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
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
. 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,
We took the train home to
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
We were always watching some show on TV like McGyver or Quantum Leap. His parents watched
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
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
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.
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 and lunch break football game at the Common’s
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.