“Ye know son, I remember this place when not a Catholic would have lived near it.”
Jamsie is sitting beside my Grandad on a green park bench in the Frank Pentland Memorial Cricket Ground. I am standing beside them looking towards the two teams, resplendent in white, slowly battling out for a place in the local league.
“I remember Jimmy Watson, Bobby Wilson, Hamilton and Billy Greenaway, Johnnie Greer, Roy Fyvie…. All of them lived with their families over there….” He points towards the row of brown terraced workers houses that sit on top of “the rock” across the main road that runs behind us. The Rock is a ridge of granite that survived the blasting that cut the road from Ballyvalley to Portadown in order to make a coherent link between all of the linen sweat houses along the River Bann.
“Them boys, all of them, went and fought the Germans. All of them went and defended Belgium and France from the Hun. The Greenaway brothers were the only ones to come back. They came back to fight again, to win the six counties from the grip of the republican hordes…”
“Jamsie, would ye ever shut up!” My Granda furrows his brow very slightly, but doesn’t avert his gaze from the Tullyerin eleven’s terrible innings.
I have never watched cricket before, but this is how I imagine cricket is played all over the British Isles. In front of us is the beautifully cropped semi-circular pitch. It is dappled by the slowly swirling shadow of the trees behind us. They stretch right across the tranquil game and their slowly swaying top branches reach the grass on the other side of the small perimeter wire fence. This untended part of the field is rippled with different greens, blues and yellows. It looks almost wild compared to the green baize we are on. The rough terrain rises gently towards the big house at the top of Bleachers Green. From here the Carlton’s look down upon the kingdom they ruled over when they were the lords of the two hundred or so bleachers who worked their now dilapidated mill. The house has two driveways that join the main road on either side of the field. My granda says that the carriages used to go up one side and leave off the party goers every summer Saturday evening, and then drive down the other way at all hours of the night with their masters drunk on the sweat of the poor.
The Tullyerin eleven aren’t doing very well. Jamsie curses and mumbles at every catch of the ball and every over. Everytime he does, my Granda laughs at his taking the loss so personally.
“There’s even fenians in the team now. Frank Pentland would be turning in his grave if he knew that. He was a good Orangeman. Them fenians will always let you down.” Jamsie seems to know he is getting a rise from Granda’. Granda’ doesn’t say anything, but he turns and gives Jamsie a withering look. Jamsie looks back at him, smiles, and when he realises this won’t be reciprocated, he sits back, straightens his already straight cap and gazes towards the cricket.
Granda’ turns to me and stares straight into my eyes. “Son, never listen to gaums like that. None of them organisations ever did anybody I knew any good. They just made their lives harder.”
When he has finished his little speech, he turns towards the cricket match and settles back into his old waistcoated and capped self.
He says without looking at either Jamsie or I, “Looks like the boys have had it again.”
Jamsie pushes back his cap and says, “Aye.”
I sit on the ground cross-legged and look towards the cricketers. The ball smacks the willow bat, bounces into the air and then down into a fielder’s cupped hands.