Celtic Illumination, part 34, Winter Olympics, the Wee Scut and outside toilets.
I find it interesting that my training and existence as a Master Candle Maker is a cyclical event, similar to the re-birth of such magnificent people as the Dali Lama. It is also comforting to know that my knowledge and skills will be passed on through the either into eternity. As the King of Ireland I was marked by God, and am aware of a blood relative who has also been marked in a similar fashion, so again it is comforting to understand that the regal line of the O Neill’s of Tyrone shall continue ad infinitum.
I just realised that one of the momentous yet natural events, which I was subjected to in the 1960’s, being the worst winter on record for some considerable time saw me at the farm in Dromara. For a young boy it was fantastic, although I have to admit digging a channel through a twelve foot snow drift in order to get from the farmhouse to the outside toilet did seem quite a natural way to live. Yet here we are fifty years later and only a month or two ago I watched the news on television to see and hear reports about the worst winter for years affecting the Dromara area. So for those of you planning to induct your children into the tough, secretive and demanding apprenticeship for Master Candle Maker I would suggest that you start looking at moving to the Dromara area in Northern Ireland in the next thirty years or so.
Admittedly most of the experiences I endured will have disappeared, but I am sure the people will be the same. There will be no more outside toilets, probably. I dare say you will not experience the thrill that short trousers and electric fences brings nor will you understand the pain that cow dung conveys to the naked leg as it dries out. I’m sure animal husbandry will now follow strict guidelines and medical procedures including hygiene and animal care and rather than employ an old potato sack and a house brick one will be required to visit the local animal refuge centre.
Neither, if you are lucky, will you have to drag buckets of water around although as I have said before dragging buckets of water around in Dromara did hold me in good stead for Violent Hell. Violent Hell was an awful place. It was a brutal hell hole and I shall never forgive those men who called themselves Christians. We were little boys, being little boys; we were inquisitive and stumbling about, finding our way in the world. Thing is, most of the priests were ‘old boys’ so they knew what went on at the school. They knew that when winter hit, after we woke up to white, frost covered, lawns that the senior boys would want their slide building.
The school was on the side of a hill with a pretty decent gradient, if you were a downhill skier. Again tradition dictated that a school slide should be constructed, if that is the correct term, every winter. This was tradition and this was the sort of slide that children loved and adults feared. Midnight, winter, top dorm. A snatch squad of senior boys would come in with buckets. Certain first years would be chosen and as we would be undertaking a physical exercise, in complete darkness, requiring a certain level of stealth, then the seniors would be choosing from the tougher end of the first years available. It was an honour to be chosen, however nipping about the undergrowth in pyjamas at midnight, during midwinter, did involve a certain amount of survival skills too.
A couple of us were detailed to go to the top path, up above the handball courts, and pour buckets of water down and along the path so that in the morning there would be a two hundred foot long ice slide. At the bottom it came to an abrupt stop at a hedge, but this could also be viewed as a decent and relatively safe method of stopping. Should you overshoot the hedge you would enjoy a twenty foot drop into the football field and with the ground being so hard there was a good chance of broken limbs.
Next morning the senior boys would be out first thing, quickly followed by the younger boys who began to experience the thrill of this downhill madness. During morning mass and then breakfast the Dean, when we were well out of the way, the Wee Scut would try to destroy the slide with handfuls of salt. But this was Violent Hell, this was tradition and if we couldn’t repair the damage over the following days, or for however long the cold snap lasted, there would always be next year.