Celtic Illumination, part 65, the most loveliest man in Ireland.
Many of you are asking what someone destined to be the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, Chief of the O Neill Clan and King of Ireland is doing at the Royal Air Force’s number one radio school. Well; as I have explained before, the double top secret cabal who were organising my training knew that there were certain things a King, especially a Regal Master Candle Maker should know. One was humility, which I’ll come to later, but as the King of Ireland I would be in charge of the army, navy and air force, so let battle commence.
We still had to do military flavoured activities with guns and stuff. I love saying guns, because any armourer reading that will now be screaming at the page, it’s a weapon not a gun!!!! As engineers we would also be leaders, so we would take it in turns to lead. Biggen Hill had said that I was a natural leader so I didn’t take the tasks too seriously, an attitude which sometimes saw me getting into a little trouble.
I remember once we had been on the rifle range, firing guns. We used to aim at the stick that held the target up, rather than the target, which would send the armourers crazy. We would claim that the narrow piece of wood holding up the target was much harder to hit than the two foot wide target above, so therefore should be shown some respect for our accuracy. They would never accept our arguments.
One day, it was a lovely sunny day, our ears were still ringing, from the noise of the guns, and we had managed not to shoot anyone else on the course. We were returning from the firing range and I was in charge. I was allowed to walk along, well; when I say walk, I mean march smartly, I was marching smartly along the central white line on the road, with my squad of sixteen men all in perfect unison shouting left, right, left, right, in case one of us suddenly forgot how to walk. Someone suggested that we nip into the NAAFI for a cold drink
It was a warm day and I could see no reason why not. I brought my men to a crisp and perfect stop. You ought to have seen it, you would have been impressed. I then dismissed them, God how I loved the power and watched as they raced to be first in the queue for their can of fizzy drink. What I was not expecting, as the last man ran into the NAAFI, was to see women and children run screaming out of the NAAFI. It seems that the women were not impressed with the armed, unruly, mob that ran into the shop and were most boisterous. It was suggested that I should have detailed a man to control and protect the weapons outside the NAAFI while the men ran in. For someone from Northern Ireland it was quite normal to see armed soldiers wandering about your town and in and out of shops, so I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.
Which reminds me of the incident in Coalisland, initially brought to my attention by the magnificent cartoonist, Steve Bell, in the Guardian newspaper. Imagine small town Ireland, Friday or Saturday night. The good ole boys are falling out of the pubs and clubs and hotel bars. Wandering along will be an army patrol and as you would expect an offer is made. I don’t mean that someone would say “I’ll give you five quid for your gun mister”. No, it would be a more direct request like, “You lot are a bunch of cowards, why not put your guns down and have a real fight?”
I really don’t think the good ole boys, the Bo’s and Luke’s of Northern Ireland, realised how violent life in the armed forces was, and a punch up with an inexperienced combatant, from a soldier’s point of view, would be anticipated as a walk over. One evening in Coalisland a bunch of locals made the offer to a passing patrol of Paratroopers who were hammering the crud out of a local youth. The Para’s accepted. The guns were set down and fisticuffs ensued.
Both sets of combatants withdrew and acknowledged that each side had shown courage and would have parted with a greater respect for the other party except the Paratroopers started moaning. They wanted their gun back, which had been stolen during the impromptu boxing match. I still have the Steve Bell cartoon hanging above my desk.
In fact the very first time I had shown my leadership skills was at Violent Hell. I was a day pupil, so had been expelled once, and therefore was not worried that I would spend all evening being kicked about a corridor by some thuggish priests. One of our teachers, Sean Hollywood, the most loveliest man in the world, not just because he encouraged me to play hurling for Newry Shamrocks, but because he was an all-round hero. To me he was a real gentleman, someone to look up to.
Sean and another teacher Frank Feely, who I believe went on to become Mayor of Newry, had been arrested for leading a civil rights march in Newry. I don’t know why, I wasn’t politically motivated, probably couldn’t have spelled it, but about half an hour before their allotted time in court, I encouraged my classmates to come outside. Once outside it was easy enough to get other classes to join and as the group of school boys grew, it gave every other schoolboy courage to join us.
We marched away from Violent Hell and onto the main road into Newry. I brought the crowd to a halt outside Saint Joseph’s intermediate school and called for them to join us. They did. It was a fantastic feeling. Then all the boys from both schools made their way to the Newry court house. We were quite well behaved; it wasn’t a riot we were after, it was a display of support for our friends and of course, our disgust at the actions of the RUC and army.
Outside the court house the RUC and British army had lined up and we followed suit, facing them and calling them names. Yes, one or two items were thrown. There was a young fellow, Brendan Dobbin, a wizard with chemicals who was sitting on my shoulders holding a burning effigy. I do remember that it was quite an uncomfortable duty, but we became the focus of the demonstration. In fact so much so that the television cameras recorded it and used it on that night’s news programmes to give a visual background to the story. Thankfully the burning effigy hid my face so my father couldn’t see that it was me who featured on the main evening news. Brendan went on to become the most innovative beer brewer in Ireland and now happily grows bananas in west Cork.
So with leadership skills like that, you can see that I was in line for a glittering military career, double top secret cabal permitting of course. The classroom work at Locking was boring and I think I would drift off to sleep, well; you know how it is in a classroom with a teacher droning on and on, on a hot summers day. We did practical work. We would learn about different electronic components such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, every time we learned about one specific component, we would add it to the circuit we were building using oscilloscopes and soldering irons and sometimes hammers. The finished circuit would contribute to our final exam so it was quite an important piece of work. Many of us were smokers and would nip out occasionally for a smoke but on our return we would find the remaining members of the course, the fecking non-smokers, would have pop riveted our circuit boards to the workbench and we would have to try and recover it without damaging it. Needless to say we became very skilled at rebuilding our circuits.