About Me

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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chapter 6

Getting a Wee bit Older

By the end of first year at the Tech my friendship ended with Jonathan, nothing really happened, we just grew apart, as boys of that age do so quickly and can’t see beyond their noses. I started hanging out with Gary Rowden and Ronan Connaghan from across the road. Ronan was a year older than me and very tall, he smoked and was very interesting to talk to, I looked up to him more as a brother than just a friend.

Gary and I were maturing a lot faster than Jonathan, we were popular and at the forefront of the small society of St. Catherine’s Vocational School. To use a well worm phrase; we were big fish in a small pool, a very small pool. We were often mean to Jonathan and Desmond and made fun of them in public; it was almost like we had never been friends in the first place. I felt really bad for him, and still do for what we did, but we were growing at different rates. At the time Gary and I had more in common: football, girls and video games and I guess that’s all it took.

Just before the end of May, when school was letting out for the summer, I came home from being outside, mucking about the fields with the lads, to change my shoes when I overheard Mum and Dad talking. They had no idea I was listening, but what I heard completely shocked me. The gist of their conversation was: Mum was going to move out, Jenny and the younger boys would go with her, but Derek and I would stay at the house with Dad. I quietly slipped out the door before they realized I was there. I kept the secret to myself for as long as I could, eventually I had to tell someone. The same day I told Ronan Connaghan, Mum and Dad made the announcement to all of us.

We had no idea why they were splitting up and it was not ‘till years later that the true story ever came out. They said it was only for the summer. That must be the story all parents tell their kids when they’re splitting up. Perhaps it’s because you can comprehend a summer, it’s a tangible word, you know a summer ends and another school year begins, life moves on, but ‘forever’ who can fathom that word? They talked to us about the break-up and made sure we had all our questions answered and understood, they were very civilized about the whole thing, almost too cool, like they had been rehearsing the play for awhile and this was the big show with all lines and actions perfected.

That summer was not the tragic defining time in my life, as it should have been, defining yes, but tragic, far from it. My cousin Paddy moved in with us for the summer and in between doing gardening for Dad and cooking the dinner most nights, I had the best summer ever. Dad was still working a lot and with Mum not at home, we had the place to ourselves. As long as Dad had his dinner on the table when he got home he was happy. Grilled lamb chops, julienne carrots and mashed potatoes. I think I cooked that meal fifty times or more, I wasn’t very creative in the kitchen and I just made what I knew.

Paddy and I used to be best friends when we were younger, but he and Derek were growing their hair long and listening to real heavy metal, so they gravitated together. They wore combats and black t-shirts with bands like Sepulture, Obituary and Morbid Angel on the front and back. All they ever talked about was Death Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, the harder the better. They even had a contest that summer to see who could go the longest without bathing or washing their hair. I don’t know who won, but they both smelled like Killybegs before the competition was over.

The weather was great all summer, not much rain to complain about and when I wasn’t cooking dinner or weeding the garden, Gary and I went out to Fintra beach as often as we could manage. I would bring my Ghetto Blaster, that Dad bought in Derry for my birthday, to the beach and play AC/DC, Def Lepard, Motley Crue and Gun’s and Roses because they were all the tapes I had. Derek laughed at the music I listened to, making fun of me when I played my tapes; they weren’t hard enough for him.

It was this summer I first met Garry Anderson, a fella that was to become my best friend of all time. He and Rowden became known as the two Gary’s, Anderson was known as the Garry with two “Rs” on account of how he spelt his name! Garry Anderson was friends with Ciaran McGuinness, who Rowden also knew and we all slipped easily into a great sphere of friendship.

After a lot of tears from Mum, she moved back in with Dad at the end of the summer, so I guess they didn’t lie when they said it was only for the summer. After they got back together and were behaving like a pair of teenagers in love, they thought it would be a good idea to head off to Spain for two weeks, a bit of business, a bit of pleasure, a sort of honeymoon for their new commitment. Their plan for us was to have Brendan Connaghan, the eldest of the Connaghan boys, keep an eye on us and we were to go into Granny’s if we needed anything. They left us with a freezer full of food and money for whatever else we needed.

Young as we were at the time it started out harmless, but quickly our time alone evolved into one big party. All Derek’s heavy metal friends who were long-haired, older boys started turning up and making themselves at home. Derek had a girlfriend who was eighteen and she stayed most of the time too. I was still seeing Caroline and I tried to get her to come to the house, but she wouldn’t and I only managed to see her out at the beach a few times, but never without her friend Carmel the bloody chaperon.

Derek took both Mum’s car and the quad bike out on the roads late at night and was lucky not to get caught by the Garda. He kept bragging about how he got the car to nearly a hundred down by the Common’s school and another fella tried to do the same in his mum’s car and stuck it in the ditch! We trashed the house and mastered the art of cleaning vomit out of carpet, an essential skill for any teenager to acquire if they are inclined towards parties and underage drinking. I don’t know how the hell we didn’t kill ourselves or each other. I didn’t drink yet and either did Derek, we were only thirteen and fourteen, plenty of time for that later. And I do mean plenty of time.

Luckily, when Mum and Dad arrived home we only amassed a small amount of trouble for ourselves. They were too much in love again to really care about what happened, we could have burned down the house, sold the family business to the knackers and turned the garden shed into a whore-house and they would hardly even have noticed!

When I began Second Year in the Tech, things were different. I was going out with the girl many considered the finest in the year. Older students respected me on account they’d spent most of the summer drunk at our house. I was kicked out of the “C” class, the smart class, because Gary Rowden and I had too much of a good time in First Year and it was figured best to separate us. He ended up in “2B” and I ended up in “2A.” This was the class everyone in “C” considered the moronic dumping ground of the school. I had swapped the company of socially retarded nerds like Paul O’Riordian, Marcia Gallagher and the Murphy Twins, who didn’t look alike at all, for the anal-triumphs of Daragh McMennigham and Barry O’Hara with a collective IQ of 25 and all the other dregs of the socially advanced and academically challenged class of “2A.” But worst of all I wasn’t in class with Caroline anymore and not long into the new school year we split up, broke my little heart in two, my first taste of the bitter side of young love.

My one saving grace was that Garry Anderson was in 2A, at least I had someone to sit beside and talk to. Strange thing though, Garry was also in my PE class, Woodwork, Metalwork and Mechanical Drawing Classes and somehow we went an entire year without noticing each other. I like to say I didn’t notice him because I was a punk ass, pompous shit, that thought the sun shown out of his own ass in First Year, and Garry was living under the radar at St. Catherine’s. But I’m sure he has his version, where is he is the hero making-out with the Parkinson Twins and Helen Gallagher!

Anyway, I couldn’t understand why Garry was in this class, he was too smart for these folks. Many of the students in this class were just as smart as the “C” students, yet they were treated as delinquents, because they didn’t have anywhere else to put them. It was an unfair system and I wasn’t about to get stuck in it. I was mortified that I had been moved out of the “C” class, so I went to talk to the principle of the school Master Ward, or Big Joe as we all called him. He told me that if I was making good grades by Christmas and behaved myself he would reconsider my placement. Jesus, if that didn’t inspire me to work my ass off. For the first time since I left the safe haven of the Common’s school I was getting As and Bs again. I kept quiet in class, let the other clowns take center stage, of which there were many and had a taste of what it’s like to be a nerd.

Despite being placed in the retarded class, I was having a great beginning to my year at school. I’d grown quite a bit over the summer and had done a lot of weight training with Derek. I was able to lift my own weight, that was Derek’s bench mark for how strong you were. I was always a fast runner, but now I was fast and strong and my football skills were getting better all the time. Now when I played football in PE the ball went in the back of the net easily and this pissed-off a lot of people since they use to be better than me. When I was in first year I didn’t really do PE class very often, because my back was hurting me as I grew, a mild case of spin bifida; large jar of sympathy please. I had an extra vertebrae and the specialist I went to see told me not to play contact sports, so mostly I just sat up on the balcony doing homework while the other students ran around the place having a good time. After that summer I felt much better and was eager to play as many sports as I could and Master Campbell had me try out for the U-14s school football team.

My friend Decal Cunnigham was quickly becoming one of the best goal-keepers in the county and had a spot on the South Donegal Team. Everyone agreed he was better than Shay Given, of the North Donegal Team and if Declan had kept up the soccer he could be in the Premier League today like Shay and play for the Irish team and make millions, but anyway, that’s someone else’s story.

I was the sweeper, the last line of defense, before Declan, thought of myself as a young Paul McGrath, though a lot whiter and with an Irish accent not an English one, but other than that pretty much the same. We had a great year on the team and I even got a man-of-the-match. It was great to get out of class early to go play the matches, other students looked at you like you were special and you could easily spot the jealous faces, they’d jeer at you and make fun, but inside they wanted to be on the team and wanted to be special too.

Our school didn’t really have a home pitch, just a small wet field along the side of Church Road, so for our home games we had only two choices. The first one, the least preferable, was Dunkineely the arsehole of a small town where Dad’s factory was located. It looked like a full size soccer field version of what we already had at the back of the school. There must have been a full ten-foot elevation difference from one goal to the next and unless Ireland was experiencing a drought, which never happened, the pitch was a venerable mud bath. The alternative was Emerald Park out the back of Granny’s house. It belonged to St. Catherine’s football team, no connection to our school of the same name. (A long, long, long time ago some Spanish sailors had a thing for St. Catherine of Egypt and after nearly dying at sea they prayed to her and she kept them safe and when they came safely ashore in Killybegs they went about making sure she knew they were thankful and ever since people have been coming to Killybegs on pilgrimage to pay their respects to her. There is a well named after her, a road, a housing estate, the school, the football team Jesus nearly everything in Killybegs gets named St. Catherine’s, everything that is except the chapel, which is St. Mary’s!). Well, back to the football field, it was about the only piece of flat land in the whole town and they were very protective about it. They didn’t like schoolboys using it for trivial U-14 games, but whatever the school worked out with the town, somebody must have bent over for someone, they allowed us to play a few games on it.

The best craic were the away games. The school didn’t have its own bus, so we all bundled onto a private bus that belonged to either McBrearty’s, Erskin’s or Keeny’s, the transport cartels of the early 90s in Killybegs. We all acted like complete edgets on the bus, singing songs, telling jokes and taking the piss out of each other. The best game I can remember was down in Falcaragh, in the northwest of Donegal. We were warned that this would be one of our toughest games of the season and we went into the game with a very strong mental attitude.

From the first whistle we dominated the game. I made a few great clearances and Declan made some great saves. We shouted and held the team together from the back. The lads up front slipped in four goals and we went home victors. You could tell Nigel Ferry, our coach/metalwork teacher was happy. He grew up in this wilder part of Donegal and it was good to leave the place with a smile.

In south Donegal we refereed to lads from this area as Rosses men. Known to be tough, big, ignorant men, they were spoken off in whispered tones like Finn McCool and other great Irish heroes. If you had a story in which you fought and beat a Rosses man, then you were a legend in your own time. Well, we hadn’t fought them hand to hand, but we had out played them on the field and that was just as good.

Football has always been my favorite game to play, hated to watch it, but I love to run around a field with a ball, such a simple, beautiful game. Even now when it’s been ages since I’ve played, I’m writing this while wearing a pair of soccer shorts that I’ve had for years; remember the glory, oh yes, remember the glory!

Second Year in the Tech also saw the advent of Glenties, a town about twenty miles north of Killybegs with a ridiculously large nightclub in it called “The Limelight.” It was a relic of the 80s and had been revamped for the 90s. On Friday night they had an under 18s disco, which really meant it was an under 16s disco, ‘cause anyone sixteen and over was already getting into the adult places due to the lack of enforcement of any kind of drinking law. That was and still is one of the greatest things about rural Ireland; if you look able to hold a pint, then you’re welcome to it. Our little world swelled when Glenties entered it, the number of people we could now love or hate, fight or befriend grew ten fold. Teenagers from all over Donegal and even across the border in Northern Ireland came to Glenties.

Even though the nightclub was called the Limelight, we always refereed to it as simply Glenties. For example “Dad, could I have twenty pounds to go to Glenties?” I wouldn’t want to go to Glenties for any other reason than the disco, so everyone knew when you said you wanted to go to Glenties that meant you wanted to go to the Limelight, stay out until four in the morning and hopefully find a nice girl to spend a few hours with, whether you got her name or not. My brother Derek called this the three Fs: Find ‘em, Fuck ‘em, Forget about ‘em. I wasn’t quite on his level and certainly wasn’t doing much fucking, I was just happy with the first F.

Glenties was the location of my first real fight. I’d had a few tiffs here and there in national school; with Derek, my cousin Paddy and one time I shoved Brian O’Rourke up against the prefab wall when I was only in fourth class at the Commons and he was in fifth Not very exciting really..

At the time my friends and I were still into heavy metal and hard rock and starting to get into grunge. Nirvana was a favorite, their songs and guitar rifts were filled with an energy that was present in our lives and when we heard this emotion put into music, it drew us to it and we fed of its energy as much as it fed of ours. In the middle of a “Teen Spirit” fueled mosh in Glenties I saw some fella bang into Garry in a not too gentlemanly way and I took it upon myself to walk over to him and with a neat little push and slam to the floor trick I’d learned in the Foresters Hall, I sent the other lad to the ground at about ninety miles an hour. He got up with a very bewildered face, as if to say “what the fuck just happened?” He came on for more and I did it again. This pissed him and his friends off a lot, but before it could go any further a bouncer came between us and broke it up.

I soon forgot about the skirmish and proceeded to dance with a half-decent looking girl, with beautiful long black hair, who had caught my eye earlier in the night. I asked her if she wanted to go outside and we went for a little walk. While up at the school, the designated spot for “shifting,” it turned out that she was a frigid cow. It was like kissing a wet paper bag that wouldn’t let you touch the goods inside. So, feigning sickness I left her standing and found my cousin Paddy with his bird and told him:

“Can you go back there and tell that doll I’m sick and have gone back down to the disco.”

“Why, what’s wrong with her?”

“She’s fucking terrible, whipping her tongue about the place and won’t let me near her tits.”

“Fucking prick tease. Alright I’ll send Rosie up to her. You’re a tight bastard Vial.”

“Just give me a minute to get the hell out of here.”

As I walked back to the Limelight I found the doors locked. I knocked a few times, little use really considering the noise inside. No chance of getting in, I decided to go across the road and get a burger and chips to pass the time. As I turned around I found myself facing four Glenties lads, one was the lad I’d had the run-in with earlier.

A few words were exchanged and then it was on: a real honest to god street fight. His friends gathered round and urged him on. He came at me and I snapped, my adrenaline started to rush and gush through my veins. I punched him, head butted him, kicked him, I was giving the lad a right beating in front of his friends in his own town, not a very smart thing to do. As the crowd got bigger I stopped for a second to look around and the little fucker caught me with a sucker punch right above my left eye, this was the only blow he had landed and drew from me another series of punches, kicks to the gut and head butts.

People were streaming out of the Limelight and the fight was broken up, his gang pulled him away ‘cause they could see the beating he was getting. A bunch of his friends made a move for me but some of the Killybegs people got me on a bus quickly, as the Glenties crowd were very pissed about the shit kicking I’d just given to one of their own. I was still feeling a rush from the fight and people were shouting “get him off the bus.” If it had been just to fight the lad again that would have been fine but every teenager in Glenties was out for my head. They started shaking and rocking the bus. The bus driver was getting somewhat worried and as soon as he could he got the hell out of Glenties.

My hand hurt the next day and I had to get it looked at, turned out I’d pulled a tendon in my thumb hitting the young man. There was a girl from Glenties at our school and when she saw me in the hallway a few days later she let me have it.

“What the hell did ya think ya were doing? Poor James he’s black and blue from the fight. You better not show your face in Glenties again bla, bla, bla…” What did she expect me to do, stand there and get a beating so poor James would be all right? I don’t think so. Bastard thing was, I was trying to hook up with a friend of hers, Paula; Caroline and I were on a break again, and now my chances were shot. Damn.

That fight gave me a bit of a reputation and many times over the years some cunt has tried to fight with me and I’ve never backed down yet, well now that I’m old and fat I might, but not back then. Fighting is something most civilized people frown upon, but when you live in a wild place like Donegal it is part and parcel of life, a kind of right of passage. If you can’t fight, you get your ass kicked.

My break up with Caroline came about after about a hundred stupid, childish fights we just couldn’t get along and her friend Carmel was doing her utmost to see that we split apart and in the end she had her wish. It was a tough break-up for a thirteen-year-old and for a few weeks I thought it was the end of the world, but then I got over it; the elasticity of the teenage heart is amazing. I messed around with two girls on and off, nothing serious. One was older and the other was the same age as me and the first breast I ever kissed as a teenager belonged to one of them. I’ll never forget that. I’ve a soft spot in my heart always there for her and a few years ago when I saw her as a grown woman I was very happy to have once lain in a grassy field with her. But in my mind none of them ever came close to Caroline, she was my first and I had to put that special bit of love away, deep, deep inside me.

It was a welcome break when Mum and Dad told me that they were going to take Derek and me on holidays to Tenerife with them just after Christmas and we’d be there to ring in New Year’s Eve 1992.

I was still brooding a little over my breakup with Caroline, trying desperately not to think about who she was going out with now, and just lay around the swimming pool looking at topless women. The old German ladies with tits down to their knees were enough to make you gay, but thankfully there were enough beautiful young women lying there to redeem your manhood. Then just when I though I had Caroline out of my head, I was in a bar with Mum and Dad with some people they had met and the song “Sweet Caroline” started playing from the band and put a big damper on my mood. I didn’t feel like going out with Derek for the rest of the night and just went home with the old pair. I think Dad called me a “mopey bastard” and I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t tougher.

However, the next day was much better and we went for a drive up the main mountain in the center of the island, an extinct volcano, so we hoped. Our map informed us that it was something like the second highest peak in Western Europe. Now I wasn’t an expert on Geography but wouldn’t the fact that the island of Tenerife sits off the coast of Africa not exclude it from that statement? Guess it’s like living in the North West of Ireland and calling yourself Southern Irish. Imperialism knows no boundaries.

We rented a convertible Suzuki jeep and drove on down the four lane highway (Amazing what some EU money can do) to explore the island. When we left Playa de la Americas it was very hot and I only had on shorts and a T-shirt. By the time we were at the top of the mountain, admiring the location where they shot Planet of the Apes and many Western movies, there was frost on the ground. My God, did I ever freeze my ass off, I was so cold and couldn’t wait to get back to the lowlands where it was about ninety degrees and put a jumper on! Not exactly my idea of a Tropical holiday.

After coming back from the pool one afternoon Mum was waving around a flyer about time shares. She’s been talking to someone down at the pool about it and they thought it was the best idea ever. Thanks to Granny Sharkey Derek and I were avid fans of the TV show Watchdog and we knew only too well that time shares were bullshit. Dad knew it too and Mum was pretty persuasive that we could at least just go and take a look, we didn’t have to commit to anything, just a quick look.

They had a real flashy apartment building set up for the display model and dazed tourist were wandering around with their tongues hanging out following the time share reps in their blue blazers like hungry dogs. Most of them had never imagined this kind of luxury or wealth and to be able to share in just a fraction of it was more of a temptation than most people could handle.

After out walk around even Derek and I were sold, everything we heard and seen on TV was just propaganda and maybe this operation was legitimate and we were eager to have out little slice, Mum was in the whole nine yards too.

Our man in the blue blazer sat us down to talk about “numbers” and that was when Dad started poking holes in the man’s scam. They were using the logo of a very well known English insurance and investment company and making it seem that they were connected. But when Dad asked if they were the man fumbled and tried to tell a big story about their similarities. Dad just wanted a simple yes or no. Then he took off on another tangent that was playing to the sympathies of us, the other three, wishing that Dad would stop harassing the guy about his company. Their magic had worked on us, but Dad was invulnerable to it, like kryptonite to superman, Dad was breaking them down question by question. To the point where they wanted us to get out and leave as soon as possible, fearing any of the other entranced tourists might hear Dad. When we finally left the building and were back in the car and their spell was wearing off on us, I could appreciate how brilliant Dad had been. If it had been up to us we would now have been neck deep in time share excrement!

By the end of the week I was back in nice, wet, predictable Ireland with no volcanoes, topless sunbathers or time share scamers. That was my first time ever coming back to Ireland from the air and as the plane prepared to land in Dublin it swung out over the city and Dublin bay, I could see that Ireland was a really small place. A wee island with her own wee problems, and my problems were even wee’er than that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Life Moves On

My years at the Common’s school went very rapidly, it felt like I was growing up too fast. A boy called Michael Cannon that lived a few doors down from us on St. Cummin’s Hill, but he had always gone to the Common’s school, use to play Transformers and He-Man with me and John-Martin and Ciaran, but at the Common’s he was made fun of for playing with those toys. So even though he was older than I was, I had to stop playing with all the toys that I loved and pretend that I didn’t like them anymore. Michael Cannon joked with me that he would tell people but he never did, I would have died from embarrassment. He-Man was out and girls were in and you couldn’t get them from Matel!

When I was still in fifth class, around age eleven, Lillian the headmistress took a few months off for maternity leave and we had a replacement teacher called Ms. Burke come to us. She was a fierce looking woman, with short cropped hair, terrible dress sense and must have been no more than twenty-five at the time. She was a nasty piece of work and treated us like stupid children. After being respected as an equal by Lillian her treatment of us didn’t go down so well with everybody in the combined room of fifth and sixth class. My brother Derek was in the room and was always giving Ms. Burke a hard time, so in response to that she gave me an even harder time because I was his brother. Guilt through association, fuck.

One morning, she was picking on one of the sixth class boys, Brian “Gizzy” Gillespie and he said to her “Why are you always picking on me?” She was stuck for an answer so Derek shouted out “Because she fancies ya!” In response she just screamed “Derek Vial.” Then burst into tears and ran out of the room and refused to teach for the rest of the day. We were all very happy when she left for good and relieved when Lillian came back, though she did give us a lecture about being mean to Ms. Burke, but she was mean to us first and Lillian understood that.

The big excitement at the Common’s School every year was whether we would go on a school tour or put on a play. Last year when I was in fourth class we put on a play and Lillian wrote a script that managed to include the entire school, all 128 students, in the cast. She combined Little Red Ridding Hood, The Wizard of Oz, Jungle Book, The Three Little Pigs, The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine and Grandma We Love You all into one intertwined story. I was a hunter in the Jungle Book scene and had only two lines “You’re not the only one” and “Beats me.” I should have won an Oscar, but I was robbed by the Academy, the bastards. The play was a huge success and we put on three or four show at the Forrester’s Hall and all the other schools came to see us and we did a friends and family show. My costume was little more than a grass skirt and paint on my chubby little belly and I was very conscious of how I looked. Especially when Sinead O’Neill was around, she was a Munchin in the Wizard of Oz section, in which my brother Derek was the Scarecrow, and she looked so cute in her costume, but there I was with my big eleven year olds’ puppy-fat belly for all the world to see. I would have killed for a t-shirt.

Then in an unexpected turn of events it was decided we could also take a school tour that same year to Dublin. An orange juice company was offering a promotion with McDonalds and everybody in the school collected tokens so we could get a two-for-one lunch deal of a Big Mac, Fries and a Coke. Sixty of us bundled onto McBrearty’s bus at six in the morning outside the school and drove to Sligo, where we got the train to Dublin. Hardly any of us were awake; sixty zombies under thirteen years of age and half of us had never been to the capital before or set foot on a train.

My cousin Kenneth had left the town school at the start of the year and had come to the Common’s because he was being bullied, but one of the bullies transferred to the Commons too, (tough life!). At McDonald’s Kenneth ate six Big Macs and everybody was impressed, he was a hit with the girls at the Common’s and left the bullies behind. We went to Madam Tousards Wax Works Museum and Derek had an asthma attack in the tunnels. Then it was to the botanical gardens, which totally blew, the old flora wasn’t too exciting to a bunch of pre-adolescents. We would have rather pulled all the flowers up and thrown them at each other. Next stop was the Viking Exhibition and it was fucking amazing, Dublin was celebrating its Millennium that year (888 AD to 1988 AD) and all the rage was looking for Millennium 50p coins, people were saying they were worth ten pounds each, so we horded them like Viking treasure. They had a Long Ship they pulled out of Quay Street when they were building the new financial center and it was pretty cool. From our history classes we thought of the Vikings as the enemy, because they were always invading monasteries and chasing the monks up into the round towers, so all this celebrating of Viking culture was unusual. It was the first time I made the connection that the Vikings that stayed became Irish and that meant the Irish people were part Viking too.

. We finished the day at the Zoo and I don’t know if the animals were more amazed at all the country kids staring through the glass with snot hanging off the end of their noses or if we were more amazed at them licking their arses. We had a double-decker bus take us all over the city and to any on-looker we must have looked like the biggest pack of culchies ever. Mouths wide open pointing and staring at everything Dubliners just took for granted, like the O’Connell Bridge, The Ha’penny Bridge, Grafton Street and Trinity College. I’m just glad none of us were wearing wellies and chewing on a rush!

We took the train home to Sligo that night from Dublin and the fifth and sixth class boys and girls played dares in their carriage, while the teachers turned a blind eye. It was one of the greatest days in my life at that age and it was amazing that only four teachers were able to look after all sixty of us and not loose any of us.

Anyway, it felt like no time had passed before I too was in sixth class and getting ready for my Confirmation and that meant leaving the security of national school and going to the Tech in Killybegs.

At the Common’s School I was best-friends with Jonathan Gallagher, who was suppose to be with Tricia Whincup on the School tour to Dublin, but I liked her too and it ended up being awkward. He used to live around the Circle, behind St. Cummin’s Hill when we lived up there, but moved out a few years before us. His Dad owned one of the big boats in town and they were very rich. As big as our new house was, theirs was even bigger and it was nice inside too. We still had a lot of work to do on ours. We got into a routine of sleeping over at his house every Saturday night, and the odd time at ours, but he was the oldest in his house and we didn’t have anyone to annoy us at his place, unlike Derek at home.

We were always watching some show on TV like McGyver or Quantum Leap. His parents watched Dallas and The Late, Late Show with Gay Byrne, but I didn’t care much for those. The one that really stands out in my memory is V. The TV show about the aliens who came to Earth to be our friends and it turned out we were their friends the same way cows are our friends.

I watched my first porn video at Jonathan’s house. It was called Naked Came the Stranger and was one of those really bad early 80s pornos with all the big pubic hair and story-lines, like it was suppose to be a real movie, except the main characters took time out to eat pussy, eat cock and fuck! We found it behind his parents VCR and when they were not about we would slip it in the player and sit amazed and disgusted at the same time. Somehow my mother found out, must have overheard us talking about it, and totally flipped. She sat me down and let me know how wrong it was and that love and relationships were not like what we had watched on the video. I promised not to watch it ever again. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

A few years later my little brother Alan called his little brother a Bi-Afran ‘cause he was so skinny and his mother phoned my mother to give-out to her for letting her child use such profanity. Mum said “That Bitch, I really wanted to tell her about the Porno!” but she refrained and let another good Catholic live the lie that was their life.

After watching V and all the other shows we would try to go to sleep, but it never came fast. We would put on the radio and play an Elvis tape Jonathan found on his father’s boat and talk to each other about the girls we liked and whether we wanted a Ferrari F40 or a Porsche 911 or 959 when we got rich. I told Jonathan that I’d get him a car phone for his Porsche when we were older. I lay on the hard floor beside his bed, but it was comfortable and those were the best of times and I fell asleep dreaming about a silver Porsche with a car phone.

Just before Confirmation we were taken into the Tech for informal examinations. Lillian had prepared us well and we were all fairly confident of ourselves, she reminded us to turn over the page to check for more questions. However, we were more interested in seeing who the other students were. I saw Declan Cunnigham, who lived in 62 Conlin Road and was one of my best friends since I was just a baby. I also saw my former associates from the Hill. They pretended not to notice me, so I pretended not to notice them, but something I did notice: they still looked like children! It was as if they had never grown up (not that I was that old, come on I was 12), I didn’t pity them one bit I bet they were still playing with their Transfomers and He-Man toys.

Confirmation itself was no big deal until the moment I was kneeling before the Bishop with my Uncle Aidan behind me as my sponsor. I nearly shit my pants and even have the photo to prove it. The bishop put his hands on me and rolled his Rs as he said my confirmation name “St. Brendan the Voyager.” And then it was all over and I was walking back to my seat in a pew with all my friends.

The build up to the event was a long drawn out one and Father Sharkey must have worn a new road out to our school from the town in his Renault 19. He quizzed us a lot and told us how we should stand in the chapel, not slouch like some sixty year old, and how we should answer the bishop and behave. It was like one of the plays Lillian use to put on, so we went along with the script and everything went well.

One of the most exciting parts about confirmation, alongside all the money you get and the dinner out to some nice place like Castle Murry, was getting your outfit. I guess it was to mark the progression from childhood to adulthood. This Christian ritual is perhaps an adaptation of the ancient tribal ritual Celtic adolescents use to go through when they were introduced to the hunt and made men. But in the modern day and age of the Celtic Island with the giant stag gone and a ban on most al weapons, it’s now a matter of going to a place like Classic Casuals in Donegal Town and getting new clothes; no wild boar were killed in the making of this young man. The main aim, besides leaving your childhood behind, was selecting an outfit that might get you noticed by the girls from the other schools and if they did that was half the battle over even before first day at the Tech started.

When Derek made his confirmation brown leather jackets were all the rage. It had to be the soft velvety kind, not the stiff plastic. However, under pressure and some seriously bad fashion advice Derek went for a leisure suit that would have looked just right on Don Johnson in an episode of Miami Vice! Every time I see a photo of the suit I smile and think to myself “What the hell were they thinking?” Armed with the knowledge of Derek’s big mistake, I decided to play it safe and went very conservative when it came time to choose my clothes, but it sure did get him noticed.

Brown leather jackets were out that year and if your folks were too ignorant to your pleas and went ahead and got you one, sorry but you missed last year’s fashion train. This year it was cardigans, light dressy jackets and chinos. While I was in Classic Casuals getting my cardigan, Declan Cunnigham was in there too and we ended up with near enough the same outfit; that’s how cool we both were, 12 year old culchie trend setters.

Declan and I had always been friends because he lived two doors down from Granny Sharkey’s. We played together as babies and ever since I can remember we have been in touch with each other. On my first day of school in the Niall Mhor, when I was four and a half, I sat beside Declan and the teacher moved us apart right away because we looked too happy or whatever reason the old cow Ms. McGinley decided. Most likely it was because she didn’t have a life and to see two four-year-olds happy in her class was just too damn much.

With Confirmation over and our summer holidays about to start, things were changing again and it was a good change. Jonathan and I got to hang out all summer together and spent most of the time at his house watching Ireland in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Packie Bonner, the Irish goalkeeper, was from Donegal and that made it all the more special for all of us up in Ireland’s most northern county. We drew with England, then with Egypt, who we should have totally beaten and then drew with the Netherlands. We got out of our group by the skin of our teeth. In the next round we were up against Romania and that game was a nil-nil draw that saw us go through on penalties. The whole country let out a sigh and a cry when Cascarino put us through after the great Packie Bonner save. The Quarter finals saw us against the home team: Italy the bastards. We should have won but Tito Salvatore Schillachi put the ball in the net after a Dodadoni rebound from Bonner. But the best part of the game was off camera when big Mick McCarthy got in a fight with Schillachi and when the camera came back on he had a bit fucking bruise on his face. We’ll be taking the pope home soon! It was sad to see Ireland loose, but we’d never even been to the world cup before and it was our proudest moment. Thanks big Jack.

Gary Rowden and Desmond McGettigan, the veg man’s son, were in our little gang of close friends too. We were the boys from the Common’s School and football was our common bond. Gary was the best player of us all and was the biggest Manchester United fan ever and really wanted to play for them more than anything else in the world. Every year in the parish league people talked about him for days after; natural skill, great goal scorer. Funny thing is, if he had kept on the right path and not strayed he just might have done something with football, but he didn’t. He got older, lost his dream, hung out with the wrong crowd and pissed it all away.

At the beginning of the summer we had the Parish League. It was open to all teams in the Parish of Killybegs and they invited schools from neighboring parishes too. Some schools were either in a parish that was too small to have a football league or they were Protestant areas like Dunkineely and without a catholic church there was no Parish league and that meant no fun! The boys from Dunkineely were a funny breed, very rough around the edges but great football players. That last year in the Common’s saw some of the best Parish league football ever.

For years a kid called Alan Hamilton, a.k.a. Hammy, was the star of every eleven o’clock and lunch break football game at the Common’s National School. He was a few years older than the rest of us, but it wasn’t just that advantage, he could make the ball stick to his feet and literally walk the ball from one end of the field to the other. He was greedy as hell, but when he was making seven or eight goals a game we didn’t really care. Our team breezed through the Parish League and only in the final did we feel any way threatened! It was unbelievable; Dunkineely couldn’t even give us a decent game. Gary was the captain and when we won the trophy he held it up and kissed it like we’d just won the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

I don’t know what happened with my soccer skills during that summer, but they improved a hundred fold, it must have been all the practice in Connaghan’s garden and with Jonathan pretending we were members of the Irish team or Man United, he was Mark Huges and I had the big Mick McCarthy Throw. I started first year in the Tech as a mighty player and which was a good thing ‘cause I hadn’t shone very brightly on the field before. I remember one time were at Gaelic football practice with Pat Connaghan out at Fintra and I got the ball and made a great break with the ball and blasted it towards the net, only to put my head up and see that I was running towards the wrong goal! We had set up another set in front of the regular goal and all I heard from some smart arse was “Where ya born in a fucking field?”

I just kept getting better and better. My soccer ability bolstered my self-confidence. Up until then I was a bit of a shy lad, I was grand around the Common’s kids, but my St. Cummin’s Hill origins kept me back when ever I was around the other kids from the town. It made me feel like I was that small runt again, playing in the muck with He-Man figures and living in a council house.

It was in my first year at the Tech that I fell in love and her name was Caroline Gallagher. She was from Bruckless, just out the road from the Five Points where I lived. I’d never seen a beauty like her. Oh, I’d got to know a few girls here and there over the past few years, most of them a year or two older than I was and most surely they had dated my brother Derek before me. I’d been in the Scouts with Johnny and it was there that I had my first French kiss from a girl called Louis Mulroy down the back of the bus on the way to Ardara for a big Scout meeting. She frightened the shit out of me when she tried to stick her tongue all the way down my throat. I didn’t know what was happening and after five seconds I pulled myself away from her in disgust. My next experience was with Terraceta Mullin when the Scouts went to Loch Dan in Co. Wicklow for a week, but none of these girls even compared to Caroline. I found it impossible to tell her how I felt and every time I was around her I got tongue tied and said something stupid. I would stare at her in class, especially my English class with “Gay” Ray Murphy. I had the perfect angle for looking at her without the teacher catching me. More than once I caught her staring at me, but neither of us had the nerve to do anything about it. And sure enough a girl as good looking as that couldn’t stay single for too long.

She started to go out with a fella called Dara McMennigham. He was about as smart as lump of dirt and had the nick name Gonzo due to his looks. He was loud and liked to make fun of himself in school, so that made him cool enough for her to go out with. I was so jealous the whole time they dated. I heard her talking to one of her friends about him and how stupid he was and how he had spelt her name wrong on her Valentine’s Day card. I was also crap at spelling, but I learned to spell her name just incase I ever had to send her a card or a note and I wasn’t about to make that mistake!

When they broke up I made the decision that I would gather all the courage I had and ask her out. Sadly, I was too slow and she had said yes to Declan while I deliberated. I was completely distraught. Declan when he found out I liked her so much, being the perfect gentleman, apologized and broke up with her. Now the cat was out of the bag, she knew I liked her and in the middle of French class I managed to get the words out, with the help of Gary Rowden, and before I knew it I was going out with Caroline Gallagher.

I was so nervous and I couldn’t talk to her at all for the rest of the day. I didn’t know how to behave around her and when school was out for the day, I hung around with her until her bus arrived. All the Bruckless gang was shouting over at us, slagging her about who the boyfriend was this week. I just kept looking at her and all I could focus on was a little piece of green snot hanging from her nose. I kept looking at it, as beautiful as she was; it was all I could see. I went home happy from school that day, very happy. It was April 1991 and I was on top of the world.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Granny and Granda Sharkey

Granny Sharkey was one of the best people in the whole world, everybody loved her. She was always meeting some stranger, taking them home and making them one of the family. She had a guest book where people would sign their name and write some information about themselves and where they came from. There were names from Germany, America, Australia, France, Russia, England, from all over Ireland and tons of places I can’t even remember.

Granny wasn’t originally from Co. Donegal, but from Co. Cavan, one of the other southern counties in Ulster, where they have pigs. She met Granda in Drogheda, Co. Louth, where he was from, I don’t know if they have pigs there, they were married fairly young and when she passed away a few years ago from cancer, there was a very romantic story told about them and here’s my ragged recollection of the story.

They had been seeing each other, going to the pictures and things like that and Granny, Margaret, was hoping, Granda, Paddy was going to ask her to marry him. But her folks had a fella picked out back in Cavan for her and when it looked like Paddy was not going to make a move she made her way back home. When Paddy heard this he found his courage and got the bus to Ballyjamesduff and when he got to the town there was a fair and he had to search for her and when he finally found her he asked her then and there to marry him. The song “She Moves Through the Fair” was sung in their memory at her funeral. Jesus, that’s romantic, I hope I can tell my grandchildren a story half as fantastic as that.

Shad the best looking garden, front and back, in Conlin road and won loads of prizes for it. There was a pear tree out the back and a huge sycamore, gooseberry bushes, copper beaches and a green house too. We use to climb the big trees when we were kids and ate the pears long before they were ripe. Stomachaches and the shits were a great part of my childhood.

She was a great woman for bingo. Every Friday night she would get on the bingo bus outside their house, 64 Conlin Road, and from what I hear she was a great character. She would shed all her womanly-housewife tendencies and become her own person full of obscene jokes and gossip. She won the odd time at bingo, but she didn’t care about the winning, it was all about the society. I went once or twice with her, but didn’t like it too much, Derek on the other hand loved it and won the Snowball once and got ₤400. He used the money to buy himself and me racer bikes and never let me forget it! Anytime we had a fight he’d cut in “but I bought you a bike” and that would end the argument. What could I say to that?

She was the family conscience and every Sunday morning at the eleven-thirty mass you’d find her in the second row from the front, on the left-hand side. We use to go with her when we lived in town and she was so proud when I became an alter boy. That was when I was going through the phase when I thought I wanted to be a priest and never get married. However, I had an ulterior motive for becoming an alter boy and that was to get out of class for an hour with Declan and the boys, but in her eyes I was a great wee fella. I remember thinking it would be great to be a priest: free house, free car, clothes and all that. But when I found out the rest of the job: visiting the sick, going to funerals, no kissing girls, I gave up the idea. After we started living out the Five Points we didn’t go to Mass with her anymore and the other relations sat a little further back in the rows. Until eventually she was the only one in the row and I think that must have hurt her feelings.

My best memory is of her standing in front of the fireplace at her house, fag in mouth, brushing her long dark hair, talking to Derek and myself, telling us some tall tale about when she was a young girl back in Cavan. A portrait of Granda hung behind her, ashes spilled from the fire and onto the teapot that was always stewing there. Everyone said she didn’t get a gray hair till she was at lest sixty-five and she’d been one of the most beautiful women around when she was younger.

When Derek and I started going to the Tech in Killybegs, she made us lunch everyday. Her cheese toasties were great but her stew, Sharkey Special as she called it, was the best. I got the recipe for it once, but I couldn’t get it to taste as good as hers. And it was best of all when she mashed all the potatoes up in a bowl and then mashed the stew into it, oh I can nearly taste it now.

Derek was always her favorite, I didn’t mind ‘cause it was him that spent the most time with her, although she liked me more as a teenager than Derek as he was starting to get into a lot of trouble at school.. However, it is the foundational years that count when talking about the share of one’s love. Granny was mad about antiques and old artifacts and she and Derek were always watching the Antiques Road Show on the BBC together. One year Granny was given a metal-detector for Christmas and after that she and Derek were always out in the fields at the back of the football field or at Fintra beach looking for lost Celtic treasure. Although, all they ever found was some lost change and buried tin cans, but one time a lady lost her diamond ring at the beach and it was Granny and Derek to the rescue and after two days of endless searching they came up with it!

Granny was full of stories about ghosts and UFO’s, she would have made a great writer for the National Inquirer: Headless Ghost Gives Birth to Alien Baby! However, it was Granda who was the real man for stories; he could tell you something that would stay with you forever. He was the Donegal Poet of the year and won an Allingham Poetry award: when he spoke, people listened.

When he wasn’t in his armchair with a cup of tea or eating his dinner, Granda was in his work shop every waking-minute of his life. Though he had the heart of a poet and philosopher, he had the hands of an engineer. He was an innovator in the marine electronics field and it most likely it was his creative edge, rather than his knowledge of mathematical formulas and electronic circuitry, that lead him to his greatest inventions. He served in the RAF during WWII and he put to good use the expertise he learned from working on radar. He often mentioned that he never flew bombing missions, just reconnaissance and the technical side.

The Electric Fisher was his greatest invention that I can remember. It was a tool used to capture fish alive for research without harming them. It worked on a fairly simple process. You put a metal plate in a river pool, the plate was connected to a net you held in your hands, then standing down stream you zapped the fish with small electric currents and they floated down stream to you and hey-presto you had a fish in the net! Universities around the country and the world took an interest in his inventions, but he didn’t patent them and didn’t make much money from his hard labor. He could have been a millionaire ten times over, but he didn’t care about money, he was happier to have the work done and then relax with a pint and a short of whiskey in a pub someplace, telling a story about Sheamy the Leprechaun. A lot of people saw this as a failing in him, but to me it shows greatness of character; man might make the money, but money never makes the man.

People have told me over the years that he was the smartest person they ever met. My respect for him is immeasurable. He was a Renaissance man if ever there was.

Granda was a dog lover and when Granny was out with her metal detector at the beach he was out there with the dogs, throwing a stick into the water for Bruce, Sam, Wilma, Gemma or Marla, to help them get rid of the ticks and fleas as he said. He loved to wear his green body warmer and always looked like he was either going to or coming from a hunt.

Christ, they were both missed when they died. 64 Conlin Road was more than a house it was the entire center of our family’s universe. One day a year, on Christmas Eve, we all gathered to open presents with them and drink tea and eat toast and pate. Apart from a funeral or a wedding, it was the only time when the whole family actually got together. We made a small army with all the aunts and uncles and twenty-six grandchildren. No wonder there was so much for people to talk about. Those were magic days I’ll never forget.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

A New Beginning

In 1987 Dad moved to his own factory in Dunkineely, a small town a few miles east along the coast from Killybegs, and it was a real factory with a canteen for tea breaks. He had been sharing a shed in Ben-Roe with McGettigan, the Vegetable man. This was Dad’s first real factory and even though he never said so, I could tell he was very proud of himself. The new factory had a blast freezer and made C-Fish a competitive business among the other emerging white fish factories. Dad still had his Lit-Ace van, but he also had a lorry and Jimmy. Jimmy was Dad’s right-hand-man and grew with Dad as C-Fish grew. He had a shock of red hair and a mustache and dressed very snazzy, with his brown leather jacket and denim jeans and button down shirt “Right up Jimmy’s Street, Mum would say.” Jimmy was always very kind to Derek, Jenny and me, every Christmas he gave us a great present or a card with money. One year we thought he got us a pinball machine, but it turned out to be a crappy board game and a BROS (Matt and Luke make me Puke) tape, that was the one exception!

In May of 1987 we moved out of St. Cummin’s Hill and bought a house at Aughyvogue, the Five Points. The house was an old school house, Robertson’s National School 1879, (1987 moved around), is what the plaque read when we found it in the garden.

When we moved out of St. Cummin’s Hill I had another brother Alan, born in March 1985. He was the first “planned” baby as Mam and Dad called him. He had a birthmark on his ass and everyone pointed to it and laughed. He was a great baby and quickly became very spoilt. Resentment grew among the siblings, but not much was ever said.

I was sad to be leaving St. Cummin’s Hill, as my best friends were all there: John Martin from number.3, whose house I stayed in at the weekends, Ciaran Boyle lived in number 12 and Patrick Caraban with the crazy red hair lived in number 5 with the English mother. The boys who lived out the Five Points were a totally different breed. First of all, all the families that lived out there were much wealthier than any of the people we grew up around on the hill, except the Kees, McHughs and O’Sheas who lived on the other side of the wall. All the boys out there were several inches taller than any of the town boys of the same age, Derek and I felt tiny. Must have been all the good country living or as Brenden Connaghan said “It’s ‘cause we eat all our porridge!”

Derek was making friends right away, but I was a little shyer and took my time getting to know the neighbors. Besides, nobody was my age, they were either younger or a few years older. I was still clinging on to my old life and friends on the Hill and was not quite ready to let go and fully embrace my new life at the Five Points.

On the upside, the new house was huge. I couldn’t believe we were moving into the biggest house in the neighborhood. It had four bedrooms, two sitting rooms, one of which we turned into a playroom, a big kitchen with a blue tilled floor and yellow cabinets that everyone agreed had to go! There was only one bathroom, and it was tiny, out of proportion to the rest of the house. There was a garage, which Dad turned into an office and utility room. C-Fish was growing all the time.

I had a bedroom all to myself. Derek and I had been sharing a room since we were born and now as we were getting older we really needed our own space. Derek got a bigger room than I did because he was older. His had a red trim cause he like Manchester United and mine had a blue trim, 'cause I liked Everton. Everton were useless, literally the day I started supporting them they stopped winning and became crap, but once you choose to support a team you couldn’t change your mind, you’re stuck with them for better or for worse. Changing teams is just not done, I think the Catholic Church might have had something to do with that.

The house still needed a lot of work, so when we were still living up St. Cummin’s Hill we use to come out after school and help with whatever we could. Mum give me a dinner knife one day and told me to get to work pulling moss and weeds out of the wall and around the side of the house. It was times like that when you didn’t appreciate the size of the house. Derek was a little more useful and climbed into the old stone drain that went under the road to the Connaghan’s field. Dad feed him sewer rods and they unblocked the whole thing, so that when it rained it wouldn’t flood over on to the road.

Work-men, handymen and plumbers were constantly working on the house. One of them was Colm Cunnigham, my friend Declan’s father, I saw him moving a wardrobe from one room to another, he got his hand jammed between the wardrobe and the wall and hit the vein on the top of his hand. It swelled up like nothing I had ever seen before, it looked sore, I couldn’t believe he didn’t cry.

In Killybegs I went to the Niall Mhor National School, up by the Chapel. It was less than a ten-minute walk from our house on the Hill, down Stony Batter, past the Sail Inn and the Bank of Ireland, down the back street past McBrearty’s Taxi, then past the launderette with its nice warm smell, past the wee river beside the fire brigade and then up the hill past the Forester’s Hall; the old Niall Mhor was on the left and the new school was on the right. In third class, I was in the one on the left.. Even after we moved out the Five Points, we still went there for a few more weeks. I was sad to leave.

Dad bought a car, a BMW. The boys out the Five Points were impressed. I was in the Connaghan’s shed playing snooker with Brenden and Ronan, when Michael Burn, from the lower Five Points came in and started talking about the car. At first I didn’t even realize he was talking about my father, I felt embarrassed. Even boys older than me who had never talked to me before, asked me about the car when I was at the swimming pool in Ballyshannon. The BMW gave me a small amount of celebrity and everybody called it the “big BMW” never just BMW. Dad drove the car very fast all the time and smiled as he drove. I loved it when he dropped us off at the Niall Mhor in the car and people stared at us. With the big house and the new car, I was living a life that made me a stranger to myself, but I liked it.

Near the end of May, we started going to the Commons National School. My last day at the Niall Mhor was great. I felt special ‘cause I didn’t have to finish Third Class with all the people I’d been going to school with for the past five years. Everybody knew it was my last day and when three o’clock came I felt a great sigh of relief, but at the same time I was very nervous and afraid of starting at the Commons. I didn’t know anyone there, except for the Connaghan boys who lived up our road.

The first day at the Commons was surreal. Everybody thought Derek and I were twins, even though he was a little bit taller. We had to sit in class that first day and introduce ourselves. There were only about a hundred and fifteen students in the whole school and every room had two classes in it. Third and Fourth class were in one room, that meant Derek and I were in the same room, at least for the rest of May and June till we got our summer holidays. We broke our flask of tea that first day and made a mess. It was in Derek’s bag and all his new copy books and things got soaking wet.

The teacher was called Ms. Ward. She was very short with black hair and looked angry. Ms. Sleven, my teacher in the Niall Mhor who replaced Mrs. Moran when she moved to Athlone, was very good looking and most of the boys had a crush on her, but you could never have a crush on Ms. Ward.

Lillian Holmes was the headmistress and she welcomed Derek and me to her school. I liked her immediately, she knew our mother from when she was younger. She had just been made the headmistress after a man called John Danny left for the Niall Mhor to become the new Headmaster. Everybody talked about him like he was the greatest man in the world. Just before I left the Niall Mhor I heard everyone there talk about how strict he was. Anyway he wasn’t going to affect me and I was happy with Lillian as our headmistress.

The girls at the Commons took a great interest in Derek and me, which was strange because no girls had ever taken any notice of me before, except Dervala Hannigan, who I married when I was five. Notes were passed asking if I liked this girl or that. I liked a girl called Sinead O’Nell. She wore glasses and had make-up on, girls my age at the Niall Mhor never wore make-up, as far as I was concerned, she was the best looking girl I’d ever seen. For the past three years I had been secretly in love with Mairead McGing, but she liked Declan Cunnigham and I had to get over it. She was rich and I often had dreams where I was able to give her everything she wanted and she loved me for it. But Sinead O’Neill seemed more real and I was too shy to talk to Mairead anyway.

I was very disappointed that year on the 21st June; Bonfire Night. Up Cummin’s Hill we use to have the biggest fire you could imagine, the whole street would help make it over a few weeks: car tires, win bushes, newspapers, old furniture, rubbish, if it wasn’t wanted it went on the fire. As there was only a small number of young people at the Five Points compared to Cummin’s Hill, my new situation was heavily undermanned for collecting flammable material. Our fire was mostly winbushes, they burned bright for a few minutes then quickly burnt themselves down to smoldering embers. But there was an upside to this kind of bonfire.

Since there were no tires or other types of noxious trash, and the fire was a manageable size, we were able to cook over the embers. I hadn’t expected this and Derek and I had to rush back home to get potatoes and tinfoil, sausages and a frying pan that Dad would allow us to put on the open fire.

A few years before the boys from Conlin Road had the biggest Bonfire ever in Killybegs. They had something like a hundred and fifty car tires on the fire and even one giant airplane tire they stole from one of the big boats. I went down there the next day with Declan and the ashes were still very hot, so we fanned a few spots back to life and threw some paper on top of it to get it going. I was rushing back with some newspaper I found in the bushes when I tripped over the wire from inside a burned-out tire. I fell into the little fire we got started and immediately my trousers went up in flames. I started beating out the flames with my hands, but they wouldn’t go out. Declan’s father saw us from his shed and rushed down and got the flames out and carried me up to his house and put me in the sink and ran cool water over my burns. I had to be rushed down to the doctors and I had blisters all over my body and the doctor pulled a huge chunk of my skin away from my knee and said I’d lost three layers of skin. He wrapped it in gauze and Mam had to change the bandages every day for weeks. Mam said if Colm hadn’t got the flames out it could have been a lot worse so I was very thankful he had been there and said a prayer to my guardian angel thanking him for Colm.

We were only at the Common’s School for a few weeks when school got out for the summer holidays at the end of June. Life at the Five Points was a very different from the life I had known on St. Cummins Hill. Even in the few months that I had been living there I felt different from the boys up the Hill. In July I went to spend a weekend with John Martin and all was fine. We went to play over by the O’Shea’s house and for some reason Ciaran, Patrick and John Martin ganged up against me. Told me I thought I was too good for them. I got very upset and went straight over to his house, got all my stuff and walked down to Granny’s house to find some comfort. That was the last time I ever played with them.