Celtic Illumination, part 17, the Bishop the social worker and the King
Violent Hell was, and I believe still is, one of the top academic schools in Northern Ireland. As a true O Neill, I left Ireland and worked as a mercenary abroad, that is, I was paid money to fight as a soldier for a foreign power. As a true O Neill, Gaelic warrior and future King I was engaged on what was known as ‘dangerous duties’ and was even personally rewarded by the serving monarch of that kingdom. So it is with the authority of a highly decorated combat veteran that I can say that Violent Hell was the most brutal institution I have ever encountered. Even when I was training at Hereford, Violent Hell was only spoken about in whispers.
I can see now that these men of the cloth were preparing us for adult life and my beatings and treatment were worse than most, for they knew I was to be their future King. Every morning at seven o clock we would be in the school chapel, if you had survived the night, where we would celebrate mass in either Latin or Irish. On Sundays we would celebrate mass in English but I think the priests viewed this as a sort of joke.
To the left of the main altar was a throne. It was often referred to as the chair of the bishop of Down and Connor, however little did I know that this was in fact my throne as High Chief. The throne was permanently guarded by two nuns, who sat in a gallery, watching and should any of us little fellows round a corner too slowly, the nuns would grab us and inflict Chinese burns. It was very similar to Inspector Clouseau who had his oriental manservant Cato attack him at all hours of the day and night. A technique geared to train one to remain alert at all times. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was surrounded by thousands of candles, probably an attempt to placate me. I’m not sure.
Future careers were never spoken about, the whole set up, the school, the pupils, the nuns, the priests and even the Bishop and his attack dogs were there to support me become a Royal Master Candle Maker. It was accepted that after your final exams you would go to Trinity College in Dublin where you would study to become a surgeon, a barrister or a research scientist. Other careers were not discussed; we didn’t even know they existed. Certain boys would fail and the price of failure was often explained to us and the shame you would carry for the remainder of your life which came along with the failure like a free gift in a box of stale cornflakes.
If you didn’t go to Trinity you were basically a failure but you could go to Stranmillis where you would attend teacher training college. I know, how embarrassing, but there was an even worse case scenario. If you were so stupid that you couldn’t become a teacher, you became a social worker!