this is what you needed to do. Boys did not need,
poetry literature or theatre. They were sissy things, they needed
to know how to build, construct, make something, plan towns and
cites. Give orders and lead companies and leave a lasting legacy
for future generations…
Or so I was told.
So by that winter my future
had been decided for me. I had an engineering apprenticeship
already set up for me. I friend of my mothers had arranged for me
to start a placement in the company where her husband worked. I
would finish school in May and start in July. I would face
endless days of learning maths, filing metal and doing other
useless shitty things that I did not want to.
After four years training I
would be taken on by the company (or so My Mother hoped) Any
other dreams I had or even a desire to create a different path
for myself were dismissed as foolish fairy tales. I had no say in
my own future. The future was already written for me. It was set
"Its just a phase he's
going through" I heard her say to one of the endless list of her
cousins always sitting in our living room. Smoking, drinking tea
from china cups and eating endless rounds of corned beef
sandwiches flavoured with mustard and Jaffa cakes served up for
The conversation of what I
referred to as "The Witches" would always be the same. Family
gossip, Local gossip and me. These was always the items on the
agenda .I would pick up various snippets of speech about me and
they were always the same.
"Once he starts work he
wont have time to daydream and write stupid stories" " Once he
has a girlfriend, everything will be ok" "Don't you think its
strange that he hasn't had one yet ?" "He's a good looking boy,
just needs to lose a stone or two" "Why don't you put him on a
diet" "Get him to do more sports" blab blab fucking blab. Off
course all this was said within earshot of me. I think my Mother
took some sort of sadistic pleasure from knowing I could hear
what was being said about.
As if any of these things
would be a magic solution to solve everything that was flying
through my brain. Kick a ball round, go out for a run or Just
find some stupid girl and screw her a few times and that would
knock the dreams of self expression out of me …and help me take
my place in normal society. Behind and at the root of all this
was my Mother. Mother who by the time I was fast approaching 16
was 55 years of age though she looked ten years younger
Off course I didn't blame
her, she was the victim of her own cultural upbringing. She
believed what she had been told. It was a cultural norm that she
had lived with from an early age. Men did men's work and that
involved learning and getting a trade.
Strangely enough my younger
sister was encouraged to follow a musical path. She had started
playing the violin whilst in primary school and by 13 she was
playing in the county youth orchestra. I wanted to take her
violin and smash it into a thousand pieces and scatter them to
the wind. Not because I hated the sound of her practicing
drifting through the wall between our bedrooms. Scrape, scrape
fucking scrape. Or the smug look on her face whenever she was on
stage saying "this is me I'm wonderful". It was because the
violin represented a symbol of success to her. A way for her to
show that she was better than me. Something for my Mother to hold
up as a beacon for me too follow.
I hated that as I hated
everything else that winter. I felt that I was just an
embarrassment to My family. Useless at everything with no clear
point or direction to his life. Or so they thought. Yet I did
have a passion to my life. I loved to write and equally loved to
read. I would write my poems, short stories and various other
ramblings down in notebooks. Ideas would come into my head from
anywhere and everywhere. I would always carry a notebook with me
and be constantly scribbling in it.
My English teacher (One of
the few morons who taught me who I actually liked) told me that I
had a real gift for language. She tried to persuade me to stay on
at school and enroll on the A level English course. She even
tried talking to my mother saying that I had the ability to get
good A levels and go on to University. Off course my mother would
have none of it. I was going to start my apprentice course no
matter what. Nothing was going to get in the way of that.
Earthquakes , war, and bolts of lightning from God Himself could
not stop it.
I'm talking a lot about my
mother, but for me she was mother and father rolled into one. Its
not easy being a single parent but I guess that she tried to make
a success of it. Off course it hadn't always been like that. Like
every other human I once had two parents.
My father had died when I
was 11. He had been having a few pints of Guinness in the local
pub "The welcome Inn" with some friends after work enjoying the
crack, and being the genuine friendly man hail fellow well meet
to his friends. He had a massive heart attack and was more or
less dead before he and pint glass he was holding hit the
Off course there was the
usual outpouring of grief, endless visitors offering their
condolences, saying what a pity it was for the children and that
a boy needed his father. "Who would be there to take him
fishing?" To football matches, walks along the beach and do all
those other father and son bonding things that help a boys
development and turn him into a normal healthy adult, ready to
take him place in society.
Yet in truth I was never
really close to my father. Of course I cried as his coffin was
lowered into the cold unwelcoming earth but I didn't really know
what the tears meant as we had done none of those bonding things
that are supposed to bring father and son together. No fishing
trips or walks along the beach for me.
My father was too
preoccupied with work to have time to do those things. By the
time he came home from work, had dinner and settled down to watch
some crap TV drama it was my bedtime.
He was kind enough I guess.
I always got nice birthday and Christmas presents but what I
didn't really get was the attention I needed.
Enough of this David
Copperfield, little orphan Annie type stuff. This isn't a "My
parents fucked me up" type story. To be honest as I sit here
writing this I don't know what it is going to turn out to be.
"The truth" Sometimes I don't know what the truth is anymore.
Perhaps this story is my last chance to discover what the truth
For any of you reading this
with any sense of British geography and a little historical
knowledge home for me then was the town of Blackfergus, near the
mouth of the Belfast Lough.
Blackfergus was the home
of one of Irelands oldest castles, an Imposing Norman structure
near the towns equally imposing Harbour. The town itself was a
mixture of old and new. The new being large council estates built
to house Belfast's overspill population, mostly workers who had
come to work in the new factories being build in the town. ICI
and Courtalds had plants there and there were other textile
factories employing hundred of workers. The estates all had
pleasing idyllic sounding names. Woodside, Sunnyfields,
Downshire, Castlemary. Yet there were not very pleasing places to
live in as the estates were planned with little social amenities,
no parks or other places for children to play in. Each estate did
have its own primary school and the odd row of shops and that was
They mostly consisted of
row after row of houses that all looked the same, inhabited by
people who all thought the same. Yes this was collective working
class conformity in every sense of the word. We all live in
little boxes and we like it
In the summer we got some
tourists coming to visit the old Castle the Harbour and St
Andrews church, the three main things that Blackfergus was famous
for. The town itself was named after some legendary figure from
Irish history, known as Fergus the Black. According to Legend he
set up his headquarters in the town and killed anyone who opposed
him. Putting their heads on pikes on the town walls after kicking
them around like a football… Or so the story goes..
With the onset of the
troubles in the late 1960s the tourists from England no longer
came. Who wants to go to a place were you risk getting
blown up or shot. Every night the telivision news was filled with
images of riots bombings and shootings giving the rest of the UK
the impression that the whole of the North of Ireland was one
fucked up place where destruction and death was a part of
In fact the troubles tended to pass Blackfergus by mattered
little other than to the people who lived there. There was the
odd shooting or bombing to deal with and nothing much else. I
guess that this was down to the religious make up of the town.
Religious demographics in
the town were simple. You were either a Prodie or a Taig. Prodie
being Protestant and Taig being Catholic and never the two shall
meet and if they did god forbid what could and may happen.
I fell into the Prodie
camp, though religion meant nothing to me. It was a label one
carried around your neck and I tried not to hang myself with it.
The Catholics were clearly in the minority 8% of the total town
population and had one combined Primary and Secondary school, on
the outskirts of town in a leafy tree lined street. My Mother in
her clearly bigoted way believed that all Catholics were the
spawn of the Anti Christ and that the chief Antichrist was the
Pope in Rome. The Pope was waiting to claim the heats and minds
of all us innocent protestant boys and we were the Guardians of
Martin Luther and John Knox. She also said that all Catholic were
loaded and lived on the Malone road, (one of the most desirable
address in BlackFergus.) and that I should avoid them at all
costs. My mortal soul was in danger if I … "If a Catholic boy
ever asks you to do anything rude" She used to say "It is the
work of the Devil." Never, never do what they say, in fact just
stay away from them." I once asked her what if it was a
protestant boy, was it ok to do something rude? I was given a
slap across the back of my leg.Told not to be cheeky and sent to bed.
End of conversation..
Not that I had much chance
to mix with any Catholics. They never came into my part of town
in fact no visitors to the town ever did.
Downshire estate with its
curbstones pained red white and blue Union Jacks and Ulster flags
hanging from every wall and lamppost during the July marching
season the clebration of the victory of William of Orange over
the Catholic king James the second on the 12th 1690.
Something that every Protestant had drummed into them since they
were about one month old.
The Downshire estate was an
intimidating place even for the people who lived there, never
mind outsiders of a different religion. The estate had been built
in 1948. Row after row of prefabricated single story bungalows
designed to last ten years but still up after almost 30. Each
house looking weather beaten with paint peeling of the outside
walls they had all seen better days It was the least desirable
address in the down and this was reflected in the make up of the
people who lived there. Half the families lived on the dole or
did the double, (worked and claimed dole as well,) Yet the local
pub "The Welcome Inn" was full almost every night of the week.
Men would stagger home pissed, have rows with their wives, beat
them or beat their children. Welcome to the world of Protestant
working class values.
Certain families dominated
the estate, there were the Boyd's, the Craig's the Walsh's, the
McCmurtry's , all of them related through marriage in one way or
another and in some cases cousins had married cousins, keeping it
all in the family so to speak. Certain families had links to the
local boot boys, UVF, UDA, protestant paramilitaries , designed
to protect the community from the Catholic IRA. All of them were
just thugs in on way or another, into crime rackets and whatever
illegal way they had of making money and woe betide anyone who
had the balls big enough to cross their path.
My major concern was with
their offspring, the boys who one day would step up to take their
fathers places. Bigotry and ignorance was handed down from
generation to generation like some warped family
The worst of them all was
Belch Walsh, a poster boy for the mentally challenged if ever
there was one. During my four miserable years of secondary school
Paul John Walsh had gone through a variety of nick names. In my
first year it was snake, mostly because of his piggy little eyes
but also the fact that at 11 he had a dick the size of an 18 year
old, which was the talk of the school changing room. He had a
habit of showing it to anyone who was remotely interested.
Other names included,
Ripper, psycho, the Boss and so on. But the name that stuck the
most and ensured that he wouldn't be remembered for the size of
his Willy was Belch.
He had this amazing ability
to belch at will as if he was talking with wind from his guts.
His favourite trick was to open and close the morning hymnbook we
used at assembly it at the same time as belching, making it seem
as if the book was doing the belching. Off course the group of
dimwitted boys who followed him round school thought that this
was great fun, another one of Belch's party tricks which
included, stealing whatever he could, whenever he could. Picking
on weaker kids and nicking their lunch money. Stealing from
blazers hanging in the cloakrooms. Nicking from the local shops,
then sealing crisps and chocolate to kids at a price cheaper than
the tuck shop. Belch was a regular black market economy of
In my second year of
secondary school he had made my life hell, calling me a whole
variety of names. Queer, fruit, sissy, Bum boy ,ponce, wanker…
(There were others but I can't remember all of them) I would be
forced to hand over my lunch money, my books would be taken out
of my school bag and scattered to the wind. I used to dread PE,
getting changed in the changing room, I lost count of the number
of times he had sneaked behind me and yanked my shorts and
underpants down to my ankles, exposing my cock, balls and bum
much to the amusement of the other dick watching boys in the
class. Yes those were my happy memories of my second year at
Belch would clearly has
received the Oscar for Bully of the year had such a thing been
available. Yet I knew that he would eventually get tired with me,
because I didn't fight back or give him any grounds to bully me
further. By my third year he had dropped down to the F grade
class, which was one step above serious educational special
needs. I always thought that the F class stood for "Stupid
Fucker" or "Fucking thick" and In some ways I was right. Belch
was surrounded by boys of a similar character. He didn't need
learning or support. He was a much a victim of violence as the
many people his father had beaten up. Given a different
upbringing Belech would have turned out different. Maybe he would
have grown up to be a doctor or a lawyer or been successful in
whatever field he would have been encouraged to take.
Yes folks Belch was a
victim of circumstances as much as many others are in this crazy
world we live in.
By the time I had got to my
fifth year, Belch had pretty much left me alone. He had got tired
of me and turned his attention to girls. In fact he had even
started to speak to me without calling me names. Mostly because I
had once helped him with an English homework reading a browning
poem to him and making sure that he understood it.
I wouldn't say we were
friends or anything like that, but once or twice he had been
pleasant to me, even offering me some of his fags and once
joining me for a smoke behind the bike sheds.
Off course this story is
not really about Belch Walsh, he is but a supporting character
even if he does play a part in my narrative as do other
supporting characters, but he was important because he was
As I said earlier my
contacts with Catholic boys was limited.
Off course I would see
groups of boys from Saint Thomas (their School) hanging around
the town centre always in groups of five or more, safety in
numbers I guess. They never bothered me and I never bothered
them. We both had our own worlds that we lived in and never the
twain would meet
The difference was simple.
They, the Catholics wore a different uniform to us, brown
trousers, white shirt brown blazer. We wore a dark blue blazer
and black trousers and a stupid blue and white tie. Therefore it
was easy to tell who belonged to which tribe. Even children were
separated by the religious divide. It was a stormy sea that few
were prepared to cross. For when people did cross it nearly
always ended in violence.
Until the day I met Ryan
Patrick O'Neill I had no experience of Catholics. He was to
change that. He was to change everything.