I have been blessed in Life. I was born into a beautiful, loving family with the best Mam and Dad, and I was very fortunate to have three brilliant sons of my own. I had the great fortune of never living through a war. I never experienced Life as a homeless person or a refugee. I have not faced any dangerous natural events like earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, or typhoons. I did not experience famine or extreme poverty or faced religious persecution or terrorist actions. I have been lucky in this regard, yet most of my adult life, I have been searching for something. Most people have it or can find it, but it remains elusive to me.
The story I tell here has been rattling around in my brain for decades. I have taken years to get it down on paper, but at last, I have something that I am kind of happy with, and hopefully, it is a weight off my shoulders. It is a kind of memoir but includes other information I feel I have to share, and maybe it makes this book more exciting and informative. I have a newfound respect for good authors as this project was not easy for me. How they can sit and write for long periods, and keep their story and details in order amazes me. I have read books where I was disappointed by the ending, which seemed rushed to me, and I often had questions in my mind, about what happened to some people or other parts of their story. I hope I don't make the same mistakes. The writing was hard because I am a two-finger typist, which means I am plodding. Yet, I still manage to make so many mistakes. I have also chopped and changed, edited, and re-edited this so much that I am fed up with it now. Maybe the time has come to wrap it up, but please be understanding and disregard any mistakes I missed.
Writing this also took so long because it was dependant on how I felt. Some days I was able to get to my little workstation, but on many other days, I couldn't touch it. It was too much to face, and I always found that I had more 'important' things to do. Some days, I could get a couple of hours done, while at other times, I only worked at it for 15 minutes or so, before I had to stop. Telling this story was hard for me most of the time, and some parts of my story brought up awful memories, and it was torture trying to get everything I wanted down on the page. It was painful and draining, and I have never had so many headaches in my Life. On the other hand, it did also bring back lots of happy memories that kept me going but made me miss many people I came across in my Life.
This is not one of those self-help books, and I don't feel that I am in any position to advise on any subject. Yet parts of my story might help someone else. I do hope so. That would make my efforts worthwhile. I have severe problems with my memory, but thankfully I kept a lot of notes, so I am sure that everything written here is the truth, as it happened. I am aware though that I might have some of the dates or even years, incorrect, but I am happy that all the detail is accurate. I have left out stuff that I was unsure about, and couldn't find notes to help me. I have not used many names of people either, because I cannot recall all their names, and felt silly trying to include some names and leave others out. I could say this is a result of my age, which probably is a factor, but my memory problems go as far back as I can remember. Yet, there are people who I have mentioned who are pivotal to my story and have had a significant influence on my Life. I have no problem, including their names. I am aware too that many of the tales I write about are based on my perceptions of the events and the way they affected me. Others might disagree, but I am confident that this book is a true reflection of my life story. I have tried to ensure that every detail is accurate because I want to tell the truth and nothing else. Some people will feel offended, but that is not my intention. I needed to include them to help make my story clear to everyone.
If you read this, you will see that I am quite naive for a 59-year-old, and it will be evident that I didn't learn my lesson on many occasions when I really should have. The older I get, the more fragile and vulnerable I seem to get, and I often long for those brilliant days I had growing up. I know that many people have lived a far worse life than I have, and while I feel deeply sorry for all those people, I feel grateful in some ways for the experience I have had.
As with all thrashy stories, mine contains sex, politics, and religion, but not the way you might think. Sex is a recurring theme throughout, but my book is not solely about sex. Religion and politics had their parts to play in my story, and with faith, I have left a lot out, because I am not sure where I stand in God's plan. There is not so much about politics because it is a subject, I don't have any time for, but it is an integral part of this book. It is a book about how I managed to get this far in life and the issues that tried to stop me. Parts of this book talk about the Gardai and the justice system, love and hate, loss and pain as well as work and sickness. It is also a book of secrets as I have never told anyone the whole story of my life. Mostly this is a series of intertwined stories, that together make up my Life and are what made me who I am.
This is my story, and no one can take it away from me, but I hope that it a small contribution to society.
Growing up in a different world
I am sure that Wednesday the 5th of April 1961 was a special day for many people, especially my Mam and Dad. That was the fateful day I was born in the maternity ward of the Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. I was the first-born child of Michael and Mary Moroney. I was christened Patrick Peter Moroney, but have been called Peter since my birth. What trouble and confusion that has caused me when dealing with official paperwork like driving licenses, passports, and the bank but this was not unique at the time. I learned as I grew up that it was common. I was born into this world on a Wednesday and who would have thought that the old Mother Goose Nursery rhyme was right. "Wednesday's child is full of woe".
I am the oldest of 8 children, six boys, and two girls. My Dad was a seedsman when I was born, and my Mam used to work in a local factory, but she quit to become a full-time mum. When I was born, we lived in my Granny's house at 2 St Jane's Terrace on Scarlet Street with my Granny and Grandad, who were my Mam's parents. It saddens me that I have no memory of my Grandad whatsoever, and can barely remember his funeral in the Cottage Hospital in Scarlet Street in 1966. I just remember being out the back of the hospital with crowds of people all milling around behind the hearse, waiting to walk behind it to the church. While I never remember my Grandad, I grew to have a wonderfully close relationship with my Granny, who was always there for me. We got on famously, and I did spend a lot of time with her. Many years later, one of my cousins told me that my Granny thought the sun shone out of my arse. I was her favourite which made me very proud and willing to do anything I could for her.
We did not spend much time with my Granny and Grandad on my father's side, but I remember my Grandad "Pops" being a funny man who was happy and delighted to see us. He wore a big smile on his face and always tried to cheer everyone else up. I was a bit afraid of that Granny (Mary)and found her to be a very serious, if not ferocious woman, who I was cautious around. I probably have that all wrong, just like I was always wary of men with beards. Maybe she was just the typical Irish Mammy type figure, laying down the law, and keeping everyone under control.
My Mam had two brothers, Ben and Oliver, and a sister Ann. Ann emigrated to Canada when I was young, and Oliver moved to England. Ben lived in Drogheda all his Life, and I got on brilliantly with them all when we were together, especially Oliver, who I remember as being a bit 'crazy' hilariously. He always wanted to make us laugh, but unfortunately, he died before I ever got to know him as an adult. Dad had two brothers, Larry and Paddy and a sister, Catherina, who got me to become a Manchester Utd fan when I was very young by buying me Utd or Red Devil football gear, bags, etc. Larry was away working in England when I was young, and I don't recall seeing too much of him, but Paddy was always close, and I saw him a lot and his wife Theresa was my favourite Aunt.
I was baptised in St Peter's church on Sunday the 9th of April, which is when I received my own Holy Spirit. As far as I am concerned, we have had plenty of ups and downs, and I doubt I would be here now if He wasn't on my side and helping me through this challenging Life. My Godparents were my Aunty Ann and Uncle Paddy, and I believe that Paddy was the reason I was named Patrick but called Peter, at least that's what I was told. All considered I knew that I was born into a wonderful and loving family, and that was a blessing for me. I would like to think they all thought the same.
My earliest memory is of my Dad coming home from work one lovely day and putting me on the bar of his bike and bringing me for a spin up and down Scarlet Street - what joy that was, and still is. It is a very fond memory of mine and always brings a smile to my face. My Dad was working for Irish Cement then and would cycle to and from the factory on the Boyne road.
We moved to a new corporation house in Ballsgrove in 1964, and I was immediately
impressed with an indoor toilet as my Gran just had an outside one, which was always full of spiders and creepy crawlies. It was a horrible place to go during the day, but a lot scarier during the night. As you can imagine, I didn't spend too long sitting on the 'throne' there. I couldn't wait to get out of there every time I went in.
I had a sister, Bernadette, born in 1963, and a brother John, born in 1964 and the new house seemed fantastic for all of us. It had a big back garden, a front garden, and across the road was "The Green', a huge play area that we used for all kinds of games and sports, even building grass forts after the grass was cut. It was a massive open place of freedom and joy for all the kids in Ballsgrove. We played football, tag, games, and anything else that would keep us occupied and happy. Fifty yards away was the local shops which carried most of what we ever needed, especially sweets and ice cream. In the new house, Mam and Dad had their bedroom, and the new-borns slept there for the first few months too. Bernadette had her own room and myself and John, and later all the other boys shared the big back bedroom. It was all so wonderful, new, and exciting. Daily necessities, like milk and bread, were delivered to the door every day, and though we were far from wealthy, we had all we needed and never went without food or a warm bed.
I started school in 1965 in the Daughters of Charity infants' school on Fair street and spent two years there. I only have very vague memories of being there, but I remember my teacher as being friendly and kind, and I got on well with everyone. Nothing untoward or exceptional sticks out from that time except that I got lost in Dublin when I was four years of age. Everyone in the country, well it seemed like that, would go to Dublin for Christmas shopping on the 8th of December, the day commemorating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We were in Roches Stores, a department store in the 'big city', and I separated myself from Mam and Dad and went to play in the window display. You have to imagine that the store was packed, like shops in Dublin used to be, and my parents were panicking searching for me. A shop assistant found me and reunited me with them. I thought they would murder me, but instead, I got a big telling off for running away on my own and not staying close to them, and then got smothered with hugs and kisses and lots of "Thanks be to God". I wonder whether I just wanted to play with the toys on display, or just escape the crush of adults shopping as if the shops were all about to close forever.
Dad got a car about this time, a black Morris Minor, with the registration number DIY 869. Isn't it funny how I can remember the 'important' things in my Life but not other things or occasions that I would love to be able to recall and live again? The car made a huge difference to us as a family, and especially the kids. Mam and Dad took us out every Sunday after dinner, and I do remember having a great time on the beach, playing on the pier and hill in Clogherhead, running around the woods in Townley Hall, but my favourite trip was up to the airport. We went into the airport for some days and on the road behind the airport on other days. In the airport, we would be checking everything out and looking out the windows at the planes outside. I still remember the old aeroplane that used to be hanging from the ceiling. When we were behind the airport, we would be amazed and excited when planes flew just overhead when they were taking off or landing. It was all so much fun, and our lives were packed with things to do and enjoy.
We got our first television in 1966 before the World Cup in England which meant we watched some of the football. Television was never that important to us then. We preferred to be out playing on the green or that game on the road where the way to score was to hit the kerb on the other side of the road and catch the ball when it came back. Television became an excuse when it was time for bed, pleading with Mam and Dad to let us stay up until the program was over. Mam was the boss in the house, doing all the work, minding the kids, and organising everything. Dad was the big boss, who provided for us all and was often used by Mam to threaten or scare us if we didn't behave. My Granny was with us every weekend and sometimes during the week, helping Mam and spoiling us every chance she got. I still remember the sneaky pennies I used to get for sweets in the shop across the road.
The World Cup in 1966 was important to the rest of the family and me, not for the football, but that is when I got my nickname - Mogs. It started as Morocco as the kids I grew up with, said I looked like a player from there, but it soon shortened to Mogs. I don't know how you get to Mogs from Morocco, but the name stuck and all my brothers and sisters and even my sons were called Mogs. It did feel good because it was original and unique, and I never met anyone else nicknamed Mogs. It did become funny at times when someone called Mogs and myself, and my brothers all turned round to answer the call.
It was a different world then compared to now. The key was put into the front door when we got up and the last one in at night took it out. My Mam would leave the money for the rent man, breadman, milkman, insurance man among others on the kitchen table, and they would just open the front door, call out their names and collect what was owed, with no issues, problems, or arguments. That was the same for everyone on our street, and we knew every household in the estate, and that was nearly 400 houses. Delivery drivers and others would often stop and ask where someone lived, and we were always able to point them in the right direction. It was friendly like someone imagined utopia should be like, and a real community spirit existed.
Friday was the day when we all got a comic to read. We got one each and then swapped and shared them until we had them all read. We got the 'Beezer, Dandy and Beano with annuals every Christmas. It was not all fun, though, we had our chores every day, like washing and drying the dishes, which was the single cause of most arguments in the Moroney household. On Saturday mornings, we had to clean the house from top to bottom, with the worse job being washing and then polishing the linoleum throughout the house. The only way to polish it was on your hands and knees doing a little bit at a time. The boys had to ensure that there was plenty of coal, wood, and turf in for the fire when the weather was cold. We had to keep the front and back gardens clean and tidy, as well as the shed and had to cut the grass with one of those old push lawnmowers and a pair of grass clippers. Saturday was bath night but also the night we got ice cream mixed with lemonade. What a treat. None of this was unusual, and every house had similar if not the same arrangements, and every neighbour, except one, was as pleasant to all the kids around and treated us with kindness and a kind of respect only kids get.
It was a super time to grow up. Everybody looked after everybody, and Mam, Dad, and Granny looked after us. We had breakfast, dinner, tea (really another dinner), and supper every day. I think Mam lived beside the cooker. Neighbours dropped in all the time, for a chat or to borrow something until they went to the market. Relatives were calling, and sometimes the house was as busy as the shops in Dublin on the 8th of December. It seemed as if someone was visiting all the time. I still remember Mam commenting that the house was like Euston station, and it was.
The market was a massive part of Life in Drogheda then. Everyone went there Saturday morning for the fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and eggs. It was always full of people. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, so spent more time chatting than shopping, which was no bad thing at all. At Christmas, turkeys were waiting to be bought, killed, and plucked before being cooked and eaten. The noise was deafening as they screamed as if they knew what was going to happen, yet no one seemed to give it a second thought.
We always went to Mass every Sunday. When I was younger, we went to the Franciscan Church on Laurence street with Granny. We wore our Sunday best and always sat in the same seat, like most of the people there. There were foul looks and moans when someone came in and 'their’ seat was taken. The Masses then were much more formal, and nothing was left out or shortened, meaning Mass always lasted an hour or so. Some of it was in Latin, which just meant that we had no idea what was said. Sometimes it just seemed to go on forever. When I got a bit older, when I was allowed to go on my own, myself and some of the neighbouring lads used to go to the Dominican church, because we all had to go to Mass. We would sit at the back and listen carefully to the readings and The Gospel, and then sneak out the back door and go over to the park to pass the time until Mass was over. We had to wait and listen to the readings and Gospel because our parents often asked us what they were about, and Hell would have been a preferable place to be if you didn’t know. But we got away with it, I think.
To me, I was having a great time, living the life in a small town that seemed a million miles away from Dublin, the ’big smoke’. Everything, except maybe for the chores and bath night, was fun. In 1967, I got a major shock to the system when I was 6. I started primary school and came across strict discipline for the first time. The days of having a friendly teacher mollycoddling us were over. In primary school, there were a lot more rules to be followed, and teachers wanted to teach us, and we had to learn, or else. I went to St Joseph’s Christian Brothers School on Sunday’s Gate in Drogheda, but I was lucky that most of the kids I was with, in infants’ school had moved there too. I was lost for the first few weeks but not alone, and that helped me settle in.
I used to cycle across town every day to go to school, which was no big deal then, and go down to my Granny’s for lunch. She always had a lovely dinner waiting for me on the table when I got there. On special occasions, some of us from school would go to the cattle market and get chips for lunch. They had the best chips in the world, as far as we were concerned, and we loved just hanging around the market. The market was just around the corner from the school on Magdalene street, and it was a common sight, and smell, to see cattle and sheep walked to and from the market. Some farmers were lucky enough to have cattle trucks, but most of them had to walk. When it rained, we got our chips and sat in the auction shed listening to the auctioneer, trying to figure out what he was saying. The hammer was crashed to the table frequently, indicating a sale. We didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Looking back now, I did have a great time in that school, making great friends like Kevin Dawe (rest in peace) and many others who I remember but can’t recall their names. That happens to me all the time. It was very strict, and I found that very hard to take, but we always got a big bun, like a hot cross bun, for morning break and played in the schoolyard like we were wild animals released from our cages. Of course, sports were necessary, and nothing more so than Gaelic football and that was the one game I was decent at. I was picked for the school teams through the age groups and even started playing for the Wolfe Tones outside of school hours. I played in a lot of positions, but mostly in midfield, and took all the free kicks. The school pitch was out on the Termonfeckin Road, and we often had to run down there to ‘warm-up’ for the game. That wasn’t too bad, as we were young and fit, but trudging back after the game, tired and often sore, was not an enjoyable experience. Then having to cycle home took every last bit of energy I had. Changing rooms and showers were only something we could dream about, and the couple we did come across were filthy, smelly, and wet. Our changing rooms were in the ditch, or behind a wall, no matter what the weather. So we preferred to get geared up in the school or at home when I was playing for the Tones. Even worse for me, and everyone else at the time was that I had an old pair of heavy leather brown boots that were as heavy as lead. I had to clean them after every use unless I was playing again that evening. First, I would scrape off all the muck and dirt, and more often than not, leave them somewhere to dry. When they were dried, I had to clean and polish them with Dobbin; I think it was called. It was a horrible chore that took some of the fun out of Gaelic. The balls back then were made from the same leather, and seemed to get a lot heavier when they were wet and would sting my hands every time I caught the ball.
At home on the green, we played a lot of soccer or whatever game was the flavour of the month, like tennis when Wimbledon was on television, or cricket in the summer and rugby too. I was never as good at these games as I was at Gaelic, and although there were plenty of soccer clubs around, I never joined them as you could be barred from Gaelic if you were caught playing for a soccer team. The horrible ‘foreign game’ rule. Yet we still found lots to do and occupy our time when we were not at school. We were old enough now to begin exploring everything outside Ballsgrove. During the lovely days in the summer, we would walk out the fields, or up the ramparts beside the river Boyne, go down to the docks to see the boats and cranes, or go to the station to see the trains. There were lots to do for us boys and we seldom just hung around Ballsgrove when the weather was kind. Nobody ever bothered us or told us to get off their land or property, but maybe that is because they did not know what we were doing some of the time.
One exciting but dangerous thing we used to do was up high on the Viaduct bridge over the River Boyne and the docks. We would wait until we saw a train coming, then hide in these little inspection holes under the tracks, until the train passed overhead. It was very noisy and smelly, and everything shook like it was an earthquake, but it was exhilarating. We would be delighted with ourselves climbing out of those holes after the train had thundered just over our heads. Talk about cheap thrills. That is precisely what that was. The viaduct was a great place to view Drogheda, the docks, ships, and cranes below as well as the river Boyne flowing beneath us. On a good day, we could see out as far as the sea and maybe even the ships coming in to dock.
There was nothing much to the west of Ballsgrove, except for Donore Village, Townley Hall, and a small wood in Oldbridge. And of course, a few apple orchards where we ‘truffed’ apples when they were ready to be picked. I am not sure which was better fun, getting the apples, or being chased by the farmer. We also searched for the biggest and best chestnuts from the chestnut trees. We used these to play the game ‘conkers’ where you put a hole through the centre of the nut and tied some sting on it and used this to try to smash the other person’s chestnut. It was a craze, and everyone did it. It did cause arguments too, mostly when some people used dirty tricks like filling the chestnut with sand or baking it in the oven. It was also dangerous, and I don’t know how many times I got my fingers smashed with a flying chestnut.
On good sunny days, we would cycle out to the Bettystown beach, play on the dunes and the beach until it was time to go home, and we always had to be home for mealtime. That was the main rule, unbreakable and unchangeable. I had to tell Mam where we were going, and she would remind me, again and again, to be home for the next meal, be it dinner or tea. I was always home on time because I was afraid someone else would eat my meal, and I would get in trouble with my Mam. But most days we just headed out the fields as far as Donore or Townley Hall and made our own fun. Once when we were going through the grounds beside Marley’s lane, where the school is now, we found a bit of rope, and I decided to ride a cow. I tied the rope around the cow’s neck, to give me something to hold onto, got on the cow, and he took off like a cheetah chasing its dinner. Of course, I fell off but got the rope twisted around my ankle, and the poor cow dragged me all around the field, and only stopped when it could run no more. I ended up in the hospital with a busted ankle, where the rope had tried to cut my leg off, but I was okay. I was fortunate as the lads later pointed out where my head had just missed a concrete block. I got away with that, but my promising career as a rodeo rider was over.
When we could, or rather when we got money, our allowance off Mam, we would go to the pictures (the cinema in today’s language) for the Saturday matinee. There were two cinemas in town, but we always went to the Abbey Cinema, and I don’t remember ever being at the Gate cinema. The Abbey was always packed with kids. The ushers, usually ladies, were always trying to keep us quiet until the short before the main movie started. That was nearly always a Batman cartoon, and we would all start roaring out the ‘biffs’ and ‘Kerpows’ as they came on screen. God bless those ushers; they had an impossible job. We would all be hyped, pretending to be Batman, Tarzan, or some other hero for the rest of the day. Different things thrill people in different ways, but a huge thrill and experience for me, was when my Dad brought me to the Abbey to see the film ‘The Battle of the Bulge’ one night in 1967. I loved the movie, but much more than that, I loved going to the pictures with my Dad. I do remember almost floating out of the cinema and home. Unfortunately, the Abbey burned down in 1969. Dad brought me down to the top of the Grove Hill, where we could watch the flames dance on the building against the dark skies above. It looked like the fire was trying to reach the sky. It was an amazing sight but a sad day for the town and the people.
I have never really had heroes or understood hero worship, but the closest person to a ‘hero’ for me those days was the Duke himself - John Wayne. I loved watching his movies. We only had three television stations back then, but I remember that RTE used to show a lot of John Wayne films after the 9.00 pm news on either a Friday or a Saturday night, and I was allowed to stay up to watch them. I remember the first time I saw him killed in a movie, and it completely shocked me, and I could not believe what I was seeing. To me, it was kind of real and not make-believe. The film was “The Sands of Iwo Jima” where he was shot at the end. I felt distraught that he was killed as I believed that he could never die. It took me a while to get over that. Other essential viewing at the time in the Moroney house was “Top of the Pops” on BBC and Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green. Joey Maher and his family won the weekly show a few times and the whole town was so proud and talking about it nonstop. Tom and Jerry and all the other cartoons were also very popular, but I never bought into Doctor Who and the Daleks. I thought it was so stupid. My logic was that the Daleks were cumbersome and immobile and could be stopped by throwing something over them to cover them up, or just push them down the stairs. They were too easy to defeat, yet lots of people loved the show and were intimated by the Daleks. To me, they made no sense at all, and while I loved, and still do, watching someone else’s vision for the future or different worlds, I couldn’t watch the Daleks.
When Dad was home and not on shift work, he took control of the telly, and it was a battle trying to convince him to let us watch what we wanted. If he got up to go to the kitchen or toilet, we immediately changed the station, and he would roar at us when he came back. He always wanted to watch the news, even after just watching it on another channel. Sometimes he relented, just to get a bit of peace, and left the living room, probably to bang his head against the wall outside. Mam was far more relaxed about the television but always seemed to be elsewhere doing the housework or looking after babies.
The only thing I was terrified about at the time was quicksand. There were lots of scary stories at the time about banshees and the ‘Red Hand’ in the trees on Grove Hill, but they never bothered me. Lots of movies and tv shows of the time featured quicksand. I thought it was a terrifying way to die and thought that quicksand was everywhere and not just on TV. When out playing, I would be anxious if we came across a big puddle or damp patch of ground in case it was quicksand, but to this day, I have never come across any.
While all this growing up and living Life was going on, school became fun for me rather than education. I became a bit of a ‘messer’ in class, and that got me into a whole lot of trouble. I remember one occasion when I was still in the junior part of the school. I put the teacher’s leather into the gutter on the roof. The leather was the punishment tool of choice. It was about a foot long and was close to an inch thick, shaped to fit comfortably into the punisher’s hand. I was just able to contort myself out the top window and put it in the gutter. The Christian Brother had no idea where he put it or how he could have lost it. However, there was a huge shower later that day, and the leather was washed down to the playground and found. The teacher went mental on the class, and eventually, someone squealed, and I was caught. My punishment was immediate and very painful. I got six of the best on each hand from this wet chunk of leather, and the palms of my hands were red raw for hours. Yet, too stupid or boisterous to learn my lesson, I had many more interactions with the dreaded leather. Once I was kept back when school was finished, given a good lash with the leather, and then sent down to play Gaelic for the school. I don’t remember what I did that day, but I was in agony and could not touch the ball with my hands. You can’t play Gaelic football without good hands so I couldn’t play properly. It wasn’t long before I was taken off and called an idiot.
I know that many people might disagree with me, but I don’t think the leather done my school friends or me any harm at all. It was apparent back then, and I suppose this has helped make me who I am. I see everything in black or white, so to speak. If you did wrong and were caught, you were punished. We all knew that. I accepted that as the punishment when I was caught doing something wrong. Years later, in the same school, I was caught doing something wrong by Mr Green, and as punishment, I had to wait after school until he was ready to go and carry his brown leather case to his car for him. To me, that was much worse as it was so embarrassing and humiliating, and I had to do that for a whole month. Everyone used to laugh at me and take the piss. Still, I got by, by doing what I had to.
Mrs Moroney didn’t rear any stupid children but education, and homework, was something to be done, and everything in Life would be good. So, I never exactly excelled in school but was good enough to stay out of trouble, most of the time. I did learn something, though, and that was that I could not sing a note. All the students were assembled in the big yard to practice singing for some big event. We were all singing, and I was giving it socks when suddenly the teacher stopped us before having us sing in small sections. When it was our turn, the teacher looked at me and told me to shut up and stay quiet for the rest of the session because I was ruining it for everyone else. I have only tried to sing about five or six times since and I am still as bad.
Life was great at home, and two more boys joined the Moroney clan. Colm was born in 1967 and Noel was born in 1968. Now there were five kids in the household, and all the boys slept in the one bedroom. The only time I remember being unhappy back then was when I got yellow jaundice and had to stay home for a month or so. Initially, no school was brilliant, but I soon became bored silly, especially when everyone else was at school, and I had no one to play with. That was the first time I experienced loneliness, and I was not too fond of it. It was a strange new feeling that troubled me then and many times since. When I went back to school, I had to catch up very quickly, with double homework. I had no clue what the teacher was talking about most of the time and didn’t want to be left behind, so I worked hard to catch up. I could do this when I wanted to. It’s a shame I didn’t like to learn more all the time. Now I love to learn something new every day.
I did drive my Mam and Gran crazy as I loved to untie their aprons when they were doing something, and I loved to steal a mouthful of gripe water that was for the baby. I loved the sweetness of it and got some whenever I could. No wonder I have diabetes now. The only time I ever got into big trouble at home was when I was ten years of age and had a big argument with my Mam. I believe it was over money. I had a little job, and the house rule was that half of it should go to Mam for the house, but I didn’t want to share my money. I felt so bad later and thought my Mam did not love me anymore. (How many times have I believed this since.) So, I ran away. I got on my bike and went up to the train station, with the idea of getting on a freight train, and going wherever it took me. But the train station staff seemed to be all over the place that day and watching me closely. So, I gave up on that idea and started cycling towards the airport, where I was going to stow away on a plane. How I was going to get on a plane with my bicycle, I had no idea, but I was going anyway. I headed up the Dublin road full of energy and enthusiasm for my new Life, leaving all my troubles behind me. I cycled for hours until I got to Swords, about 25 miles from Drogheda. I was tired, hungry, and over the row with Mam. I dropped the idea of flying off to exotic locations. Loneliness and hunger were driving me now, but I had no idea what to do until I saw the Garda station.
I went in and told the Garda my story. He was brilliant. He phoned the station in Drogheda and asked them to let my parents know where I was, and that I would be on the next bus from Swords to Drogheda. He even bought me a coke and a cream bun to eat. Then he put me on the bus to Drogheda with my faithful steed, my bike, carefully placed in the luggage hold. The ride home on the bus was very uncomfortable for me, as all kinds of thoughts entered my head like I was going to be killed by my parents or placed in an orphanage or worse, just kicked out of the house. But I shouldn’t have worried. The little bus station in Drogheda at the time was on the top of the Marsh Road, and Mam and Dad were there to greet me, and there was no eviction, fighting, or threats at all. They were just delighted that I was safe and home. We even laughed about the long cycle and presenting myself to the Garda station in Swords, but it was the first and last time I ran away from home.
In April of 1970, I was confirmed in St Peter’s church in Drogheda, with the rest of my classmates. Yes, I did get the slap on the face, but I barely remember that or the ceremony itself. But it was a momentous occasion because I was now old and big enough to wear long trousers for the first time. No matter what the occasion before my confirmation, short trousers were all I had and was allowed to wear. They were ok in the summer but horrible in the cold of winter, and they looked so childish, especially as part of a suit. Those days were over me now, and I was delighted. I was a big boy now.
That same year another brother joined us, Brian. The house was filling up fast, and there always seemed to be a new baby in the house.
I started working at ten years of age, helping Ramie Smith, our breadman. I did it mostly for the big cream buns he would give me. But sometimes he would give me a few pennies as well, and that was a bonus. He delivered bread and cakes from Peter Lyons bread, and I often went with him into the big bakery on Stockwell street in the town. The size of the place and the vast ovens took my breath away. I still remember the rhyme we all used to say; -
Peter Lyons bread
It sticks to your belly like lead,
The more to eat
The more you want
Of Peter Lyons bread.
It was a wonderful new experience to have my own money, so for the summer of 1972, I got myself an unofficial job as a tea-boy when the new Holy Family Church in Ballsgrove was being built. I made the tea and kept busy running to the shop for the workers. They would all chip in to give me a few shillings every Friday, and almost every time I went to the shop, they gave me a few pennies. It was great working with men too and having a laugh, even if I was often the butt of their jokes, like going around the site asking for skyhooks. But it all came to an end too soon. I was in the part of the church where the sacristy is now, and there was a demonstration wall there. I didn’t know that it was not cemented to the floor and leaned on it. It fell on my foot, and I had to hobble home. My Mam took off my shoes and sock, but when she got my sock off, the nail on my big toe came off too. So off to the hospital again. I was also barred from the site when the bosses heard about my accident. The money I made though, came in handy as the Moroneys went to Bettystown on holidays later that summer. We stayed in a building which was just across the road from the beach. We played on the sand, in the sea and on the dunes every day. We even played in the water and on the beach when it was lashing rain, because we were going to get wet anyway. One day we found, up near Mornington, what looked to us like a small shark washed up on the beach. It had so many sharp and dangerous-looking teeth. It was nearly 3 feet long, but it was dead. Every time we went into the water after that, we were looking out for sharks and afraid we would get bitten, or we would try to scare everyone by screaming ‘shark’ and pointing close to them. On another day, my brothers and I were playing football on the beach when Johnny Giles came along and had a kick about with us. I had no idea who he was until the others told me, and then I felt privileged. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone, but I don’t think many believed us at all. Like most things, the beach was a very different experience back then. The place used to be full of cars and people on the weekends, especially on a Sunday. Families would park up in their vehicles or arrive in big groups when the bus arrived. Mams would get out to get the kids sorted and looked after. Dads would put the radio on to listen to the football or hurling. Kids would have a super time in the water, on the beach, or playing in the dunes. Holes were dug, sandcastles built and many people buried in the sand. Ah, the simple things in life are still the best. We went back there again there following year for our holidays and had just as much fun.
Following my accident in the new church and after the summer, I got myself a little job with a farmer selling potatoes in the market on Saturdays. He was a lovely gentleman, but I can’t remember his name. The craic between him and the customers was excellent, and he could have thought many marketers a thing or two about customer service. He sold two types of potatoes - Kerr’s Pinks and Records, and he sold them either loose or in 4 stone bags. My job was to carry the spuds to the customers' cars, mostly in 4 stone bags, and then help him deliver to people all over the town. It was good work, and I built up my strength a lot even though I was still as skinny as a rake. That went on into 1974 when another accident put an end to that. We happened to be delivering in Ballsgrove behind my uncle Paddy’s house when I fell off the trailer as we were driving down the lane. I landed flat on my face, broke some teeth, cut my face, lips, and nose, and ended up in the hospital again. At least I know where my good looks went. That was the end of that job, but work was work and work was money, and if I ever needed anything for myself, I had to buy it myself. That was the way it was back then, not just for me, but for everyone I knew. So that year myself and John, Pat Devlin from next door, and a few others went to work on Berrill’s farm on the Slane road, outside Drogheda on Saturdays. Peter Berrill would pick us up in an old pick up at 6.00 am or shortly after that, depending on when he got up. Even in the winter when it was freezing cold, we would travel on the back of the pickup and be delighted to get off the truck and start work, to keep moving and try to warm up. We picked carrots, or potatoes, thinned turnips, and on some occasions cut down and chopped trees on the land to sell as firewood. Most of the lads would finish and be home by tea time, but Pat Devlin and myself were often asked to stay to help wash and bag the vegetables so they would be ready for the market in Dublin on Monday morning. So, when Peter dropped the rest of the gang home, we went into the house, and his mother would pile the dinner into us. We ate like people who had never seen food before, as we were starving, having only had a sandwich at lunchtime. That would invigorate us for the work ahead. We washed the vegetables through a long rotating barrel that looked like a circular grater from the inside. Loading the veg at the top of this barrel was not too bad, but being at the bottom, collecting the produce in plastics and then tying them tightly, was a lot more difficult, especially when it was freezing. I had no idea what kept my fingers stuck to my hands or if they were still there at all. We had plenty of laughs and banter to help pass the night, and I even got to see a calf being born one night. It was amazing. But it was worth it, even after paying half to Mam, having my own money to do with as I pleased and I bought a new, proper pair of football boots and other football gear as soon as I could.
I did also have a brief but embarrassing flirt with acting in primary school. We were studying a play called ‘The Smuggler’s Den’ about some boys who came across a den full of stuff before the smugglers arrived back. The play was to be part of the school’s annual entertainment show. When all was ready, the show was performed to a big audience, including my parents, in the Parochial Centre in Drogheda. We were the bee’s knees. We felt like stars, even though we were all very nervous. We had dressing rooms with seats and lockers. When the play started, everything was going ok until one of my significant parts. The stage went into darkness, and I was supposed to light a candle. I could not get the matches to light for ages, and when I did, I could not find the candle. I was mortified and completely forgot what I was supposed to say next. Thankfully one of the other lads, I think it was Alan Milne, said my lines for me. One of the teachers, seeing the disaster unfold, turned the lights back on as if the candle lit up the ‘cave’ and I was not involved for a few minutes. I took the chance to put my heart back in its place, reboot my head, and finish the play sweating like a pig and overly conscious of making another mistake. Any chance of an acting career ended there and then. Around the same time, my Dad was involved in the musical ‘Oklahoma’ and had a big singing part. Of course, we all went to see him in the Parochial Centre and he, unlike me, handled himself brilliantly and sang ever so well. We were so proud that night and amazed at how well Dad performed. My Dad was a star, in my eyes, anyway.
The significant ground-breaking event in 1973 was that I finished primary school and started secondary school. Life was great, and I believed that this would last forever, living a carefree life and having lots of fun, but how wrong I was - Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
1973 was like every previous year, as far as I can remember. It was great and lots of fun. I started secondary school, went on a fabulous family holiday, started a new part-time job, and welcomed another brother, Michael, into the gang. That was six boys and one girl in the family now if you were counting. The house was full, noisy, and always busy. All us boys shared three beds in the big back bedroom, while Bernadette had the small room all to herself. Meals were eaten in shifts, in the small kitchen. I had to be ready when called, or I might lose my place and my food. We ate like pigs in a trough, stuffing the food down us like we were never going to get any more. We were always hungry when mealtime came around, and I guess that was because we were all lively and active during the day. I was a picky eater and never ate fish. I remember the fishermen with their nets catching fish beside the ramparts on the River Boyne, and I often went there with Dad, and he would buy a fresh trout or salmon from them for Friday dinner. We were not allowed to eat meat on a Friday because we were Catholic. I have in my head that I got very sick when I was young after eating fish and could never touch them again. Even when the family was eating fish, I would have to take my dinner out of the kitchen because the smell made me nauseous. I still can’t take the smell.
That summer the family went to a place called the High Chaparral in Castleisland, Co Kerry. The whole holiday was a wonderful experience for all of us. Apart from the odd trip to Dublin or the airport, we had stayed in and around Drogheda. The journey down the county was fantastic, even if the car overheated. That should not have surprised us too much as the car was full. There were Mam and Dad, with six boys and one girl. Plus, all our luggage, on a scorching day. It took us 7 hours to get there, but it was well worth it in every way. I was the navigator guiding us through all the towns and villages on the way, and the mountain ranges on the way looked terrific. Being the oldest and lanky, I was lucky to get the passenger seat at the front of the car to myself. The High Chaparral itself was about a mile outside Castleisland, and it was a holiday complex, made up of a lot of wooden chalets centred around a big house that served as the reception, dining room, and music venue at night, for the adults. At the front of all this was a big field and it was full of ponies. To us, they were horses, and we were riding them around every chance we got. The people who worked there, and one of them was only 11, were brilliant teaching us and helping us ride correctly. One day they asked us if we wanted to go up the mountains and help them ride back more of the ponies. Dad came with us, and it was a long trek. When he got back, his arse was sore, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever sit again. How we all laughed that night. Most days though, after breakfast, and a few circuits of the field on the ponies, Dad would take us to see the sights of Kerry. Everywhere we went was so beautiful that you knew God did some of his best work there. We went on the Ring of Kerry, up the gap of Dungloe, onto Inch strand, into Killarney in the park and on the lakes. Every day was new and fascinating, and we loved every minute of it. Then once we were back in the High Chaparral, we were back on the ponies and had to be dragged off them at night. Some months later, Dad pointed out an article in the Sunday paper about that 11-year-old. I can’t remember his name, but the piece was about him being the youngest horse dealer in the country. Amazing.
Shortly after we got home, I started secondary school in St Mary's Christian Brothers School on the Beamore Road in Drogheda. That was on my side of town and was nearer to me than St Joseph's. Drogheda was divided by the River Boyne ( and still is). On the North of the river were County Louth and St Peter’s Parish in the diocese of Armagh. South of the river was partly in County Louth and partly in County Meath but was in St Mary's Parish and the diocese of Meath. St Joseph's was in St Peter's parish and County Louth while St. Mary's was in St. Marys on the border of Counties Louth and Meath. I still remember walking into school that first day.
I was overawed and excited at the same time. Most of my classmates from St Joseph's went on to St. Joseph's Secondary school, but a few I knew moved to St Mary's, mainly because they were from St Mary’s parish too. Many of the new students came from St Mary's Primary School in Congress Avenue. Still, a lot more came from villages and areas in County Meath such as Laytown, Bettystown, Duleek, Donore, and even as far as Ardcath and Kentstown. So, there was a great mix of boys from lots of different places. I settled in very quickly and was put into a class that studied Irish, English, Maths, History, Geography, Latin, French, and Science. From the outset, I did not want to be wasting my time with Latin. To me, it was a dead language that would be of no practical use to me then or at any time. So, I did absolutely nothing when it came to Latin. Neither did I see any value in studying ancient poems by Shakespeare, Milton, or others I never heard of before. I could not understand why we had to waste so much time and effort on this outdated stuff. It was of no practical use as far as I was concerned. I can see now how my brain was developing, and I was starting to evaluate what others thought was important. I was, rightly or wrongly, making decisions about what was important, useful, or of value to me, and what wasn’t. Mam and Dad, and Granny too, brought us up properly. I knew right from wrong, and to respect everyone, even if I questioned myself about whether they deserved it or not. To my mind then and all since then, I felt that respect had to be earned. Sure, I had respect for almost everyone I had known in my young life, but I began to notice that not everyone was the same. I started to see and experience greed, selfishness, and dishonesty around me and I found that disturbing and wrong. I loved and still do, the truth, and hate lies and that started with me about this time. I am not proud that lying became such an integral part of my life years later. I developed a kind of personality, where I wanted to help others who required help, and an aversion to people who looked down on others. I did everything I could to avoid or walk away from such people. I still find it hard to deal with people I feel have hidden agendas, or who lie to achieve their own goals or aims. I can’t stand liars or ‘fake people’ who don’t care who they hurt or offend, once they get what they want. That was, I suppose when I began to set my own core values, and while I would not change them for anything, they have caused me a whole lot of pain and grief since.
Just as in primary school, I did what I had to, to get by and stay under the radar. There were no leathers in St Mary's, but punishments like lines, double homework and even getting the wooden duster thrown at you were commonplace. Sometimes the teachers prevented me from doing what I wanted to do, like sports or being on time for work after school, and that felt a whole lot worse.
Sport again was very important in St. Mary's as was PE, but basketball was a hugely popular game in school. It was all new to most of us, and many of us played any chance we got. I played for the school team in different age groups, but I was never really that good or confident. Yet it was fun and kind of like a new fad to me, and many of my friends in school played too. The School was blessed with some brilliant and talented basketball players and won a lot of competitions and trophies. Most of the training sessions took place in the school gym in the evenings, which give us something positive to do after school as well as somewhere to go. But Gaelic football was still my game, and I continued to play for the Wolfe Tones and played for the school teams. The training in the school was horrendous. We had to run to the Gaelic fields in Bryanstown to warm up before practice, and the evil teachers often made us run down the Dale and up the 101 steps. Then we would start training proper—pure torture. Again, the school had some very talented Gaelic footballers, and I believe some of them went on to win all Ireland medals with Meath, and another played for County Louth but never had the same success with them. Yet I enjoyed playing Gaelic more than any other sport, perhaps because I felt more confident and thought I was better at it. I did not worry about whether I was doing the right things or what to do next. I just went with the flow and kind of felt in control of myself and how I played.
I got on well with everyone in the school, even Bridie the canteen lady who we used to help out, so we got free grub or sweets. She taught me how to make creamy coffee by first mixing the sugar and coffee, then add a teaspoon of water and mix to a paste before adding the hot water. I made coffee that way until I stopped using sugar. I made great close friends too. Alan Milne had also moved to St Mary’s and lived close to me in Ballsgrove, and we became great friends with Ray Berrill and Don Carolan. Most days we walked to school together then home for lunch and back to school again. Notice the way that dinner had changed into lunch with the advent of secondary school. On break times boys would be playing basketball, soccer and any other game they had space for, but a few were sneaking around behind the school to smoke, and it was not too long before I was giving it a go. Stupid boy, but it was seen as cool back then. So, for once, I thought I was cool. I was not averse to a bit of ‘mitching’ either and took days or half days off school when I shouldn't. A popular place to go when mitching was to the Linen Hall pub where we were let play pool out the back. We knew we would not be spotted there, so it was safe that is where I learned to play pool. On lovely days, we would go up the ramparts or go on the railway tracks to the Platin cement factory. Bold boys!
I started a new job in SuperValu Drogheda. There was an old small supermarket in the town called Lipton's. That was taken over by SuperValu who opened the first big supermarket in Drogheda. I don’t know whether they bought out Liptons for all the equipment, or to stop any local competition. The first job we had when I started was to move all of the stock, shelving, and equipment to the new purpose-built store in the Abbey Centre where the Abbey cinema used to be. Then the job entailed stocking up the shelves, keeping the store clean, or hauling the stock up the stairs from the storeroom when the lift broke down, which I swear happened every week. Still, it was great craic there, and I had money to keep me going through the week without asking Mam for some.
Another job I had was taking people's shopping to their cars and collecting empty trolleys. That was when I came across my only real bully. He was about a year older than me, from the ‘faa side’ (St Peters), and was always harassing and bullying me for my money. I never give him a penny, and sometimes it came to blows, but I wouldn't give in. I was never a fighter even though I had been in a couple of scraps, but I was not going to hand him over any of my hard-earned money, and open up myself to be intimidated by him all the time. He was a thug though, the first I came across. Years later, when I was living in London, a friend pointed out the headline in the Sunday Press, joking that it referred to a friend of mine from Drogheda. I took the paper from him and read the article, and it was my bully from all those years ago. He was jailed in England for killing his children with a hammer. How lucky was I???
As they say, time flies when you're having fun, and time did seem to pass very quickly for me back then. It was strange at times having one group of friends based around the school, another based around home, and even more based around the football team. Nothing wrong with that, but I realise now that was a time to be treasured. The following year we went back to the High Chaparral and had another brilliant time, but this time we went to visit even more places. I think the best view I've ever seen in my life is called the Nun’s view just outside Killarney looking over the lakes and mountains. I have been back to see the beauties of Kerry a few times since and I still love the place. I even followed the Kerry Gaelic football team from then, and I thought they were the ‘aristocrats’ of the game. Louth never seemed to get to the televised stages of the all-Ireland.
The ponies were still there, and we rode them as often as we could. This year we were far more confidant riding the ponies and taking good care of them, which I loved doing. It is a shame that The High Chaparral is no longer there. It was such a fun place for us kids, and I'm sure the adults too had a great base to explore Kerry. Back in Ballsgrove, there is a big old house at the top of the Grove hill owned by the Kanes. Mr Kane kept showjumpers (hunters) at the back of the house and had built a small showjumping arena there too. I used to sit on the wall and watch him putting the horses through their paces. After lots of begging, I eventually got him to agree to teach me how to ride a horse correctly and in exchange, and I would look after horses and clean out the stables. He taught me how to ride and jump and how to care for a horse. I loved it even though cleaning out the stables was tough and smelly. Sometimes he asked me to take one of the horses up to the end of the Ramparts and walk them in the River Boyne. That was to ease the cuts and scrapes on the horse’s legs, and it was a massive thrill for me. The best being when I would gallop the horse through a field and then down the green on the way home. What beauty, power, and exhilaration. I was so lucky. I have loved horses ever since and I think they are such beautiful animals.
I think if I got green shield stamps every time I went to the hospital; I would have been a millionaire. I cannot remember how many times I went to casualty, but I was a regular. The green shield stamps were the huge marketing thing of the age where they were exchanged for goods free of charge in Dublin. It was all the rage. The stamps were looked after like they were gold dust until they were exchanged for household goods, gifts and a massive range of other equipment. They were rewards for purchases from lots of retailers, and it seemed like everyone collected the green shield stamps.
As you probably guessed, I was playing Gaelic football for the school and ended up back in the hospital. During the game, I blocked a shot, but as I diverted the ball, I was kicked on the hand and broke three fingers. So, I had to go to the hospital again and get my fingers strapped up, and everybody says that sport is good for you. It is really, but bad things happened to everybody, and it was no big deal. I had a great family, enjoyed lots about school, was working part-time, playing lots of sports, and still having time for friends. I wish I could do that now. Life was great for my family and me, and it was never going to change or was it?
A defining Year
In February 1975 my little sister Valerie was born. Mum and Dad were delighted that, at last, they got a little sister for Bernadette. The family was complete. It was a huge change to have a little sister rather than another brother, but she added to the family. She was treated like a princess by everyone in the family, even the little dog, Oscar. There were our parents and eight children living in the house, and Mam often commented that it was a real madhouse, and she wasn’t wrong. Even Dad got confused at times when calling one of us. He would call us, and when he went to him, he would say he meant to call another one of us. It was funny at times. Poor Dad, he must have said “I meant John, Colm, Noel, Brian or Michael” to me a billion times.
In April, I was playing Gaelic for the Wolfe Tones one evening up in Rathmullan Park, where St. Nicholas Gaelic Club is now based. The game was nearly over, and it was a draw match. We won a free-kick, and I stepped up to take it. It was a long-distance out, so I had to put all my strength into it. I focused on the kick and slotted it right over the bar. It felt like my leg went after the ball and over the bar too. We had scored the point and won the game, but I had hurt my leg badly when taking the kick. It felt like I pulled something, so I just grabbed my gear from the ditch and hobbled home. I was often sore after football games, so I didn't pay too much attention to it that evening. However, when I got up the next morning, my leg was very sore right down to my foot, and Mam decided to take me to the hospital. I saw a doctor in casualty, and he said that I had pulled a muscle in my leg and I had to rest it, and I would be fine. He told me to come back in a week so they could monitor my progress. That was on the 22nd of April 1975, just a few weeks after my 14th birthday. I wasn’t too upset at the time as I thought it was just another injury to add to my catalogue. I did try to rest it as much as I could, but I found it hard to sit in doing nothing, so I did go out to hang with the boys to pass the time, but I didn’t do anything that would hurt my leg.
The following week on the 30th of April, I went back to the hospital to get my leg checked out. I went there on my own, partly because I was a ‘big boy’ now, and partly because I knew Mam already had her hands full at home. I didn't think it had got any better, but I wasn't a doctor and did not know how my body worked. I was sure the doctors would examine me properly and fix me up. I thought I was in good hands. In the Lourdes hospital at the time there were two surgeons, Mr Sheehan and Mr Shine, who seemed to run the hospital along with the Matron and Staff Sisters. Both these doctors were seen as almost God-like, and to be treated by either was a privilege. When I attended A&E the week before, I saw a doctor on Mr Sheehan’s team, but this time in the weekly clinic, I saw Mr Shine himself. Mr Shine seemed friendly and professional. I sat in his big office while he examined my leg, asked me a few questions, and said that he was not happy and I would have to go for an x-ray. He called for a porter to bring me a wheelchair and wheel me to the x-ray department. I got my X-ray taken, I waited for the prints, and a porter brought me back to Mr Shine’s office, straight past two huge queues waiting to see a doctor. Usually, I had to stay in the line after x rays, but this time I didn’t. How privileged and special I felt.
As far as Shine was concerned, when he looked at the x-ray, I had torn a muscle in my right thigh. The previous week, the doctor said that I had pulled a muscle. Not exactly the same, but close. Mr Shine also told me that I would have to stay in hospital to give my leg a chance to heal. Because I was on my own, the hospital needed parental permission before I could be admitted. Mr Shine himself wheeled me up to the office, behind the hospital reception area, so that they could contact my parents. We had no phone at home at the time, so we tried to get my Dad at work in Irish Cement. Eventually, the receptionist got him, and it wasn't long before he and Mam arrived in the hospital, and I was admitted to the third floor. I was put into one of those six-bed wards and confined to bed. I had to use a commode to go to the toilet but we some laughs. I even got into trouble there too. The chap in the bed next to me distracted the student nurse, and I shoved a few black grapes down the back of her uniform and pressed until they squashed and leaked all over her. The Ward Sister, the Matron, and Mr Shine came and told me off, and the poor nurse got a bollocking too. That was unfair because she was just the victim of our stupid prank.
The strange and unusual thing at the time was that Mr Shine would drop in to see me and see how I was, at night, without his entourage of junior doctors, sisters, and nurses. The other patients would wonder who I was, to be getting special attention from such an eminent doctor. Some were Shine’s patients too, but he did not visit or check on them. After a week, I was allowed out of bed to practice on the crutches. It was not too bad, except the palm of my hands would sting. On the 10th of May, which is probably now the saddest and most painful days in the calendar year for me, I was discharged. My Dad picked me up and brought me home. I was supposed to rest, take it easy, and go back to the clinic the following week. In other words, no school for a while more yet.
I went back to the clinic the following week. In the Lourdes Hospital at that time, the main entrance was in the centre of the hospital, facing the graveyard, and the reception was just in that door. I presented at the reception and had to wait in the immediate vicinity. I stayed there, until the Ward Sister, Nurse Culligan called me. She was in charge of this part of the hospital and knew what everyone, especially the nurses, was doing every minute of the day. She seemed to be very good at her job and in total and absolute control of that area. It was always jam-packed with lots of people either waiting to be called to A&E or the clinic. When I heard my name, I had to go down the corridor through A&E or casualty, to the clinic waiting room. This waiting room was small and kind of L-shaped and also bustling. Right across the entrance was the door to Mr Shine’s huge office, probably more massive than the waiting room, where I had seen him before being admitted. To the left of his office, as you looked at it, were three little wooden partition cubicles, where the different doctors and nurses on duty attended to the patients. On our side of the room, on the other side of the entrance, was a little dressing station.
I thought that my luck was in that day, as I did not have to wait too long in the waiting area. One of the nurses called my name and escorted me to one of the cubicles and asked me to stay there until the doctor came. Inside the door, there was an examination bed on the left, and a sink on the right. On the west wall facing the door was a little window. Outside that window was a palm tree growing healthy and strong, despite our changeable weather, and I was curious about how it survived out there. I sat on the bed, taking all this in and waited for the doctor.
When the door opened, the first thing I noticed was that it was Doctor Shine himself and not one of his team. That was great, wasn't it? The second thing I noticed was that when the nurse tried to accompany Mr Shine into the cubicle, she was blocked off and not invited in. I don’t know what he said or what went through her head, but at the time, it didn’t seem abnormal or unusual to me. Mr Shine remembered me and was polite and soft-spoken and asked me how I was, how my leg was, and whether I was on my own or if my parents were with me. I told him that I was fine but was not sure which was the sorest, my leg, or the palms of my hands from the crutches. I also told him, I was on my own because I, nor my parents, expected that I would be admitted as an in-patient again.
He asked me to take my trousers down and lie on the bed. I did this and dropped my pants but did not take them off. They were scrunched up around my feet. I lay on the examination bed on my back and was looking straight at him. I didn’t feel nervous or ashamed in any way. I was well used to being examined in the hospital. He began pressing and touching my thigh, asking if any touch or bit of pressure was sore. Sometimes I answered that there was no pain where he touched, but other times, I could feel the pain and let him know. He told me that I was “a fine healthy boy” and that my leg was getting better, but I would have to stay on the crutches for a while, and not put too much pressure on my right leg.
Then he started examining my stomach just underneath the waistband of my underpants. There was nothing wrong with my gut. But he was the God-like doctor, and I was just a dumb kid from town, so I said nothing. As he continued pressing, he started going lower and lower, touching and feeling all the time, like he was looking for a lump. He kept going lower and lower, pressing and touching, until he reached my balls. He played with them in his hands, the way we used to play with marbles, and I just lay there. I could see nothing except his face, and I will never forget the sight of his tongue and the way he rolled it around his lips. It was like he was experiencing some pleasure or even a thrill. I was frigid. I did not move, so I had nothing else to look at. He then took my penis and masturbated me until I came in his hand. I did not move or say anything. I did not understand what he was doing to me. I didn’t know it was a sexual act. I had my first ever ejaculation. I was excited and confused at the same time. I had no idea what had happened, but it felt kind of good to me. Shine washed his hands in the sink while I stared at the palm tree. When he had dried his hands, he turned his attention back to me. He repeated that I was a fine healthy boy and told me to go to make an appointment for the following week. I went to reception and booked myself in for the next week. I left the hospital, and on the way down Windmill Road, my feelings were all over the place. I was shocked, and I was excited, but I did know what to think. That was my very first sexual encounter. Nowadays, I'm sure kids know a lot more about sex before they are ten years of age than I did then. I never even thought about girls or girlfriends. Girls were more like enemies than friends and not part of my world just yet. Boys kept to themselves and girls did likewise, except maybe in the family home.
The same thing happened every time I went back to the hospital. I am not sure how many times I went back to that clinic, but I always had 4 or 5 times in my head. I was seen every time by Mr Shine and not one of his team, and he was always on his own, with no nurse present. It was not as if there were no other doctors on duty. I noticed them running around all the time, going from one cubicle to casualty and back again, with nurses never far behind. Shine always followed the same pattern, asking how I was, examining my leg, then stomach, and so on. He would have his pleasure with me, tell me I was a fine healthy boy, and ask me to come back in a week or two, whatever suited him. I got used to it, and never felt as excited or confused as the first time, and didn’t think about it too much. I thought it was like any other procedure in the hospital. On the 14th of July, he told me I was doing very well, and I didn't need to come to the hospital anymore. He told me to go and see him in his private rooms on Fair Street instead. He gave me a date and time to remember. The following week I went to Fair St. I had no idea where his building was and had to walk the street looking at the plaques beside the doors before I found it. I knocked, and he answered the door himself. I didn’t have to wait very long in the hallway before he called me into his examination room, which was at the back of the house. The place was different, but everything else was the same as in the hospital, and the same abuse happened every time. But only two or three times here as far as I can recall.
I never told my Mam or Dad or anyone else what was happening. I did not know what to think, and who was I to question things I knew nothing about. I thought it was a normal thing that every boy went through but never spoke of. I knew too that no-one ever talked about their ‘privates’ as it was a ‘dirty’ topic. My Dad was pleased that Mr Shine had taken such an interest in my well-being, and even went to offer payment to him, but he said there was no need. I was getting free treatment in a private clinic but was paying in other ways. I was still on crutches and due to come off them very soon. I had to go back to the hospital once more for the final check-up before giving up the crutches. I did not see Mr Shine that day. I was kind of disappointed because I did not get to see the ‘boss’ who I had got used to seeing. Another doctor examined me, and he told me that my leg was fine and I could leave the crutches there.
That same evening, I was messing about on the street with a basketball when I scraped my hand up one of the old wooden telegraph poles and got three splinters stuck between my finger and nail. So, I had to go back to the hospital again. The strange thing is that once I was taken to casualty and seen by a nurse, Shine appeared magically, like Mr Benn in the TV show, and treated me himself. I’m sure that many of those other patients waiting there on beds or chairs, wondered how I was treated so quickly. I had to get injections on both sides of my finger, to blow it up like a balloon, before he removed the splinters. Then he just left.
I was off the crutches, mobile, and able to start playing sport, which was good news. I never got to play Gaelic football again outside school. One of the managers of the Wolfe Tones heard about my recovery, which only lasted the whole summer. He called to my house, and Mam answered the door. She went mad when he told her he was looking for me to go back playing Gaelic with the Tones. She was furious because we got no word, card, or enquiry from them when I was in the hospital or since. She ran him from the door, making it very clear that I would never be going back there again. I have never seen her so angry, and as far as she was concerned, if they did not care about me, I was not to care about them, and that was that. I stuck then to Gaelic, basketball, and other sports around the school, and I got involved with Leinster Schools Basketball Association. I trained as a basketball referee and enjoyed that, and refereed lots of games in the North East of Ireland, mostly school games. It gave me something else to do with my time, as I had enough of doing nothing. I was not able to do anything when I was in the hospital and then on crutches. The other significant benefit to me was that I had a new responsibility, and I thrived on that. I always tried to do my very best, so I would not let myself or anyone else down.
The family did go on holidays that summer, but I did not go with them. I had to stay at home for my hospital appointments, and I thought that I was a ‘big boy’ now and too old for family vacations. So, they went off, and I stayed at home. They went to the Isle of Man on the ferry from Dublin. Meals were no problem, as Granny looked after all that for me. No parties either, that was not our thing back then. Anyway, the neighbours were so close and connected, that Mam and Dad would probably have found out immediately on the ‘mother's secret information line’, the forerunner to the internet. They always seemed to know what was going on, no matter where they were.
I don’t believe that the abuse had an immediate negative effect on me in any way, well it didn’t seem like it did. Some noticeable changes were maybe just a part of my growing up. I found that at times I just wanted to be on my own and did enjoy my own company, some of the time. I still hung around with my mates and had good times with them, but I was questioning friendships. Overthinking what people wanted from me, became more common. I was having trust issues and judging people, even though I knew that was wrong. Who was I to judge? I was no better than anyone, but no one was better than me. I have always thought that we were all equal and should treat everyone the same. Lots of people were better than me at nearly everything in life, like basketball, football, singing, working, and they used their gifts, but as far as I could see, I had no unique talent. Yet I believed that as people on this planet, we were all equal. As we used to say back then, I was brought up, not dragged up, and I knew right from wrong, truth from everything else, and to be polite and understanding with others. I learned to treat people, in every situation, the way I would like to be treated and have tried to live by that rule all my life. If I was not able to do that for some reason, like I felt a person was a gobshite, then I just walked away. I learned to avoid and stay away from people I did not feel comfortable with, and I was probably far too quick to accept the way I felt and act accordingly. I know some people thought I was somehow aloof or even ignorant, but as far as I thought, I was just protecting myself and trying to live a life with no drama, not hurting or offending anyone.