Celtic Illumination, part 45, little people, headless horsemen and banshees
If you have ever seen the television programme The Dukes of Hazzard then that is what life in Warrenpoint was like. Smuggling moonshine, or in our case poteen, fast cars, although rather than have a Dodge Charger we began with a Ford Anglia. There was quite a large circle of friends in Warrenpoint. Many of us worked in the pubs and clubs and bars which not only gave us all some spending money but allowed most of us to drink for free. And as they said in the Blues Brothers, we had both types of music, we had country and we had western!
Certain key members had real jobs, like Phelim Fegan who was a diesel mechanic for his father’s haulage firm. Then there was the O Neill twins, no relation, their family operated the ferry boats that ran between Warrenpoint in the North of Ireland and Omeath in the republic. This meant that we could enjoy free passage; of course sometimes we would help out and not expect any reward.
My first part time job was not working behind a bar but was picking potatoes. It was a Saturday and I had to be in the square at some ridiculous time in the morning that up until then I didn’t know existed. I will never forget turning into the Duke Street and seeing hundreds of sheep skittering all over the place. It was the old tradition of holding market. Small pens were erected along either side of the street and local farmers brought their produce and animals into town to barter and exchange.
I was off to the Newcastle area for a day’s spud picking. A local hotel, the Ballyedmund Castle hotel, was the ‘in’ spot and we needed a few pennies to get there for a function that evening. I’ll never forget the soil of that potato field. It was soft and moist and black as coal. It also clung to your feet in clumps and was probably the most physical job I have ever done in my life. I do remember getting home and having cleaned the soil out of every crevice in my body I felt more like lying in a nice warm bath all evening rather than go strut my stuff at the Ballyedmund.
I would say that there must have been about twenty of us that hung around together so transport was one problem. Most of us were far too young to drive, which of course didn’t stop us. In fact it would be quite normal for Fegan to come around disconnect the speed odometer on your parent’s car which was then used for the night out. The cable would be reconnected the following morning and the parents would be none the wiser. One day a few of us were hanging around the Dole office corner, we were not cool enough to hang around the Bank corner. When one of Fegan’s lorries came rumbling down the road. Nothing special about that, but it caused some concern as we couldn’t see who was driving it. Only when it drew parallel with us could we see that it was Phelim’s younger brother. A ten year old shouldn’t really be driving a juggernaut, but hey, this was Ireland and he was only taking it over to the docks where the real driver was waiting.
And to add a little excitement to the mix remember this is when Northern Ireland was going through the period that was known as ‘the troubles’ so there would be roadblocks popping up all over the place. A car with five seats would have seven or eight passengers all dressed in their finery, flared trousers and platform shoes. Add to that the fact that it had been taken without the owner’s consent and that the driver would probably not have a license, as they would be too young to drive and of course drink would have been taken. Lots and lots of drink.
Before we fell under the spell of the booze we led simple lives. There was a cinema, but that was three miles away in Rostrevor. We would go to the cinema but if you wanted to see the final ten minutes of the movie you had to miss the last bus home and walk. I do remember after a Brue Lee movie we managed to catch the bus home. As any young person would we emulated Brue Lee, kicking and screaming all the way to Warrenpoint, the seats in the bus didn’t fare too well. And after Darby O Gill and the Little People we walked home and it must have been the most terrifying walk of my life, for the land between Warrenpoint and Rostrevor is littered with little people, headless horsemen and banshees.