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 around me.
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 child.
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
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 real world.
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
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 in stone.
“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 afters…
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 floor.
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 is.
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 about it.
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 everyday life
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 tradition.
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 one.
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 secondary school.
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
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 there.
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.
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