Celtic Illumination, part 26, Agostini, Frankenstein and Father Ted
You may think that with the orange Lodges showing me their rituals and customs that I would be safe. One of my protestant friends used to take me along to his Sunday school and no one minded. Then one day things changed. That year, for my birthday, I had asked for a racing bicycle as a present. Normally I would be taken to a gentleman’s outfitters in Warrenpoint where I would try on a selection of clothes. After a while I realised that half of the clothes I was trying on would be my Christmas presents and the other half would be my birthday presents. Having already had the tour of the tailor earlier in the year I knew I was not very likely to get a bike.
I do remember that then a decent racing bicycle with dropped handlebars and five or ten gears was thirty six pounds brand new. So on my birthday I was given the obligatory clothes but I was also given a five pound note. This I was told, if used correctly, could buy the parts to build a racing bicycle. Okay as a young boy the lessons learned for future life don’t really sink in, especially when you feel let down on your birthday but now, as a Master Candle Maker I do see the lessons that I must have learned. I always made sure my children got what they wanted for their birthday, within reason of course.
I, with the help of my good friend Dessie managed to build a bike. Dessie even stole the gears from a bicycle shop for which he charged me ten bob. It was a Friday, my bike was completed and the following day, the Saturday, I was going to cycle to Dundrod with Dessie. It would only be a nine or ten mile journey, but I was so excited, not just the fact that I was taking my bike, the bike that I constructed, but that I was going to see and get the autograph of Giacomo Agostini, one of the most famous motorcycle racers of all time.
That evening my father gathered us all together and told us to go upstairs and stand on the landing. We did and he went into the front bedroom. Outside we could hear shouts and screaming and eventually we all crept into the front bedroom, staying well away from the windows, to see a crowd of two or three hundred people surrounding Mr O Hare’s house opposite us. The O Hare family were putting items into their car as quickly as they could. Within minutes the car drove away and minutes later the crowd stormed the house and set it on fire.
We were all shocked and probably scared. My father ordered that we all get on the floor and remain there. The crowd had turned and were now outside our house demanding that we should leave. It was Cecil Ross, the senior man of the Shankill orange Lodge who came out, placated the crowd and managed to hold them off until the police arrived. Despite the police guard on our house my father sat up all night watching, and I went to bed that night believing that I now knew how Frankenstein’s monster must have felt when the locals stormed the castle. All that was missing was the pitchforks.
The next morning I woke up early, excited to think that I was off to see Agostini. But I saw a priest sitting at the end of my bed. It would seem that the secret society that had enabled me to enter training to become perhaps the greatest Master Candle Maker in the world, ever, had deemed Belfast to be too dangerous for me. I was off to live in a parochial house with three priests and a severely deranged house keeper.