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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.

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