Celtic Illumination, part 47, a snatch squad of nuns, The Wolfe Tones and fish
I suppose I was very lucky to have been chosen by the double, top secret, cabal to be entered into training to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker. God, as you are aware, chose me to be the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland. Now in Warrenpoint the various strands of my training were coming together. My mother had been an opera singer so from a young age I had been immersed in classical music. At Violent Hell I had studied the piano and the violin.
Unfortunately this fell into the ‘family tradition’ excuse for doing things. I was even given the violin that had been passed down from generation to generation. I still have it for I wouldn’t have been so cruel to send one of my children to that horrible place. Studying music was a good ruse to get out of various study periods in the evening. Rather than sit rigid at your desk in the study hall pretending to translate something or other you could stretch out in a classroom all to yourself, hang out the window and have a smoke and generally relax although you would have to be on your guard as the dean, the Wee Scut would patrol the corridors listening for the screeching’s of someone practising a scale.
Once you reached a suitable grade you would join the school orchestra and after a while, if good enough, you would be allowed to join the Newry orchestra. The school orchestra actually entered a school orchestra competition held in Belfast. I remember we travelled up in the old school bus and we actually won our event. I’m sure you are impressed, as were most of the other boys at the school who were so proud of their ever growing collection of Gaelic football trophies. At last we music geeks had a little bit of kudos. Of course it didn’t last for very long as the other boys, the rough and tumble football crowd, found out that we were the only school orchestra in that competition. It had been a particularly violent week in Northern Ireland with bombs and killings by the dozen so most sensible schools had decided not to attend. In my defence I would have to say that we did have to reach a certain standard to be declared winners.
Attending practise sessions with the Newry orchestra was quite exciting. The other boys would be jealous as you would have a full evening away from the school and not only that but you would be seeing girls. The girl’s boarding school in Newry would allow some of its students to practise with the Newry Orchestra too. We would just sit there and fall in love with any girl that looked pretty. Of course the girls were protected by a snatch squad of battle hardened nuns, who I understand were almost as vicious and violent as the priests at Violent Hell. Stories of punishments such as kneeling on pencils, Chinese burns and hair pulling were always circulating.
I don’t know why but once a year, usually May time, Violent Hell would host a dance. It would be held in the gymnasium and the girls from Saint Michaels in Lurgan would attend. It was quite a night and as juniors we were not allowed to attend, we could only sit at our desks and dream. One year I was actually called out of the study hall during the dance. I wasn’t lucky enough to attend the function but my sister was the head girl at saint Michaels and she had brought me a bag of sweets. I think it was the first and only time she was ever nice to me, and I liked it.
Now, in Warrenpoint, I was being exposed to even more culture. The dancing I learned at the Gaeltacht’s allowed me to participate in the weekly ceilidhs in Warrenpoint. However the country and western music was a big part of life in Warrenpoint as was the growing pop culture of David Bowie and Marc Bolan. An extra dimension was the folk music element which had a rebel edge. This would come from people like Christy Moore or groups like the Wolfe Tones who were then considered to be the political wing of the IRA. On top of which we had our very own stars like Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher and Dana. A truly eclectic dip in the sea of music culture.
I believe that we were really lucky, as on top of everything that was available to us, I able to experience and enjoy the show bands. This would be a group of seven or eight musicians who would perform country and western tunes, cover versions of current pop hits and even rock and roll, with every tune being delivered with great enthusiasm. As you may expect we didn’t stand on the dance floor and twist and shake like any normal teenager, no we jived. Expert jivers had the greatest respect and on many evenings would give displays of their talents.
I enjoyed all of it whether it was performing a jig, a reel or a hornpipe, or simply jiving to rock and roll. We were not passionate music lovers; we did appreciate a good tune, well delivered. We, I suppose, were more interested in meeting girls. I do remember one evening. I had been at the docks helping to unload some trawlers which I was usually paid for in cod or lobster. I had gone home and dropped off a huge cod that I had been given and went off to the local ceilidh. I had taken a small bag of herring too so that as we danced about, a girl would hold her hand out to take mine and I would hand her a fish.