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.

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.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

First Memories

When I close me eyes, open my mind and think of my first memory, it is always the same. I am standing by the front window in our house on St. Cummin’s Hill. Looking out the window I can see my brother Derek getting into Constantine’s big, purple Opel Record estate. He is going to school because he is four and I am only three. I remember wanting to get into that car more than anything in the world. But I stayed at home with Mam and my younger sister Jenny.

Our house on the Hill is number 14; Mam’s sister lives in number 13, unlucky for some and proved very unlucky for them. They are the Murphy’s and their Dad, Sean, always looked very angry. Derek, my cousin Paddy, who's the same age as me, and I were terrified of him as children, but my Dad wasn’t and one night when he wouldn’t let Dad use their phone, Dad punched him in the nose and split his face, then turned around and told him to “Fuck off.” Sean Murphy was always shouting at our cousins, I would have hated to have him as a father. He liked to kill animals, especially gray crows that ate the eyes out of baby lambs, he was in the gun club and had a sitting room full of trophies he’d won for marksmanship. Their sitting room was always dark and we learned never to go in there when he was there; “I can’t see the fucking TV,” is what he would say if you opened the door even a crack. Other people hated him because he was the social welfare officer and he pissed a lot of people off with his superior attitude. As kids we feared the name Sean Murphy, as some kids feared the bogeyman.

In all there were 18 houses in a line on St. Cummin’s Hill, with McGuire’s in pole position at the top and the Friels living at the bottom. The Friels were a family of settled tinkers, gypsies, itinerants, knackers, I’m not sure which one is the current acceptable term, but they provided a lot of drama and gossip for the town of Killybegs, almost as much as the Sharkeys. They always had a few greyhounds out the front of the house and a donkey or two tied to an ESB pole. In accordance with the heritage they stemmed from they collected car tires and batteries, pieces of old copper and bicycles out the front of their house. These objects would be rendered into money by some stretch of the imagination, recycling years before it became a cool-yuppie-middle class-save the whales motif. My most noted memory of the Friels is of them collecting periwinkles along the coast around Killybegs. In the summer months they could always be seen with a big sack of ‘winkles over the bar of their bike. A periwinkle looks like a snail, and like escargot is a delicacy in the right market, but around Killybegs people just think of it as a dirty snail from the sea.

Our house had a green door and the paint was flaking, but all the years we lived there were happy years. We were poor, not Frank McCourt poor, but poor enough to be on welfare and having to live half the time at Granny’s house. Dad was fishing and had a hard time controlling the drink. I don’t remember much about his drinking, only that Derek and I use to hang out in Roger’s Hotel and play video games and pool when weren’t even tall enough to see over the top of the table.

He came back from the pub once and he and Mam had an argument and he shouted and she shouted and he got his brown leather suit case out of the hot press and threw clothes into it and threw some of my things in it too. I don’t know where Derek and Jenny were, but only my stuff went in the suitcase. Mum went off to Granny’s house and Dad said we were going to Dublin. We walked down the town and he used the phone box across from the Sail Inn and called Brendan Daily, Derek’s Godfather. He was suppose to come and meet us and take us to Dublin. But he never came and after standing around the town with the big brown leather suitcase I think Dad got tired and we walked back up the hill. I was sad that we were not going to Dublin, but then I didn't understand what was happening. He called one person, he didn’t come, guess Dad didn’t try very hard and went home.

Memories of him on land are what I really remember. In 1984 he bought himself a box of fish and a rusty old Fiat, with holes in the floor and he went In-Through to begin his Fish-Run. In-Through is an area west of Killybegs and there are loads of arguments about where it begins and where it ends. Depending on who you ask they’ll tell you it starts after the next river or road after their house, nobody ever wants to actually own up to living there.

Well, Dad began to sell his fish door to door, getting up early every morning and not getting home till very late in the evening and had to leave again to go to the eight o’clock auctions down the pier. He was always gutting fish at the kitchen sink and soon we had a phone with the number 31497 and Dad had a business called C-Fish. Granda Sharkey helped him convert one of his sheds into his first miniature fish factory and he employed three men from the Hill: Cyril McBrearty from No. 10 and Nigel and John Joe Dowds who lived next door in No. 15.

The Dowds’ were the best people in the world and always helped us out, especially Mrs. Dowds who felt sorry for Mam, being so young and having so many children and not a clue in the world. She made us buns and cups of tea all the time and when Jenny and I painted our hair with black paint, she put us in the bath and showed Mam how to get it out using margarine. The Dowds’ were from the North and Mrs. Dowds and John Joe spoke with a voice that was different from the people of Killybegs. Her’s was a little musical, a soothing voice you’d want to hear when you were up set. John Joe spoke less than Mrs. Dowds, but when he laughed his whole bald head went red. I’m very thankful for having known their whole family: Carol, Emmet and Nigel were like big brothers and sister to us.

Dad bought a cream colored Toyota Lite-Ace van and his fish-run In-Through was official. I went with him a few times and some of the old ladies gave me a pound or two for myself. Derek went more than I did because he was older and made more money too. Dad collected his earnings in a biscuit tin for coins and a S.M.A. baby formula can for cash. I often wonder if he misses that simple system?

The first nine years of my life are a blurred plethora of images: my first day at school, my first holy communion, first family holiday to Galway, best friends, weekends at my cousin Paddy’s. But I’d like to move on to a time in my life when everything changed, when my entire live shed one existence and began another. I don’t want to focus on those years here, as I’m still digging around in that memory box and find that the short story is the perfect fit for those bursts of memories. That can be another journey we take together some time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chapter 1

21 Years in Ireland


George Vial


Where are you? Are you at the airport, waiting, waiting because there’s something wrong with the wing, they’ve overbooked a flight and there’s a storm coming in, and you’ve got to wait another four hours. Perhaps you’re on a crowded bus in the city and your late for work or leaving two hours after you should have shut down the computer and got back to your family and you’re hurt ‘cause they make such a big deal out of being ten minutes late and never give a damn about the extra hours you give at the end of the day? Then again your bus could be completely empty and you have no schedule and it’s rolling across-country and you want to be at your destination, you want to go places, but you don’t want to travel, you’ve a crick in your neck and you can’t sleep and all you have to keep you company is this stupid book that someone gave you for your birthday, Christmas or an out of the blue gift and said they thought you might like it. Maybe you’re at home and you’ve lost someone close to you, your mother died or your husband of fifteen years left you or you left him and because of that you are somewhere else. Often we find ourselves where we don’t want to be and we wish and wish we could be in that other place, the place where we were last happy and if we could go back there we’d freeze time, we’d make it stop completely and choose to live out those moments as the rest of our lives, ‘cause they’re safe, we know them and we never have to face the bad change. Then again, you could be somewhere I could never imagine and that is fine too, but no matter where you are I ask that you let me come along and I will be company. I will try to make you laugh, make you mad, confuse you, clarify you and when nobody is looking we can cry together.

I’m going to tell you my story, feel free to interrupt me, I’ve been know to talk too much and when we are all done, if you feel like, if you are in the mood, you can tell me your story or we can take another voyage together, we can go to sacred places, places where the wind is silent and natures beautiful colors roar in significance and we lay upon soft ground and feel a faint warmth of a fading sun. Come on, grab your hat, we’re already late to go nowhere.

Chapter 1

Origin of the Species

Before we get too lost in my story let me give you a few basic bites of information that are important to me, think of it as the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to My Life: but you won’t need a towel or a privet bush. It’s just a few bursts of information I feel everybody should know about the little island of Ireland. You see, that’s where I come from and too many people have tried to force this round peg into the shamrock shaped hole. It rubs me the wrong way and I always like to be rubbed the right way. So let me bore you, or thrill you, it’s up to you how you take it, and listen to my rant.

Ireland, the Island of saints and scholars, shamrocks and leprechauns, Guinness and whiskey, a country with thousands of years of history that have all been reduced to a handful of obnoxious stereotypes. When I walk into a bookstore I see shelves stuffed with books on Ireland. They have scenic pictures of green beauty, pubs to visit, songs to sing and histories to read. There are the tales about how poor the Irish are and have nothing to eat but potatoes and dirt. Books that blame the English for all her ills, even after eighty years and more of independence and not a mention of the self-serving crooked Irish politicians that have tried their hardest to choke the life out of the island. Have you ever noticed that if you take a map of England and Ireland and flip it sideways, it looks like a collie dog fucking a terrier? Geographic predestined antagonism between the two islands if you ask me.

Then there is the poetry; modern day Celtic bards, not an original thought in their own heads, but reproductions of a time that is gilded and lost. They are filling away at their own craft making it fit the shamrock shaped hole – cookie cutter literature.

A few years ago I read a book by an Irish author, it was a great book, you’d be hard pushed to find even one of my complaints between the covers. It was a story of ordinary people and the ordinary tragedies that befall us all whether we’re Irish, Norwegian, American, Russian, English or Mexican. In point, it was a universal book, like the poetry of Thomas Kinsella. You read it and realize it could have been penned by anyone from anywhere. Then after putting it down you’re proud that such universality exists and emanates from the little island that is intellectually chained by her clich├ęs.

Rather than complain and moan and talk about it with a pint in my hand (which doesn’t sound half bad), I hope to open up that world to you, if you’ll listen. I want to take the typical Irish poor-mouth, Celtic winged, song singing, happy-beer-drinking-green-leprechaun with his crock of gold story and make it dissolve in the light of reality, but you’ll have to forgive me for putting on the Quiet Man and running around the place like a mad lunatic on March 17th 1998.

Even if some of the stereotypes appear in these pages, I want you to recognize that they do make up part of the Irish character, but there is far more to the beast. An American is not just a cheeseburger and coke, a Mexican is not just tequila and beans and a German is not just beer and sauerkraut (well, actually…just kidding)! The soul is an individual creature, more than the sum of its parts and should never be taken for granted. As the old Indian said “You cannot know a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins,” or something very close to that.

Now here’s the history lesson and there will be an open book test at the end! The Irish are an amalgamated people, mongrels of the best sort (a cross between a collie and a terrier you might say). A pure Irish person is a myth, a figment of the imagination. The history books tell us since we are an island out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we’ve been subjected to many invasions. The Celts, contrary to popular thought, were one of the late invaders, we’d already been quite shaken up by the time they came along, all manner of Cro-Magnon man and all that. We’ve got monuments older than the Great Pyramids, but it’s hard to get the tourists without the sun and sand – Board Failte (our tourism board) need to get on that a little more – imagine ‘Newgrange: The Egypt of Ireland!’

The Romans touched the island for a brief moment, but decided not to stay. I imagine the day their tour bus came it was a wet and windy, wintry Tuesday afternoon, they took one look around the place: a piss-poor climate with primal men running around in loincloths and decided to leave it alone. If only they’d taken their raincoats with them, the Vatican City might be in Ireland today! At least we’d have given Avignon a run for its money – come on Board Failte get on it – ‘Athlone: The Rome of Ireland!’ Chateauneuf de Pape would have a whole new meaning.

The Vikings planted their seed among the soils of Ireland when they gave us our capital city in 988 AD, adding a little Norse aggression to the blood of the Celtic warrior and setting Dublin up for a great Gaelige Football team; Jason Sherlock pure fucking Viking. However, the mix was not thick enough because around 1171 AD the Normans (soon to be known as the English) arrived by invitation and never left. They turned a little sour under King Henry VIII and his split with Rome (told you we should have had the Vatican). Then we became the famous persecuted Irish. Gaining control again of the island was going to take a very long time.

The Spanish, the good Catholics they are, helped us out with little effect, but added a nice little bit of Mediterranean blood to the race, giving us the Black Irish. Then we went through all the tough years of Penal Law, Emigration and Famine. In the early part of the 19th Century the population of Ireland sat around 8 million smiling Paddies; then came Pytotopthora the bastard, the catalyst for the potato famine. Bad years such as Black ’47 drove the number down to around two million depressed and bitter souls, fueling generations of poets, novelists and musicians with-hard-done-by inspiration, the kind of inspiration you just can’t receive from magnetic poetry. Finally in the 1920’s we gained something that looked like independence. The Irish Free State was created, minus six counties in the North of the island up in Ulster. Counties Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan escaped the annexation, retaining a little of Ulster for the Irish and that was the beginning of a whole bunch of new troubles.

In 1959 a New Zealander by the name of Dr. Vivian Vial came to rest on the shores of Ireland. His invasion went pretty much unnoticed by the general population. Only the few folks in the Department of Agriculture who hired him to teach genetics to the church-made-stupid scientists of Ireland noticed him come quietly in.

His expedition to Ireland came via British Honduras in Central America, where his first son Bill was born and Northumberland in England, where my Dad, Charlie was born in 1956. Along with his wife Nessie, they settled in Blackrock, an emerging suburb on the South Side of Dublin. Then a daughter, Jane, was born completing one of Ireland’s newest families.

All seemed to be going well, until Vivian remembered he didn’t come alone to Ireland and he actually had a family. Ten years or so had passed by this time and a divorce through the bottom of a beer glass made my Grandparents very bitter towards each other. Charlie, after a very rebellious teenage life went north to Greencastle in County Donegal to become a fisherman, when he was only sixteen. Bill followed him soon and Nessie and Jane went back to New Zealand. Granda stayed on in Dublin and began his new career drinking for Ireland.

In Greencastle there’s a fisheries school where Charlie learned his trade and earned his Skipper’s Ticket. The course involved spending a lot of time in Killybegs in the south of Donegal. Killybegs at the time was emerging as Ireland’s premier fishing port, but it was here Dad learned to drink like a man and met my mother Noelle Sharkey.

She was the daughter of Peggy and Paddy Sharkey, relative new comers to Donegal, having grown up in Cavan and Louth respectively. There were seven children in the Sharkey clan and Noelle was the third youngest and a dreamer like her father.

The Sharkeys stood out from the rest of the Killybegs locals for a few reasons. Paddy was a self employed inventor with the look of a mad scientist, a shock of white hair, stained yellow from cigarette smoke sweeping across his face as he worked on electric-fish-catchers in his work shop out the back of the house. Peggy, Mrs. Sharkey or Granny Sharkey as most people knew her, was the matriarch of the family and a noted figure in the community of Killybegs. Her garden was the envy of the town, a place filled with fruit trees and flowers, natural rock birdbaths and nests. It was a little paradise and people complained when she wouldn’t give up ten feet at the end of it to make way for a wider road. She loved her garden and many of my memories of her are of her sitting out there feeding the birds and pulling weeds, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.

They also had a black child, Kevin, adopted as a baby and reared as one of the family. Due to the cool climate in Donegal, Ireland’s not that far from the Iceland on the scale of things, it is racially one of the whitest places on earth and their adopted son really set the Sharkeys apart from the crowd of sallow skinned red and brown headed families, Kevin would be of the later type of Black Irish. They were the kind of family that when dinner conversation ran out in other homes, they could always turn to the Sharkeys for good gossip and pass their mealtime without having to look at themselves.

It was Paddy who met Dad first. He literally found Charlie down the town in a pub and brought him home to get something to eat. My mother instantly fell in love with him, even though she was only thirteen and he three years her senior. At first he didn’t notice her, because she had many older and just as beautiful sisters, but by 1976 there had been courtship and a pregnancy and in June of that year they were married in St. Mary’s church, The Chapel.

There had been some argument about the wedding between Granny and the Church. The two of them being so young, the state of the bride and the fact that Charlie was a Protestant and Noelle and the rest of Killybegs were Catholic. Peggy would have none of it and caused such a ruckus that the Parish Priest could do nothing for fear of her and they were married in the main church and not in the vestry. However the bride wasn’t allowed to wear white and my mother was married in a primrose colored dress.

My brother Derek was born on the 20th of October 1976, the first of a new generation on the island: half-New Zealander and half-Irish. He had dark hair like both the parents but like Dad he had the dark Spanish skin of his Vial heritage. The Vials were from the Basque region in Spain. Miners by trade that went to Cornwall to take part in the tin mining and when Her Majesty’s Empire ear marked New Zealand for colonization and found Gold, they went there to try their luck at a potentially prosperous style of mining. The gold was scarce and they became sheep farmers. My Great Grandfather became the head of the largest meat factory in New Zealand turning over $35 million a year, that’s a lot of lambs to the slaughter.

A year later I was born on the 29th of December 1977, four days after my Mother’s eighteenth birthday. I was a small baby, not a full six pounds, if I had been a salmon I’d have been thrown back. My uncle bill remembers driving over to Letterkenny in the snow to pick me up in an old Volkswagen Beatle, I however have no recollection of the event. I was Christened Charles George Vial after my Dad, but very soon Charlie George was dropped down to just George to avoid confusion.

It’s bad enough growing up in a small Irish catholic town with a Spanish surname, but a first name like George, takes the biscuit. It’s not very Irish, in fact it’s totally English and I had the piss taken out of me all the time when I was in school… “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie…” You would think I’d have been given a name like Patrick, Michael, Seamus, Mathew, Mark, Luke or John, at least a name that sounded like an apostle or saint, anything but Charles George. The namesake of an English King, actually two lines of Kings! It must have been a subconscious compromise between my parents, since I was raised Catholic and only had to bear the burden of a Protestant name.

When I was five or six I was so upset about my name, the older boys kept making fun of me, that I ran into the kitchen crying and asked Mam why couldn’t she have called me Peter or Patrick. So she picked me up, leaned me over the sink, splashed some water on my head and re-christened me Patrick Vial. It didn’t stick though, and an hour later I was still Charles George Vial as it said on my silver christening mug.

Off all the counties in Ireland, Donegal is the most remote. Not just because it’s geographically the most northern part of the island and almost as close to Iceland as it is to Cork. But because it’s bordered by Northern Ireland for the most part and only connected to the rest of Ireland by the few miles of Leitrim it touches. A local band, The Goats Don’t Shave, once sang a song saying that they “Should build a wall around Donegal and legalize ‘em all, Las Vegas in the Hills of Donegal.” The wall is already there psychologically and that is what makes Donegal such a great place. We talk like Northerners, but we’re Southern Irish: We live in the North of Ireland, but we’re not Northern Irish. We’re fecked up that’s what we are.

Well anyway, Killybegs is in Donegal and that is where I grew up. As I said Killybegs is Ireland’s biggest fishing port and is of great importance to the rest of Ireland and Europe for that fact alone. Killybegs is a very deep harbor and many foreign freighters land in there because there is nowhere else in Ireland fit enough to birth them. All this coming and going of foreigners gives a very international air to life in Killybegs. A young Irish lad growing up in the midlands might meet a few tourists here and there and maybe even go on a foreign holiday themselves, but besides that they live in a very Irish world. In Killybegs the young folks get used to sharing their space with Spaniards, Frenchmen, Nigerians, and many, many other nationalities. A Nigerian boat broke down in the harbor in the late eighties and a couple of hundred men from that country had to near enough seek political asylum in Killybegs for over a year and a half. They added a great bit of color to the life around the town in more ways than one and even helped the local soccer team get a bit of skill.

Besides all that, Killybegs is a beautiful place. It sits under the Caledonian fold mountain of Conerad and from the water it appears as if the mountain itself rises almost vertically up out of the sea like a Norwegian Fjord. The bay itself is well sheltered with St. John’s Point on one side, stretching six brave miles out into the Atlantic Ocean and the Donegal coastline on the other side offering a little protection from natures worst advances.

The area is littered with beaches and coves for many miles, but none surpasses the beauty of Fintra beach. Of all the golden stretches of sand I’ve seen in the world, there has never come one to equal her. Perhaps I am biased, but if you are ever there on a warm day in July or any other day of the year, go and visit it and make your own decision. The hinterland of Killybegs is rough and rugged, but an abundance of rivers, lakes and forestry make up in beauty what it looses in practical matters as far as land is concerned. If you want a flat piece of ground, you have to make it yourself. John B. Kean could have written many sequels using Donegal if he was so inclined.

Killybegs is a four-hour drive from Dublin (depending how fast you drive), but only a thirty-minute drive from Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe. They drop 1972 feet straight down into the Atlantic and every year some brave German or Australian tries to scale it without a rope or harness and a few hours later the cliff and rescue service is scooping their remains out of the water with a bucket. They are one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see. Everyone goes on and on about the Cliff’s of Moher down in County Clare, but they’ve got nothing on Slieve League.

Killybegs, Na Cealla Beaga the Irish name for the town means “The Little Cells,” a name earned from the beehive cells used by the monks who were the first to settle there, the monks knew what they were doing when they chose the well sheltered bay. Killybegs is a little bit of paradise, as long as you’re not passing the fishmeal plant at low tide. Killybegs has a smell all to itself and the locals learn to live with it, ‘cause they tell themselves “It’s the smell of money.” That may be true for a few in the town, but not for the majority who toil all year round in the factories and boats, loosing limbs and lives for a dream that often never comes. I heard a statistic once that Killybegs had more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the country and the town was nicknamed the home of the “Mackerel Millionaires,” in the 80’s. You’re as likely to see a brand new BMW parked beside a 1983 Ford Escort with a bail of hay in the back seat and a collie dog in the front seat, eyeing up a terrier tied up outside a local pub.

If you are up on a hill, looking down over the town at night, it appears small and insignificant to the expanse of the ocean around it. Then you look further across the bay and you can see the town of Bundoran, twinkling like fairy lights and you are reminded that the whole of mankind is insignificant to the awesome size and power of nature and we are all merely here at her discretion. For this you must offer her respect and even though the people of Killybegs make their livelihood from her sea – they do not own it – they are merely tenant farmers on the oceans of the world.

Constant of Why We Don’t Go

Going home

Too many memories,

Washing through the mind,

A pin prick of pain

In the temporal lobe,


Happiness to look forward to,

Smiles, hellos, hugs.

Old demons, new ghosts,

Pin prick becomes a small hammer,



Anger, Love and Hate,

The holy trinity

Of emotion,

The nod of a head,

The narrowing of eyes,

A kiss like a fist to the mouth,



Still going there,

There is no peace, and no quiet,

No denying it’s time to go,

Unfurl yourself and go,

Go, go, go…