The pub had a little room on the left hand side as you went through the door; I think it was called the box, probably because you could not get more than four people into it. My dad would usually stop there on his way home on pay day and my mum knew that if she went up for the money there would be a row. I can remember my first drink of Guinness was in that pub. His usual drinks were wine and Guinness.
What does not make sense to me is the fact that I hated to see my dad drunk and the consequences that followed would leave me angry. Alcohol was ruining our home, I could see nothing good in it but I partook of it never the less. On reflection I was quite the little hypocrite, I would pour my dad’s wine down the sink when he was sleeping and tell him that he drank it whenever he woke up but at the same time I would steal his beer and go and drink it with another boy who stole his dad’s home brew.
Around the age of fourteen I started to hang out with older boys who had made a house in Alexander Square into a boys club, just around the corner from our street. Up until now I had not been exposed to anything political or sectarian, football was the dominant force in my life. It is probably true to say that football was my life line. It took me away from the house for hours and I could enjoy myself in a hostile free environment.
It did not take long though before I became a hater of Roman Catholics. No Roman Catholic had ever done me any harm but I found myself wanting to do them harm. I was strongly influenced by the older boys and felt that if they hated Roman Catholics then so should I. I got involved in rioting in various flash points within the town. I was present when one Roman Catholic was dragged down his stairs in Colban Cresent and beaten around his garden.
All the Roman Catholics in the estate were put out, even those who I would have played football with on the greens in the estate. I deeply regret being caught up in the madness and wickedness of those days. On one occasion I believe that God spared me from serious injury, this was the first occasion but years later God would spare me again.
It was an annual event for the bands to march around the back of what was known as the big Church and what we referred to as the Catholic end of the town. The night before the march i had a very vivid dream concerning the riot that would evidently break out. In the dream I was throwing stones and anything else I could get my hands on towards a large crown in Edward Street. Large Saracen armoured cars were keeping the two crowds apart.
In the dream I suddenly looked up towards the sky and a large stone was about to hit me on the head, at this point I woke from the dream. That evening the predicted riot broke out as expected. When you are full of adrenalin there seems to be a dulling of the senses to fear, that is the way it seemed to affect me. Bricks, stones and bottles were landing all around me, Friends were bleeding after being struck by the projectiles but I kept throwing as hard and as quickly as I could.
Then unexpectedly I heard a voice in my head say very clearly “Look up”, I instantly looked up and there it was exactly as in the dream, a large stone racing towards my head. By the time I saw it all I could do was to lean back as far as I could without falling, the large stone hit me full force just below my neck and knocked me stunned onto the ground. No one came to ask me if I was okay, it was every man or boy for himself.
I gathered myself up and without saying a word to anyone I headed for home dazed and troubled. I should not have been troubled, I should have been very grateful that I was not seriously hurt like many of my friends were. I was troubled because of the dream that had come true; I could not figure it out. To make sense of it all I tried to convince myself that I never had the dream in the first place but that would not work because I kept hearing those words in my head “Look up”.
I could tell many more stories about my escapades down in Wakehurst Estate and during the Ulster Workers Council Strike. (I think that is what it was called). That part of the teen chapter in my life is something that I am ashamed of. I can’t turn the clock back but I am sincerely sorry for anyone I may have hurt. Some of the young men I grew up with went to prison for what they believed was a just cause. On reflection some are not so sure.
As I drew closer to the end of my three years in Lurgan Boys Junior High School my behaviour was getting worse, I did not care whether I went to school or not. Sometimes i would skip school and hide in the park and return to school for our double PE class. Sport was my thing, I loved it all, football, cricket, basket ball, athletics, those were the things that I could excel in and loose myself in.
You have probably noticed the absence of any individual’s names in my story, apart from my family. I think it is right to do that as I cannot ask every ones permission to include their names. Some people may read my story and identify themselves within it that is okay with me; I hope it is okay with you. I would like to conclude my Junior High School three year adventure with a true story that will probably infuriate a certain teacher if they ever reads this.
Two of us were sent to this teacher’s brand new car; I know the make but will withhold it, to retrieve some items from the boot. I can’t help but be a little devious here; there is a clue to the identity of this teacher in the first line. Oops in trouble again. At some point during my three years in the school this teacher declared to me that I would make nothing of my life and gave me their opinions as to why this would be the case. I admit that I gave the teacher good reason to believe this.
The other boy and i went to the car and retrieved the items from it. On the way back to the class something happened to me that was totally unheard of for me, I had a moment of genius. I told the other boy to give me the car keys, at first he refused but when I threatened him with violence he gave them up reluctantly. He asked what he would tell the teacher when they asked for them back and I told him to tell the truth that he had given them to me.
I had noticed that this highly intelligent teacher had kept both car keys on the one key ring and that is where the genius kicked in. There are different types of intelligence I believe, some people who have brains to burn seem prone to a lack of common sense. There were certain subjects that I struggled with during those three years but I had a street sense and a common sense that is learned not in the classroom.
When we arrived back in the classroom the teacher eventually asked the other boy to give them the keys to their new car who then told them that I had them. This teacher often struggled with the pronunciation of my first name, they somehow found it easier to call me Fugard rather than Jim, strange but there you go.
I was not particularly good at the subject that they taught, the fault did not lie with them but with my lack of interest. What I was quite good at was lying and keeping a straight face. I proceeded to tell them that I did not have their keys, they then asked the other boy if he had given them to me or not and his reply was of course an emphatic yes.
Once again the question was asked only this time with a little more urgency, “Fugard where are my car keys”. I forgot to mention earlier that I also loved to go fishing; it is a wonderful feeling when you patiently wait for a fish to bite and then you play with it. I had just caught a big fish and I was having great fun playing with it. I honestly can’t remember how many times the teacher asked me the same question over and over, only to become more and more frustrated and angry with the same answer “I don’t know”.
Finally I decided to put the teacher out of their misery and I told them that I had set them in the boot when lifting the items out and must have closed them in the boot. Needless to say the teacher was not relieved of their misery but descended at an alarming rate into deep despair. I had an Uncle that would often use this old saying, “Long runs the Fox”. I was never quite sure what he meant by that, he never explained the meaning to me but somehow this situation seemed to fit that old saying.
The teacher then shouted at me, (I hope it was just me that teachers shouted at) that both the car keys were on the same key ring, I pretended to look sympathetic and concerned, I was not in the slightest concerned, at least not yet. I did start to get concerned when they told me to go and tell the metal work teacher what had happened and would he break into the boot and retrieve the keys.
My concern was that the metal work teacher would not find the keys in the boot because they were in my pocket all along. On the way down the corridor to see him I stopped and tried to figure a way out of this situation. The genius was still with me and the solution came surprisingly quickly. I pulled out one of the pockets in my school blazer and tore the lining.
When i went back to the classroom i entered with a smile on my face and the teacher immediately wanted to know what i was smiling at. I held out the precious keys to the new car and showed the torn blazer pocket and explained that the keys had fallen through the lining and i found them at the back of my blazer. Their reply was brilliant, it went something like this. “Fugard i am going to believe your story because you are not smart enough to make that up”.
I am going to bed now with an older smile on my face.