The Minaun

We have never had a visitor to the house that we haven’t brought to the Minaun.  If it was good enough for Cornelius Bolton who brought Arthur Young to the summit during his tour of Ireland in the 16th Century, it should be good enough for anyone else.

Young wrote; “…rode with Mr Bolton Jun. to Faithlegghill, which commands one of the best views I have seen in Ireland” he then goes on to give a detailed geographical description which you can read online if you wish (page 409 to be specific).  Returning after two years he again “…visited this enchanting hill, and walked to it, day after day, from Ballycanavan, and with increasing pleasure.”  I often thought that Young’s view would have been very similar to the photo below which Brendan Grogan took when he was part of the De La Salle Scouts in 1970.

Photo; Brendan Grogan

As children the Minaun was a regular play space, particularly on Sunday days out with our mother.  I can recall with clarity walking up to the summit and rambling all over the rocks.  There were several spots that we visited and my own favourite was the round piece of stone, where local tradition had it that the Knights of the round table met.  We would play at King Arthur, with swords and shields and talk in regal tones. 

Another rock feature was shaped like a loaf of bread or other times we called it a grave, one of the knights that had fallen in battle.  Strange to read as an adult another tale of a prince’s grave on the Minaun.  T.F. O’Sullivan in his book Goodly Barrow  relates how according to legend the Fianna used the Minaun in their defence of Lenister and so important was it to their leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill that he deputised a son Cainche Corcardhearg to wait in watch as protector of his realm.  Apparently he lives below the ground…lying in wait! 

The other feature of note was reputed to be Cromwell’s Rock, from whence the puritan marauder espied Waterford harbour and the approach to Waterford and planned his campaign for the siege and taking of the city.  Possibly a fiction…but possibly true, who can say with any conviction?  It was certainly a perfect spot to reconsider his option of taking Ireland by “Hook or by Crooke”

As we headed down from the Minaun we came to the old stump which was all that remained of a cross.  My mother knew the story well.  Her Uncle Christy Moran and his wife (the driving force) Katie Doherty had asked Chris Sullivan to make the cross.  I was always told it was done to mark the Marian Year.  However the cross was erected in 1950, and the Marian Year was in 1954, so I will have to do a bit more research into that.  Katie went door to door to pay for the timber and although people had little enough they paid what they could. 

My father told me about the day it was brought up.  The boys of the area had been rounded up by Katie and no excuses would be heard.  She had them hoist the cross onto their backs and then encouraged and cajoled them up the road from Coolbunnia to where the school now is, then up onto the Minaun to the summit.  My father often joked that the only difference between themselves and Jesus was that Katie spared them the crown of thorns.  In recent years my brother Robert has been talking about replacing the cross, which might be a nice idea, though I’d prefer a more inclusive symbol myself.

Photo via Sean Doherty from the Cheekoint Cooolbunia Facebook page

One of the big differences now, to when I was a child, is the lack of the clear views. Then you could have a full 360 view from the summit including Waterford, South Tipp, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow.  But alas the trees that were planted have now totally obscured the view.  The photo below gives a good sense of the panorama, taken in the early 1950’s just after the cross was erected.

Moran family early 1950’s
From Ann Moran via her son Brian (USA)

Speaking with Elsie Murphy recently she was able to date the selling of the Minaun by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission as 1958.  The forestry was subsequently planted in 1968/9 we think.  For the last number of years, a certain person has been working tirelessly to keep the walkways open and establish some new paths over the Minaun.  Given that the property is owned by Coillte I wont name names.  But the idea that the Minaun should be open to public use is a worthy one.  Use it or loose it as the saying goes.  It could have been lost in the past when unsightly masts were erected, and perhaps could be lost in the future unless actions are taking by our present generation to retain this vital piece of recreational infrastructure.  We could/should probably add the Deerpark and Glazing Wood to that list too.  Coillte seems to care little enough for the ground, and having attempted to sell four acres last year, who knows what else they might do.

Arthur Young.  “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”  reprinted 1970.  Irish University Press Shannon
TF O’Sullivan.  “Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River” 2001 Lilliput Press Dublin

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The Suirway Bus

Where would we have been without the Suirway bus?  In the Cheekpoint of the 1960’s to the 80’s when cars were scarce and escape from the village was required the choices were few; shanks mare, boat or the Suirway bus!

Suirway Bus has been serving the area since 1928 when the Lynch family of Parkswood established it from a site at Knockroe which is still the base.  As a child I remember Seamus Lynch was the manager/owner, who would sometimes step in to drive a bus.  The present owner is his son Brian.

One of my first memories of the bus was the sunday morning service.  Each Sunday morning, and holy day of obligation, it came over from Passage East and picked us up and dropped us at the gate to Faithlegg Church for 9am mass.  It was an amazing service in that Willie Elliott the local bus driver attended mass too, so it went at the time mass ended, not to any bus schedule and this included an extra 45 minutes for a funeral, if such happened on a Sunday morning.  Not many bus companies could/would offer that.

Another early memory was the trip to town.  We were living in Coolbunnia at the time and the bus stopped at the side of the road just by the Reservoir.  It was a big thing to be sitting up the front, where you could see everything at its best and the highlight for us was passing Willie & Carmel Hartley’s who had yet to develop Jack Meades from a local pub into its present form.  At the time they had an agricultural contractor business with dozens of tractors and all manner of machinery which we feasted our eyes on from off the bus.  How we wished it would go more slowly, they more we would see!

This service ran on a Friday and Saturday from Cheekpoint.  The Friday run left the village at 9.30am and returned from the quay in town at 3pm departing from down by Dooleys Hotel.  Saturday had a few more runs.  9.30am, 12noon and 3.30 from the village returning from the quay at 11.30am, 3pm and finally 6pm.  And it wasn’t just a transport service, it was also a major social event as people caught up with each other, shared news, found out what was happening in neighbouring villages as they chatted at the bus stop.  But I think it might also have been unique from another perspective.

Our mother did her grocery shopping in Darrers Stores, long an institution in the town, and it was situated where McDonalds and Argos now reside.  One of the services the store offered was the dropping of the grocery shopping to the busses leaving town.  The names of the families were written on the bags and these were stacked at the end of the cashiers desk awaiting collection.  On Saturdays that pile grew very large with shoppers from Portlaw, South Kilkenny and Passage, Woodstown and Dunmore East also availing of the service. At bus times a driver and helper dropped them down in a car and lifted them onto the busses.  Many was the time we were told to be waiting for the 3pm bus and the driver would hand out our bags only to be told our mother had gotten off at the hospital or the church or would be home on the 6pm bus…Darrers and Suirway were ahead of Tesco home delivery by 30 years at least!

A Darrers Bag, very faded unlike my memories of the store

The drivers I remember best were Willie Elliott of course, Aitsey and Percy Hutchinson, Gerry Kane Roggie MaGrath and for years our school bus driver Jimmy Brown.

The worst part about the busses of course was the school bus service.  Once we hit secondary school age, we had to take the bus to town.  Given that we were only 20 minutes away this should not have been a problem, however, the bus we took was also doing a second school run and so departed from the Cross Roads at 7.30am which meant we were in the De La Salle at least an hour earlier than most everyone else!  The only advantage to the bus leaving from the Cross Roads was that you could dawdle your way up and “miss the bus” on occasion.  As there were so few cars travelling the route, it sometimes meant you could get a day off school.

For some reason we seemed to get the worst busses in the service for going to school.  Older, ricketier sometimes damp or downright wet.  I think the most bizarre event I remember was an evening returning from school when we broke down on Redmonds Hill after dropping Margaret Doyle and Caroline Mahon at Woodlands road.  Our driver that evening was Roggie McGrath.  Roggie had a bit of a reputation for grinding the gears.  Anyway this particular evening he stood up and announced that we could go nowhere unless he could get the engine started and back into gear.  However in order to do this, for some reason he had to let off the hand-break!  Now given our position on one of the steepest hills in the parish this was a bit of a conundrum.  So Roggie called for volunteers to stand behind the bus and to hold her in place whilst he attempted this engineering feat.

Banter and blackguarding aside, I think we all thought it a bit risky as we took up position at the back of the 10 ton bus, probably a little heavier as the less foolhardy refused to move from their seats.  Roggie shouted to ready ourselves which was relayed back.  As we took the weight I wondered briefly what would happen if we couldn’t hold it, where would we jump, would it roll right over us.

As the weight came on, there was a brief moment of panic and then the bus coughed into life and started to roll…forwards up the hill!  But then it was a case of running, as Roggie couldn’t stop again and the only way to rejoin the bus was to leap on as she climbed up the hill.  To be honest I think my mother thought I was making it up when I told her over the dinner.

If I recall right the first of the services to be disbanded was the Friday town bus, followed by the various Saturday runs.  Sunday mass followed, but the school bus still runs, and still at 7.30am.  Mind you  given the homes and resulting traffic on the Dunmore Road this is probably of necessity now.  I guess in time the car replaced the necessity of taking the busses to town.  The relocation of stores out to larger shopping complexes certainly didn’t help to attract the country folk into the heart of the town either of course.  But the bus was about more than transport, and although this fell of deaf ears when communicated to the company, this was vindicated when a new bus started the Friday Town route in the Spring of 2009.  Operated by Deise Link for the Rural Bus Service it runs a minibus which is often full which shows there’s still an appetite for communal transport in the area.  Transport is after all only one element of the local bus!

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Cheekpoint Civil Defence unit

I’m not sure when exactly Civil Defence started in the area but I joined in 1978 just as I began first year in De La Salle.  At the time, Peter Power in Faithlegg was the unit leader and each Tuesday night if memory serves we would go up to the Reading Room and from about 7.30 – 9pm we would be put through our paces.

We started with a lecture, and each week we learned something new, for example the heart, the blood system, the bones of the body.  As Peter gave his lecture (and later he would be replaced by Gerry Boland and Neill Elliott) we took notes, asked questions and generally tried to keep up.  A blackboard was often used to highlight sections but we were also given a first aid book which helped to more clearly explain specifics. 

Aligned with the lecture would be a practical.  So if we did the bones in the arm, it would be sling practice thereafter; how to rig a sling to a broken arm, and make sure you didn’t tie a black knot!  There was a nice equality to the practical – we each got to be the casualty and the first aider…and we all got to tidy up.  Another part of certain nights was drill.  We had to learn to march, stand to attention and stand at ease and we all had to learn to salute – cue Benny Hill imitations…when Peter wasn’t looking.

Photo credit; Carmel Jacob.  Civil Defence unit late 1970’s
posted to Cheekpoint facebook page
Back Liam Doherty, Keith Elliott, Francis Heffernan, Andrew McDermott, John Kent, Charlie Hanlon, Gerry Boland. Middle Pearl O’Leary, Paul Doherty, Neil Elliott, Pauline Doherty,John O’Leary.
Susan Jacob,Gwen Jacob,Una Duffin,Jackie Doherty,Myra Heffernan,Maureen Moran,Sandra Doherty rip,Kay Doherty

The fun part of course was the practical, whether being a casualty or first aider.  Searching for injuries, immobilising arms, checking pulses and breathing.  The practical allowed us closer to the opposite sex and if ever there was a reason not to miss an evening, that was it!  Casualty treated, they were removed to a designated spot and from there via virtual ambulance to hospital.  Some casualties could be walked over but others needed a stretcher.  Now lifting any of the girls was a breeze and most of the boys you could manage, but imagine the trouble when faced with lifting either Gerry Boland or John Boy Kent onto stretchers.  Both built like American linebackers, all of the team was required and it became a test of strength and sometimes endurance in order to lift the casualty and move them towards the stretcher.  In time we learned to lift gradually and slide the stretcher in.  But I can still remember the night we nearly dropped one of them (to remain nameless) and the look he gave us…chilling, the message was clear drop me and yer dead!!

All the work led inevitably to the county competition, a bringing together of each areas team in the county hall in Dungarvan around the month of April.  The template was the same, a mini bus or car to the event.  The teams brought away to a separate waiting area, the hangers on such as we were dispatched to the hall to watch the show.  Each team (5 members if I recall) would be led in by their captain separately.  They would be briefed as to the situation, maybe an industrial accident, a bus crash etc.  Wounded patients would be scattered around the hall, some lying unconscious, some groaning in mock agony others wandering about in a state of shock, and the team would be let loose to deal with the situation.  Timed by a top table, they would be expected to assess the situation, treat the casualties and have them ready to be put in an ambulance before the time had elapsed.

As our teams arrived we would clap excitedly, and wait with baited breath to see how they did.  We hoped they would be first into the hall, or at least near the front, as then we would be all together for the remainder of the afternoon.  With the bigger lads, we could skip off around the town or at least pretend we were bigger by being in the teams company.  First Aid was so popular at that stage that we normally fielded two teams and at the time I think the boys were led by Gerry Boland and the girls team by Kay Doherty…any wonder they married

Once all the teams had taken their turn, it was off up Lawlors hotel for a slap up feed.  First time I ever had a croquet potatoes!  Over the desert and coffee the speeches were made and then finally the third, second and first places were announced.  There were several teams from around the county including Dunmore, Kilmacthomas, Clashmore and Dungarvan.  Incredibly, given the population of the other towns, Cheekpoint regularly placed first and second.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it, because once you finished in first place you were then placed as representative for the county in initially a regional competition and then national.  The competition for these of course was much fiercer but the hotels tended to be bigger and the meals more sumptuous.  The first time I saw anyone buy a bottle of water (Perrier) was at the Royal Oak in Carlow.  Wonder does Ann O Leary remember that!

Eventually we would go on to make the team ourselves.  I never realised how much pressure I would feel as the date drew near for it.  We would have been visited by the county civil defence leader Colum Bannon who would have brought uniforms and boots for the team.  These would be brought home and badges sewed on, maybe a trip to the dry cleaners, whilst the boots would be worn at the weekends to break them in.  Coming nearer the time, we would increase the nights of training, and school work would take a back seat to the first aid book, sisters or brother would become the practice casualty and you would be listing the major pressure points, arteries in the body, or bones in the finger in your sleep.

Photo of the Civil Defence team in Uniform and with county award
1990’s via Tomas Sullivan
Back: Michael Barry, Michael Murphy, Kevin Sullivan, Chris Elliott, Colin Ferguson, Darren Sullivan, Colm Bannon
Front: Sandra Cahill, Carmel Jacob, Jenny Doherty, Gerry Boland, Marianne Murphy, Annette Sullivan, Ali Cahill

On competition day you would hardly eat with the nerves and the trip to Dungarvan would be a tortuous affair.  You would be led into the waiting area where you would be tested by a leader from a different county.  Eventually you would line up behind the captain and be led out into the main hall and you would scan the floor to see what was ahead of you.  Hopefully no electrical wires suggesting an electrocution, and definitely not someone wandering around wailing and throwing their arms up in the air…fecking shock victims, always the most theatrical got to play the part, thinking they were up for an Oscar

My greatest disaster was allowing my casualty to almost die on the floor in Dungarvan.  I had pushed up her sleeves when checking for bleeding, only to push up a medical alert badge with it that told me she was a diabetic.  One sip of coca cola was all that was needed, I nearly had her in the virtual morgue!  To be fair, at least Kay, who was the team captain that day didn’t throw me out of the window.

The end of the civil defence season was of course the June bank holiday camp. Always in an army barracks and if I recall only one of a few; Crosshaven, Duncannon, Tralee and Lahinch, but maybe more of that anon.  Then long summer holidays when the autumn seemed a lifetime away, but when it came the Civil Defence would ease the dreary long evenings.

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Closure of the Barrow Railway Bridge

As a child growing up in Cheekpoint the two most obvious built landmarks, in terms of scale and impact were the Great Island Power Station and the Barrow Bridge.  The power station was a noisy, dirty and rambling edifice that we knew we had to endure.  The bridge however was something different.  It was what the station wasn’t; stylish, attractive to the eye and something to boast about.
Built between 1902-06 and first opened in July 1906 it served the railway faithfully, fulfilling its designers vision and only closing when outside forces were brought to bare.

Growing up it was a wish of mine to take the train either to Wexford or Rosslare.  My mother often got nostalgic when she spoke about it.  As a young emigrant to the bright lights of London she remembered passing onto the bridge on the way to the boat train in Rosslare.  Her last outbound trip was in the winter of 1964.  Having come home for the few days of Christmas she returned with her uncle, Christy Moran, and several others from the village including (she thought) Pat Murphy and Charlie Hanlon and recalled a bonfire lighting in the village, a farewell signal, a reminder of where the homefire burned.  Of course she had the option of New York too, but the distance seemed to vast, the gap between mother and daughter too wide.  So when in the fifties her uncles Willie and Johnny headed to the States she opted for service in a home and later factory work.  She retuned to Cheekpoint in late 1964 to be married.

I recall a chap who was in school with me in De La Salle who came up from Wexford.  I asked him once was there nare a school in his home county.  He mentioned that he came on the train to school each day, that he lived beside the train, but would have to get a lift to a bus.  So, rather than the hassle of it, came to Waterford and crossed the Barrow Bridge twice a day.  I thought he was so lucky, he grumbled that the seats were hard!

Years later I worked with a man originally from Thurles.  We got talking about the beet trains and the autumn beet campaign that saw trains arriving daily into the town and the entire area a mass of diesel fumes as anything with a trailer was used to ferry beet from the train to the sugar factory.  I related how the same trains passed through our lives.  Wexford being the centre of the countries sugar beet growing and the beet trains which loaded at Wellingtonbridge had to cross the Barrow to get on to Carlow, Midelton and Thurles.  I recalled one day sitting on the back step and a beet train engine almost to the swing section of the bridge before the last beet truck clattered onto the bridge.  I lost count of the trucks but it was almost 2000 feet long in my estimation. 

In it’s later years the mainstay of the line was the demands of the Sugar Beet factories that the Wexford farmers supplied so capably.  However change in agricultural and food industry practices was in the wind and the last of the factories closed in 2006 and with it the main business of the line.  The question remains though, did the beet factories ever need to close?

With the end of the beet industry and the decline in passenger numbers many fears were expressed for the viability of the line.   Trends in sea travel had changed with travellers now encouraged to take a “carcation”  Commuter passenger numbers were dwindling too.  The car was king.  The Passage East Car Ferry which started in 1982 may have been a factor?

Finally on Saturday 18th September 2010 the last train crossed over the Barrow Bridge ending the historic link created with the bridges opening in 1906.  Another special event train was laid on for the occasion, proving, at least that CIE had some sense of the importance of such a decision.  Our neighbour here in the Russianside, Bridgid Power was one of those who made the trip, as this piece from the Irish Times testifies.  Curiously, her mother in law, Aggie Power of Daisybank House in Cheekpoint was either on the special event train in 1906 when the bridge was opened, or another not long after.

Another family who made the effort to take the trip was Alice Duffin in the Mount Ave, her Daughter Una Sharpe and her Grand Daughters Emma and Fiona.  Emma remembered the trip and took some footage.  They got off in Wexford and her Dad Brian drove down to bring them home.  He drew the short straw!  So did my brother in law Maurice, he collected my sister Eileen, his Mother Florence RIP and his young family after taking the trip too

Although ships still pass through and many is the time we walk it, I never did manage to cross it in a rail car. For now, all I can manage is this virtual roll of the wheels.

Thanks to Susan Jacob for passing on some information via her cousin Deaglan de Paor who also has an interesting blog an example of which;

Thanks also to Emma Sharpe who shared her memories of the last trip

Postscript; I know we prefer to live with our heads in the sand.  But the world is running headlong towards environmental disaster and our reliance of trucks and cars is placing greater stress on the earths capacity to deal with the pollution our generation is causing.  Global warming is a fact, uncomfortable, threatening and, apparently, final.  A fact we might do well to heed.  Perhaps as a consequence the powers that be may have no choice but to reconsider “money saving” decisions of the past and reconsider more of the mass transport options in the future.  The railway line between Waterford and Rosslare still exists and will hopefully be used again, if not for mass transport, at least for tourism. 

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1970’s Altar boy

It must have been at around the start of 4th class that we were first began learning our trade as it were on the altar in Faithlegg. It was a big affair.  As youngsters we were up at the front of the Church for Sunday mass and any and all religious services and days of obligation.  We watched in awe as the bigger boys marched out ahead of the priest and took their positions and I guess it was considered an honour and a phase of growing up, that we would one day take their places as Altar boys.

I can’t say I can remember my first morning, but I imagine it would have started like so many others on a Saturday night…bath night; a smell of soap, shoe polish and tripe and onions boiling in milk and early to bed so we’d be bright eyed in the morning.  Sunday would be hustle and bustle, clean clothes, shinning shoes and away up to the top of the Mount Ave to catch the Sunday morning service Suirway bus, driven by our neighbour Willie Elliott.  Mammy had relented on the notion of a black fast before mass at that stage, but the most we would have in our bellies was a cup of tea, and it ensured the tripe pot would get a deathing on our return.  The bus would be packed, having started collecting at the Cross Roads, which we often left early to catch.  It would stop in the village, then the Mount and again at the Cross Roads.

accessed from

The bus would drop outside Faithlegg Church gates and we would have walked up the side of the church and in the back door of the sacristy.  In those days there was a cupboard opposite the back door where the altar garments hung and I remember they were just like a priests; a black soutanne with a white surplice.  There were black plimsoles in the cupboard also, which we didn’t have to wear, a throwback to an earlier time or maybe a hint of change in the air.

1965 blessing of a boat with altar boys in attendance

Once geared up, always done in silence if the chaple woman, Joan Dwyer, was there, we went about getting the altar ready and I think there was always a pride in getting asked to light the candles, which took a certain amount of skill when it came to the candles on the tabernacle.  The other jobs included putting out the cruets of water and wine, setting out the altar table, putting out the bells and at some stage during my tenure putting out the newly installed microphones.  Perhaps the best of all, except it was raining, was to head off up to the Belfry to ring the congregation into Church.  Before we walked out, we lined up in order of our jobs.  The first two went to the left of the altar and did the water and the wine and ablutions.  The other two to the right and did the bells and held the platter at communion.

Familiar view of the altar server

There were all sorts of misadventures of course, trips, falls, sneezing fits, nosebleeds and fainting. My most memorable was a morning, when I was only beginning on the altar, serving with John Boy Kent and I think John O Leary and Charlie Hanlon.  Johnboy was probably in sixth class at that stage and was renowned for his strength.  He was ringing the bells that particular service.  As the priest raised the blessed bread and the congregation bowed their heads, John Boy lashed into the bells giving them an almighty shake.  One minute the bells were a jingling the next there was a crash as one bell hit the wall, another landed into our lap on the other side of the alter, whilst a third landed down on the tiles in the middle of the church with a loud plop.  One of the jobs when putting out the bells was that you checked to make sure the nuts that held the individual bells were tightened…for some reason no one checked that morning…The boys in the front pew were bursting in laughter and I remember praying earnestly in the hope that it would take me mind off the scene and that I would manage to keep the laughter in.

Sometimes there was money to be had from the job.  The priest usually gave us a few bob at Christmas, I remember Fr Daly, giving me 50p one year and all the other boys too.  There was also money to be had at a wedding or a funeral.  Weddings weren’t as common in those times as they now are at the church but funerals were, and we considered them a good source of sweet money.  There was a lot more “work” with a funeral mind you.  Along with standard mass duties you had holy water, carrying the cross and the trickiest of all, lighting and maintaining the incense burning thurible.  We were generally paid by the undertaker who used an envelope which meant you’d get a pound note.  The envelope gave me a feeling of importance, almost like I was an independent earner.  On occasions the family paid which was awkward as you felt they were going through enough, and sometimes you were paid by both which was another dilemma altogether.  What should morally correct young catholic boys do?

Of course the big thrill of a funeral was when it occurred during school times.  As time progressed I served with Michael Duffin and Teggy Murphy (our opposites were Williams Doherty and Elliott and Ger Doherty meaning we took turns doing all the masses) and when the funeral was during school we would be left off about 20 mins before to make our way to the church.  Needless to say, there was no cars to bring us, it had to be walked; something we rejoiced in, especially on the return.  Many’s the morning Michael White the Principal, was drumming his fingers on the desk as we made our return, with a questioning look.  Of course we had some excuse or other, but the reality was we walked both sides of the road and did whatever we could to delay our return.

One of my worst memories of the church happened with our favourite priest Fr Daly (RIP).  It was an evening mass, probably around all souls when there was a week of evening vigils.  The three of us were on and it wasn’t long since the new PA system had been installed.  This included a table mike on the altar table and a standing mike for reading the gospels.

We were setting it up, and for some reason Joan wasn’t around that evening, or had gone home to run an errand.  One of the jobs was to tap the mike to be sure it was working.  Left to our own devices we got it in our heads to forgo the tapping and to mimic Meat Loaf instead.  So with a drummer, air guitarist and a lead singer with the stand up mike we launched into Bat out of Hell.  We were warming to the performance, when Father Daly came through the doors at the end of the church.  We sank into the carpet.  The shame was unbearable and was made even more so by the look on our priests face.  Not anger, not revulsion, just disappointment.  Nothing was said, he didn’t need to, we got back to the task of arranging the altar and never blackguarded like it again.

It was night vigils like these that I enjoyed the best.  The mass over, we cleared the altar, tidied away in the sacristy and then changing, we went outside to make our way home.  There would be few enough cars in those days, but those that were there would be gone and we would face the mile and a half to Cheekpoint with no great fear.  Walking along the darkened road we would pick out the stars and constellations and Teggy would regale us with fantastical stories of UFO’s and accounts from his father, Terry, who had served with the US Air Force and was a great man for a yarn.  Coming along, every light that moved across the sky was an alien spaceship coming to invade, or snatch away people out on their own in the night for experimentation!

At some point my brother Robert and neighbour Mossy Moran (RIP) joined our altar team, thus it became our turn to be seniors and pass on the trade.  Come Autumn of 1978 we headed into town school and with it took a joint leap from a school with probably 60 students overall to a class year of 150+.  On leaving we naturally also left the altar service and if I was honest I have to say I missed the buzz of it. 

Although there has been a sea change in attitudes towards the church in Irish society since, including some horrific accounts of abuse of altar boys, I still look back on my altar service days with a fondness (and maybe you would think relief).  Not so much for the religious aspect or the ceremony.  No it was more because in a time when there was not many other alternatives for children of our age, it gave us something to do, something to make us feel special, something of which we could take some pride.

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