The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius Part IX “Written on the Soul.”

As beautiful as she was, my mother told me that Granda told her that she would never be ‘Good looking!”

My sisters cannot believe he said that to her, as our mother was exceptionally beautiful, and I can only think that he either said it in jest, ironically, because she was beautiful. And this was just a little throwaway little joke, perhaps.

Or, perhaps he said it to make sure she would never depend on her looks to get through life. 

Or, it may have been that my Granda was worried that she might have known it, and he did not want her to be vain – an ugly trait in anyone – but far worse as a Catholic woman.  A Catholic woman looking at herself in the mirror was literary a sin. One of the seven deadly sins, in fact. Vanity.

And if you put on a bit of rouge onto your cheeks – or, worse, dabbing a bit of polish on your lips you are basically a Harolot! And you are condemned to Hell for all eternity.

Unless you confess to a priest and do your penance.

So, vanity, yes, let me tell you, it is a sin worse than eating meat on a Friday.

Mammy in her Wedding Car

Mammy in her Wedding Car (With no make-up on her face)

But whatever way Granda said it, it affected her self-esteem, and she had a deep complex about her looks for her entire life. 

She also complained about her long-lanky-legs and her awkward gait.

She also had one leg longer than the other from birth and she was very self-conscious about it. Not least because people constantly told her that she should stand straight: At school; in sports classes; in Assembly, and especially for photographs.

She was embarrassed to announce that she had a leg shorter than the other, so she found a way to hide it. She told me her secret, only a few years ago, she went up onto her tiptoes on her shorter leg and then half hid that leg behind the other one and hoped no-one would notice.

It worked.

The funny thing was that I never ever noticed it in all the years she was my mother. But she did. She was always conscious of it. 

On top of that, she also had a bash on her left leg in her pram when the ‘driver’ of the pram bashed into a garden gate and crushed her lower leg which scarred her for life.

She also spoke about her massive feet and found it really hard to find shoes for a woman in an adult shoe size eight. So she often had to buy smaller shoes and just jam her feet into them and hope they would stretch in time. 

She also thought she was far too tall for a lady.

Clearly, dainty was in vogue at that time. 

Such nonsense. But somehow these comments goes in to the deepest crevices of the soul.

As a full grown adult, not dainty like a nice graceful women with a smaller and slimmer frames and no dodgy legs, big feet and massive hands, she felt out of place. She said, “I stood out in the crowd and I hated it”.

I remember telling her that is a good thing these days, and we younger women are encouraged to STAND OUT from the crowd. But she said she was too self-conscious and just wanted to blend-in.

However, whether she wanted it or not, my mother stood out in the crowd. And it was nothing to do with her height, her ‘gammy leg’ as she called it, nor even her big feet and tall stature.

She stood out in the crowd because she was taller than all the women around her, and most of the men, she was beautiful, a full and sturdy figure, strong hands that could tear up the telephone directory in the height of the landline-era, and her strong, booming, lilting, Irish voice that carried beyond the street she stood upon and resounded in every green valley, small town and in the highest mountains of the land

Still, yet, our mother was the baby of the family, doted on by her big brothers, loved by her neighbours, loved by her friends, loved by her community, and why not? She was cheeky, formidable, bold, charming, feisty and witty.  And she definitely covered up her self-consciousness with humour. She was a bit of a wit and a whole lot of clown and was the life and soul of the party.

Her brothers were also great craic, of course, and full of stories and brought the party wherever they went. Her older brothers spoiled her, undoubtedly.  And she loved heading out with them to the pub and to parties and dances.

Her friends loved her for her great humour, her laid-back attitude and her very direct ‘tell it like it is’ way with storytelling and telling rather baudy jokes. And, not least, her reputation of being a bit of a social rebel. 

However, there was one person who really did not have too much time for her when she was young and that was her older sister, Mollie.

Mollie was “The Apple of her Father’s Eye” and in his eyes she could do no wrong. My mother did think that Mollie was his favourite, and everyone we spoke to about it confirmed it. So, being the baby, I guess she had to be a bit of a second wheel. 

Mollie saw Clare as a very annoying little sister who was deliberately stealing all the limelight from her and she would rather not pay her any attention.

There was a real sibling sisters rivalry there, even though the two ‘Book-End’ girls were at least ten years apart.

My mother told the story to me and to my oldest sister, Mollie, a few years ago. The story went that after spotting her big sister on the top and back of the bus, Clare ran up the stairs with her friend, and went up to the front of the bus and sat down with them, saying, ‘Hi!’

At that point, Mollie gathered her friends and stood up then walked away from her ‘Annoying little sister’ and headed down to the back of the bus and settled down into seats there. Clare was hurt and honestly did not know what she had done wrong.

She did something wrong just by being a wee annoying sister. Even if all you did was say ‘Hi!’

I have a similar story about my big sister, and told that to my Mum. And we both realised everyone is jealous of their little sisters. And we had a good laugh about it.

Nevertheless, when my Auntie Mollie was getting married, she asked her little sister to be bridesmaid. She loved her anyway, and that is the joy of girl sisters. You hate them one minute, you ignore them, you slag them off to their face, and bitch about them behind your back, and the next day they ask you to be your bridesmaid!

Both Mollie and Clare decided that they were going to go on diets for the wedding.

My mother repeatedly told me that Auntie Mollie was “The Apple of Grandad’s eye”. And everyone knew it. She told us that he adored her. She was great fun, quick witted, a little devious and and above all, she made him laugh.

When she and my mother decided to go on diets for the wedding, they consulted the latest diet books that were filling up the bookstores in the late 40s and in every Good Housekeeping supplement ensuring every woman who saw those images already felt shitty about themselves. And, as a catholic women, you have to measure up to Mary, The Mother of God. And The Mother of God Diet would be a brutal one indeed. As no matter how many pounds you starved off yourself, you will never be able to ascend into heaven. 

Mollie’s diet recipe said that she could have two ounces of bread at breakfast, along with one slice of lean bacon and half a grapefruit.

Grannie was up at dawn every day to retrieve the bread from The Hot Press, and baked a fresh loaf every morning. This bread was heavy. And, so, when Mollie weighed her two ounces of bread the previous evening, preparing for her diet breakfast the following morning, she was furious as it was so so tiny. 

She took the bread in her hands, stormed through to the sitting room, where Grannie sat happily knitting by the fire, Mollie stopped at the door and threw the two ounces of bread straight at Grannie, screaming, “There’s really no point in eating this is there. I’d be better off eating a cardboard box. There’d be more in it!”

Another young adult child would have been scolded for such an act, Grannie was shocked at her outburst but couldn’t really scold her because Granda just laughed.

Granda just laughed. 

How he loved his Mollie Malone.

The Apple of his Eye…


Auntie Mollie in her Ballerina Dress


The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius: Part VIII “The Children are our Future”

Belfast, The Falls Road, La Salle Park, 20 August 2018 

If one named one’s son, “Billy”, in The North, it certainly helped with the rise in rank.

And, after years of discrimination and hardship in his employment, my Granda wanted things to be as easy as possible for his sons to excel.

And, so it was, Granda and Grannie named their first son, Billy.

This choice of name was probably tactical, as, by naming their Catholic son, Billy – ostensibly, after the protestant King Billy of Orange – would help smooth his journey along the old rocky road of sectarianism and help lift the barriers in business that were firmly closed for his father, in his time.

Although nobody said that aloud.


William’s victory secured the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland for generations to come.


The so-called “Ascendancy” was the domination of politics, the economy and high society in Ireland by a minority of elite Protestants between the late 17th century and the early 20th century. These Protestants were all members of the Churches of Ireland or England and anyone who wasn’t was excluded – primarily Roman Catholics but also non-Christians, such as Jews, and other Christians and Protestants.

To balance things up a bit, Granda and Grannie named their second son, Peter. ‘The Rock’ – after Saint Peter, the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. And, of course, Grannie’s brother, Great Uncle Peter, who had fled to America after being ‘marked’ by The Black and Tans.


St. Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs by Jan Styka


Granda and Grannie named their third son, Denis, after his favourite uncle, Uncle Denis, the policeman. The name “Denis” takes its root from Dionysius, the Greek mythological god of wine and revelry.

Anyone who knew my Uncle Denis, and Godfather, did indeed love wine, fine food, rough food, travel, the great outdoors, classical music, pleasant company, stories, laughing, chatting, partying and having the craic – and indeed, revelry – so he was very well named.


Dionysus Painting by Lourry Legarde

As my mother told me, Granda also dictated what each of his sons was to do for a living. 

My Uncle Billy was to be a lawyer. Whether he wanted to or not. Granda was passing down the baton to his son and he was to run with it. Granda wanted his first born son to carry on the legacy that Granda started and Billy was to realise the dreams that JJ did not manage, due to the legally-sanctioned discrimination.

My Uncle Peter was to be a Civil Engineer. Whether he wanted to  or not. And there are whispers – loud whispers – that Peter did not want to be a Civil Engineer.

He wanted to be a lawyer.

My mother told me, “Peter asked if he could do law instead, but Granda said, “We’ve already got a lawyer in the family, you will be better off being a civil engineer.” And so it was.

My Godfather, Uncle Denis, was to be a doctor. He had to go to night school two nights a week to make sure he had the qualifications to get into university. ie; extra Latin, physics and or possibly chemistry.

Hee became a fine and respected doctor, dedicated to his vocation. I asked him once what was the best thing about being a doctor and he told me that over his lifetime career that bringing babies into the world was his greatest joy and never tired of it despite the many thousand babies he delivered in his lifetime.

And so, the boys were sorted. There were very set plans in place for the boys. The boys will be alright.

But what of the Girls?

My mother, Clare, wanted to be a pharmacist. She expressed this wish to her father, often, and he said that he believed that she would not work hard enough to make the grades, and in any case, Granda felt it was a waste of time and money because she was a girl and would only end up being a housewife anyway and her job will be to have lots of babies.

However, my mother protested, begged and pleaded to her father to allow her to be a pharmacist. And, so, Grandad said, Okay, but you must go to night school two nights a week to brush up on physics and learn Latin. – Subjects that were not offered, or not sufficient enough, at St Dominic’s Convent School at the time.

Bottles of Medicine

My mother said she was delighted and was excited at the prospect of going to university and eventually becoming a pharmacist, and she got stuck into her extracurricular studies with vigor, but after two or three weeks, my mother told me she felt it was too much work, she was bored, it wasn’t fun, and she would rather be outside playing with her friends in the evenings. And, so, she told this to her father, and he allowed her to drop out.

I always wondered if the boys would have been allowed to just drop out of classes because it got boring? Perhaps they did, but would they then have been encouraged to continue as there was a long-term goal invested in this.

I think that Granda may have been softer on my mother because, somehow, he really believed that my mother’s education beyond high school was indeed a total waste of time and money?

To think that my mother was someone who would just drop her dreams because it became boring, is not really the person I saw when she took up her education again in her 50s. 

My mother took night classes and indeed day classes in her fifties, studying French and Spanish, and in all those five years, she never missed a class. She also became a lecturer at a slimming club, and she threw her heart and soul into it. She was never late for class, she prepared her lectures meticulously, practiced and delivered all the requirements to run those classes.

I do believe that had she been encouraged, I think my mother would have reached a good degree in Pharmacy and she would have worked hard at it. 

My mother has always been very determined to complete her duties and tasks when she set her mind to it. So, I do wonder, that this ‘drop out’ attitude may have been put into her mind at that very young age, as in life, she often lamented not becoming a pharmacist.

Mammy spoke to me and my siblings often about not being given the chance to be a pharmacist,  she said that her Daddy didn’t think she would stick it out because she was lazy. But my mother told me that she would have stuck it “If she’d had the choice”. Which sounds like Granda did not encourage her to go to University and so my mother felt like there was no point arguing with him. 

However, a few weeks before she died, she told me that she was in fact lazy, and Granda was right. She said, “It would have been a waste of time and money, because I wouldn’t have stuck it out.”

I wonder about this. I wonder about her being the youngest girl and her being ‘lazy’ a label she may well owned.

Grannie used to tell us that your mammy is ‘Lazy’. Grannie tells us, “She always left her things at her backside!” Grannie tells us, She would come in the house, throw off her bag onto the polished floor, her coat came off second, her hat thrown across the hall, her gloves, shoes, shirt, skirt, socks made a trail from the entrance of the hall, up the stairs and into her bedroom, leaving Grannie to follow her up picking everything up in her wake. 

I am sure Grannie would have scolded her for this behavior, but I do not think my mother would have ruffled her feathers over it. My mother was very laid back.

Grannie was an incredible worker, up at dawn to bake bread, very ordered and kept her house spotless. The children came in at different times for lunch and dinner, so Grannie was feeding them at different times and also different meals, depending what they wanted. And everything was cooked and baked fresh from scratch and made everything herself.

And then tidied and cleaned up.

Grannie did teach Mammy how to cook, bake, clean the house, polish the floors, make her own dresses, knit her own cardigans, socks, crochet scarves, shawls, cloths and darn stockings, socks and patch up holes in jumpers. 

The boys did not do any housework.

The boys did not darn socks.

The boys did not do any cooking.

The boys did not do the dishes.

The boys did not polish the floors.

The boys did not make the beds.

The boys did not sweep the yard.

The boys did not do any hand-washing of clothes.

The boys did not make their own clothes.

The boys did not knit cardigans or dishcloths.

The boys did not fetch groceries from the shops and carry back the heavy bags.

The boys didn’t get up at 6am to bake bread.

My mother told me that she worked hard alongside her mammy, polishing the tiles in the hall, one tiny tile at a time, by hand, with tile polish and a shammy.

There is a famous pilgrimage in Ireland called Loch Dergh, where Catholics go for religious retreat. It is a severe term of fasting, praying and sleep deprivation. And upon the retreat’s end, everyone is absolutely exhausted, starving, faint and on the brink of collapse.

Grannie always prepared the breakfast for the three boys coming off retreat. She would make a huge fry-up for the boys as they entered the kitchen, coming off the very early morning ferry.

Grannie asked what they wanted, and Uncle Billy would say, “The full o’the pan!” Meaning, everything.

My mother watched as the boys devoured their breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausages, pudding, mushrooms, beans, potato scones, wheaten bread and soda farls – all washed down with copious cups of tea.

They would all then head up to bed to sleep it all off.

Irish Breakfast - The full O'The Pan

The Full O’The Pan

My mother did not get this fry up on that morning, because she had not gone to Loch Derge – as she was not yet old enough to do it. 

However, when she was old enough, and eventually went to Loch Derge with some of her pals from school, Mammy reports to me, that when she got off the ferry in the very early morning she was really looking forward to her fry up.

She arrived home, delighted with her achievement, she and went straight into the kitchen where Grannie was sitting drinking tea and reading a book.

Grannie looked up and my mother, exhausted and hungry, with a beam on her face after doing her first retreat and then quickly noticed that there was no breakfast feast to welcome her back from Loch Derge.

She stood in the kitchen doorway in astonishment.

“Where’s my breakfast?” She said.

Grannie said, “You can make it yourself.”

I still feel a bit sad when I think of that story, trying to understand why that happened.

It may well be that Grannie was preparing my mother for motherhood, or that Grannie did not want to spoil her, or that Grannie was annoyed with her for always throwing her things around the house.

But one thing is clear Grannie gave my mother a stark lesson: As a woman in this World, if you want something, get it, make it, and do it yourself. 

But there was one thing that my mother was NOT to do for herself. And that was to get a job. It was Granda’s job, as with the boys, he dictated what job my mother was to do before she eventually settled down and got married and had lots of babies.

My mother did not even need to do a job interview, as when my mother left school, Granda got her a job in the Civil Service, working in The Ministry of Agriculture, based in Belfast.

She was literally handed a secure job for life on a plate. Why try harder.

Clare worked there for ten-odd years, and worked there diligently and dutifully with a rare day off sick right up until the day she became engaged to be married, ten years later.

Mam with First Paypacket

Clare in Belfast with her first ever pay check.

All the women in the office crowded around her, wowing over her gold and diamond engagement ring and listening to the story of the proposal to this dashing Scottish optician, living with his sister and parents in a middle-class area in the west of Glasgow, educated at a prestigious Jesuit school, and how he whisked her away to the west highlands and got down on one knee and asked her if she would marry him.

And she said yes.

And it was so romantic.

The office girls were thrilled for her, but it was bitter sweet because my mother would soon be leaving her colleagues and the job she loved. Not just because she would be moving to Scotland, but she had to give up her job now, as a married woman could not continue to work. Whether she wanted to or not. And, so, once mum got engaged, she had to put her notice in. All her colleagues wished her well, and were very sad to see her go. One of those reasons was that my mother was the hardest worker in that place. 

Mum spoke about her work at The Ministry of Agriculture. There was a lot of complicated paperwork, and her colleagues would take the easier pieces and leave my mother the harder more complicated work.

My mother loved solving problems. She had a great head for figures and an even greater head for word play. 

She did the crossword every day and did mental games as well, quizzes on TV and especially Countdown – she rarely missed an episode, and if she was going to miss it, she recorded it for later.

These mental games kept her sane right up to the day she died. She was as sharp as a tack mentally. It was her body that let her down in the end.

Mammy wanted to have fun. She loved having people around her, and chatting. She hated being on her own.

The youngest child of this dynamic family, she deserved to be treasured, pampered and spoilt. It was her birthright. So bloody what. She was true to herself. Always. 

Lazy’? We shall revisit that, later! But for now, I’d like to add another label: “Woman”. Had Clare not been born a woman, she would perhaps have been encouraged to go on to realise her dreams of being a pharmacist. And since no-one really took that request seriously, she had nothing to strive for.

Meantime, this 5″10, blue-black hair full of natural large curls, bold, beautiful and baudy, woman, was destined for marriage and a family life beyond the office, and with her skills, beauty and formidable character, she could have married anyone in Ireland – or indeed Scotland – just as long as they were Roman Catholic.

Mammy kissing The Blarney

The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius: Part VII “Granda and the O.B.E.”

Belfast, The Falls Road, La Salle Park, 20 August 2018 


Time nor tide waits for no man” Geoffrey Chaucer

I never knew my Granda but he has always been alive within my heart and soul due to the stories my mother told us about him, the photographs we treasured, and in the home movies we watched again and again and again, as children and young adults.Granda

Through our mother, aunties, uncles, Grannie, cousins and close friends, we piece together his life.

He was born in Carrick on Sur Co Tipperary, in 1898, and was brought up in Wexford, his parents were publicans.

His baby sister, Mollie, died in infancy; about two years old.

Of what? I do not know, at this point.

Many valuable records were lost during the Irish Civil War on 30 June 1922 when, after a two-day bombardment, an explosion and fire ravaged the building, which makes Irish family history challenging.

But not impossible. Some important records were nowhere near the flames. So, I would need to do a bit of digging to find my Great Infant Auntie Mollie.

Mammy also reports that her father spoke lovingly of her Great Uncle Denis, who was stable, sensible, funny and kind. He was a Police Officer, and sadly died in his 30s. 

I’m not sure of what?

Still so many questions.

And, what of his character:

Mammy tells us if Granda wanted something, he would walk out to the hall, or the landing, and holler;


He demanded a response.

My mother reported that it was usually her that answered his call, and occasionally, Denis. The others were a bit more defiant, and usually just ignored him.

My mother said he was a Great Man and she adored him. But she felt that he loved our Auntie Mollie more, and that Mollie could do no wrong, in his eyes.

My Uncle Peter would say he was a very difficult man, had a bad temper.

My Uncle Denis said he was no angel.

My Uncle Billy gave no opinion at all that I ever heard, but I am sure he had plenty.

Mammy reports that her father was strict with the boys. And was heated at times.

This fiery temper may have had something to do with his being a Catholic in a Protestant-lead country.

And he sure did have just cause to be angry

My Granda was reputed to be highly intelligent, well-read, devilishly handsome, quick-witted, cheeky, playful, politically-minded, controlling, passionate and kind.

He was a working-class lad who won a scholarship to Queens University in Belfast, gaining a First-Class Honours degree in law.

He chose to go to university in Belfast as he was already in a relationship with my Grannie – and he wanted to marry her.

File0063 (1)

Granda and Grannie at her wedding day. Granda’s Best Man was Uncle Andy. The bridesmaid was called Ria Trainor, and was no particular friend of Grannie’s but she asked if she could do it and Grannie didn’t like to say, No!

Unfortunately, after his graduation, he couldn’t practice at the Bar as he couldn’t afford to – as he had a family to raise.

So, instead, he took a job as a Clerk with The Civil Service where he was repeatedly overlooked for promotion because he was a Catholic.

Catholics were second-class citizen in Northern Ireland (Some say they still are, with statistics to prove it* – especially in housing and employment), the discrimination was/is widespread, particularly at senior levels of the public sector.

My Granda was told that they could not promote him to the top post, because he was Catholic. This was written into the contract. It was state sanctioned sectarianism. Even if his bosses wanted to promote him, they simply were not allowed to. They shrugged, possibly even empathized, but their hands were tied. This frustration, all round, may have led to this next fascinating fact pertaining to the life and times of my Granda:

One find day, my Granda received a letter from one Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, the woman he first new as new born baby, The Princess Elizabeth of York, in 1926, and then, in 1936, after her uncle abdicated the throne, he knew her as Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth as her father became King, and then, in 1947, he knew her as Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh.

My Granda watched her grow up, he followed the scandal of the Yorks play out, he saw Princess Elizabeth married to Philip Mountbatten, commenting to my mother, “She really is a very ordinary looking young woman!”

Granda then saw her first two children being born, and the joy that gave her, and later, he saw her mourn for her father, and on 6th February 1952 he saw her take the heavy weight of The Crown onto her young head and shoulders and he watched her as she became Her Majesty The Queen.

And it was as Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth signed this letter to my Granda, the letter that arrived onto his mat at some point in the mid-50s asking him if he would accept an OBE from her, for his outstanding service.

The OBE is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award and it stands for “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” and it is awarded to someone for making a great impact in their line of work.

This letter from The Queen was asking him if he would accept an OBE if The Crown were to offer him one. 

It would be an embarrassment to The British Crown if my Grandfather had been offered the OBE and he had turned them down, so this letter from Her Majesty The Queen, was a way to put the feelers out before offering it to him.

I am sure, with a heavy heart, and in defiance, he wrote back, stating that he would not accept an OBE from The British Crown as he had been overlooked many many times for promotion, simply because he was a Catholic. 

Therefore, the Crown did not offer him one.

Naturally, my Granda was frustrated at this oppression and he pushed his children to go as far as they could.

I was fascinated about my Granda and begged for stories about him.

Tell us again, 


About Granda

His funny ways?

Was he a nice?

Was he strict?

Was he grumpy?

Was he handsome?

He would have adored you all! That’s for sure, Mammy says,
Tearfully. And she would bring him to life again with another story

Mammy remembers her father going through all the papers in the sitting room, devouring the news, end to end, every bit of it, even the death notices.

A habit my Grannie picked up from him.

He would hold a cigarette in between his lips, one eye half closed, and closely study all the newspapers until his hands were black from the ink. And when he was finished, he would go into the bathroom, fill the sink with soapy water and soak his hands in it for ages. Then he would pull out the plug and watch the black ink suds disappeared down the drain, and say, “That’s where that dirt belongs!”

He spoke his mind and went to the pub every night after work. He drank Guinness and held his cigarette in his lip, whilst waxing lyrical and criticizing the government and generally having the craic.

He never inhaled the smoke, just let it sit there on the end of his lip.

Grannie at home, feeding her children, would wash up the dishes and then take two slices of freshly baked bread and whatever dinner she had made for the children, she put it in between the bread slices and wrap it up in a newspaper.  

She packed the dinner-sandwich into her handbag, put on her hat, coat, scarf, gloves, walked up to the top of The Falls Road and took a bus down The Donegal Road. She then had to switch buses and take another bus out to The County Court, and into the pub that JJ was drinking den, that night.

Grannie arrived into the pub, she was not there to scold him, she was there to have a drink herself with him, and enjoy a bit of craic.

She had one or two half-pints of stout, and then she would take the two busses back home again, and get the bread ready for the morning.

After her fifth child, Grannie moved into the spare bedroom and never left it. JJ would continue to enjoy his night, and would come home some considerable time later. If Grannie was still awake, he may say, Goodnight. I am not even sure he would have kissed her goodnight. But he would certainly retire to the marital bedroom, alone.

He saw Grannie again, in the morning, in the kitchen, and would surely eat a hearty breakfast, with his wife and children, and the papers. He would discuss things with his children, opening up different opinions, and the news of the day.

He loved his tea, and continued to drink it up and until the last possible minute, keeping it in his hand, even in the garden. Before turning it in. 

In the old house on Donegal Road, he could stand outside finishing his morning cup of tea, waiting for his bus. And, as the bus approached, he would finally knock back the last drop, and would reach over the low wall, and leave the cup on top of the window ledge, at the front, where Grannie would fetch it and return to the kitchen, to wash.

This was a functioning, happy family living in a cared for and much-loved house and home on the Catholic side off the Upper Falls Road, in Belfast in the 30s and 40s and 50s. And this house was filled with laughter. And prosperity for the future. The Doyles were striving and thriving.

The girls would marry well, as they were educated in a prestigious Convent School, St Dominic’s, on the Upper Falls, an education in Mathematics, English, Latin, Geography, History. Music, Gymnastics, Divinity and Domestic Skills.

The Dominican motto: ‘Benedicere, Laudare, Praedicare’ (to pray, to bless, and to preach). Members of the Dominican Family all share the same priorities: prayer, contemplation, community, study, preaching.

Both girls were beautiful, bright, bold, witty, socially adept and highly-skilled in the domestic arts such as crocheting, knitting, dressmaking, baking, cooking, interior decorating. 

Yes, the girls will do well.

The girls will be alright.

But what of the boys?


Grannie at aged 13


The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius: Part VI “Returning”

Belfast, The Falls Road, La Salle Park, 20 August 2018

I go back to Grannies House

48 years and ten days later

Grannie does not live here anymore

Grannie is dead

She died 33 years ago

In Downpatrick

Enveloped in love

At the tender age of 93


I stand in the street

Where she used to live

Where my mother grew up

Alongside her four siblings

I perch on the wall

On the opposite side of the street

With a backpack and a broken flight case

In racing green

That once belonged to my mother


I got the shittiest of the suitcase collection

In the dividing up of things from Mammy’s estate

After she died last year

I hate this little suitcase

It smells of dust

But it was my mother’s

And I can still smell her

Perfume in it


The wheels are too close together

So it continually twists off its axis

And I have to stop, turn it around

And walk on, cautiously,

As to not let it flip over

In the street

I was going to buy one

Those new Lightweight ones

That look really small

But inside it is as The Tardis

Enough room for a family of four

And a designer dog


They are a little pricey

But well worth it in the long run

And I was all set to purchase one

But my sister told me there were

Loads of them in Mammy’s house

And not to be daft

Wasting my money


She’d bring me one

Free of charge

In exchange for a lunch

What colour?

I said,

The Wee Green One


And so I got it

I have to put the handle

Up and down,

Down and up

Shake it a bit

Recenter it

Shoogle it

Pull it along


With care






One too many yanks

Broke the damn thing

The day

I came to





My tartan scarf

Is now tied

Around the handle

In a ‘classic loop’

As I drag it

Through the back streets

Of Belfast

On the most dreariest

Of Mondays


With the broken suitcase

Kicking at my heels

I stare across at the old house

My childhood memories fail me

I do not recognise this house

I do not recognise this house!

Why do I not recognise this house?


The memories I had known

From stories passed down

In the oral tradition

Crumbled into dust

I was now frozen in time

I could not move forward

For looking back,



I am alone on this mission

Alone on this street

And, yes, I do feel lonely

But I know I have to go solo

On this expedition

Otherwise, part of this journey

Would belong to someone else

And I am not in the mood for sharing


All I have is my memories

Of this house

And the laughter and joy within it

The stories attached to it

Involving those I love

Who live vibrantly

In my mind



Such as

Grandad doing the dishes

Once a year

On Christmas Day

His present to Grannie,

Among other things

Returning to the Sitting Room

He would ask,  

Does anyone want a spam sandwich?

Everybody laughed



One year

My uncles

Went out to the pub

In the evening

Of Christmas Day

And got full

On Guinness and whiskey

And on their way home

They went into ‘The Chipper’

Fish and chips for three!


Don’t mind if we do!

Seated on the wall,

Outside, they

Devouring their feast

Back at La Salle

Ne’ry a word spoken

As they hid their



Filled with




The incident

Was reported

To Grannie

By a neighbour

Who had heard it

From her Sister’s


Who’d had been told it

By her son

After hearing it

From his friend

Who had reported it to his


Who had told it to

The woman who did the flowers

At The Chapel

Who had told it

To Her husband

Who told it to his wife

And here they are

On The Falls

The Day after

Boxing Day

Bumping into each other

Quite unexpectedly


Telling it to Grannie


Och, Hello, Mrs Doyle

Did ye have a nice



Aye, says Grannie

I did indeed


Is that right?

Nothing strange with ye then,

Mrs Doyle?


Eh, no!

Nothing strange?



Well, now that ye ask,

It’s just that

My Thomas

Was tellin’ me

He’d seen yer boys

In the pub


On Christmas night

Very jolly

Very jolly indeed!

Full of

The Craic!

Knocking back

The drink!

In fine form


And singin

And later

Tuckin in til

Fish and Chips

On the wall

Outside the Chipper!

So they did!


Is that right?

Says Grannie,


In a Red Sea

Of shame



It is indeed!

They were spied

Oan Christmas night!

Devouring their


On The Lord’s Day

God help our souls

Time’s must be hard

Did they nat have

A Christmas Dinner?

This year?

Did ye nat?

Did ye nat?

Did ye nat?


A course we did!

We did indeed

The full turkey

And all the trimmins

We ate early

And heartily

At a decent hour!

And my lads are

Big Lads!

Growin’ lads

Wi healthy appetites

Hope you enjoyed

YOUR dinner too

Mrs Morrison

De ye tend til eat late

On Christmas Day

Do ye?


Nat that late

That would send

My Boys



The Chipper


Christmas Night!


Sounds like yer laddie

Was in the pub too

I wonder if anyone saw


On Christmas Night

Eatin’ a fish supper?

On the wall

Full a’ whiskey…?

Sounds like he has

A hearty appetite too

I’ll have te go now

Mrs Morrison

Before the Post Office

Closes oan me

I’m sure yee’ve messages

Yerself te fetch?

Tata then


Grannie shaken

Shuffles off

Quick quick


The Falls Road

Tight lipped


Returns home

Wrath ridden



Her young adult children


The family like that!

The whole town’s talking about it

‘The Doyles had

No Christmas Dinner!’

Starvin they were?

They had til sneak out

The House!

Filled thur bellies

In ‘The Chipper’

Hard times indeed!


Grannie grips the toe

Of her slipper

Swipes it across

The Sitting Room

Slicing the air

Whack! Whack!

She serially misses

The boys

Towering above her




Into the hall

Grannie rages,

Grandad laughs


Mammy crying

With laughter

Through tears


As she sits

In her armchair

In Glasgow

70 years later

Telling this tale to us

Again and again

Of her comical brothers

Our uncles

Nipping down ‘The Chipper’

On Christmas night

After a full feast of turkey

And all the trimmings

We are in painful laughter

At the vivid image


Alive in our minds

The Wall

The feast

The big bellies

The bold spirits

The Larger than life


That live on

In us

And will be

Passed Down

To the next generation

A simple story

A human story

A timeless story

No timeline required


Fish and Chips Vintage advert

Protected: “Dirty Dick” by Keara Murphy

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The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius: Part V “Still Waving”

Still Waving

I wake up

It is morning again

Mammy is not smiling

She is shouting

At The Big Girls

To get dressed

Get up! Get up!

Get dressed!

She hurries me and Clodagh

Down to the kitchen

We have porridge

With milk and butter and sugar in

Up to the bathroom, you two

Quick! Quick!

Mammy is helping us to

Brush our teeth

It is sore

She wipes our faces

It is sore

Clodagh is scrunching up her face

I crunch up my face too

Even though it’s not that sore

We are both trying to get away from the facecloth

Then Mammy is dressing us

Both at the same time

In matching trousers and jumpers

She wipes the dirt and leaves off off my jumper

And it is sore on my tummy

Coz my belly is full of porridge

She is packing our bags

Grabbing what she can carry

Running down to the car

Then back up again to get more things

And running down to the car again

Don’t leave anything behind!

She shouts

Into the car with you all!

Get in the car!

I won’t tell you again!

You already went to the toilet!

Okay, well, hurry!

Quick! Quick!

Get in the car!

Mary Margaret!

Get in the car!

Therese Bernadette!

Get in the car!


Get in the car!

Keara Patricia!

Get in the car!


Get in the car!

Mammy carried

Patrick Leo

On her lap

Leo! Get in the car!


Daddy is driving

Grannie is waving at the gate

In front of The Big Green Hedge

The one I couldn’t look over

Now I remember the spider

I forgot to bring her lemonade

But it’s too late now

She will wonder where I’ve gone

She might be thirsty

I promised her

Come back soon, says Grannie

We will, we say, through the open window

Grannie is waving at us

And we are waving back

Safe trip, says Veronica and Angela’s Mammy

God speed!

And she waves at us as well

Veronica is waving at Sheonagh

And Sheonagh is waving back at Veronica

Angela is holding her teddy

I wave at her and her teddy

But she does not wave back

I want to tell her about the spider

She watches us go

I don’t get to tell her about the spider

I look at her, and wave

But she is not waving back at me?

Why is she not waving back at me?

Mrs Kettle is waving at me, smiling

So, I wave at her instead

Her head is hanging off on one side

And bobbing about like it’s going to fall off!

She is standing next to Grannie

She holds onto Grannie’s arm

Maybe that will stop her head from falling off

We are all waving from the car

All the windows are down

We are all shouting

Bye! Bye! Grannie

Bye! Bye! Mrs Kettle

Come again soon!

Says Grannie

Mrs Kettle says

Please God!

Yeez’ll be back, surely

Be good

Smiling, laughing, waving

Grannie is blowing kisses

To us

And she is


And she is


And she is


And she is


And she is


And she is


And we are all still


















The car reaches the top of the street

We are all looking back

Still waving

But we can’t see Grannie any more

Still waving

We can’t see Mrs Kettle any more

Still waving

We can’t see Grannies House any more

Still waving

The car turns

Up The Falls Road

And Mammy is crying

I have a funny feeling in my tummy

No more hide and seek

No more sheets billowing in the wind

No more secret passageways

No more tiny spider

No more wee yellow flowers

No more wee white flowers

No more Hopscotch on Grannie’s Hall

No more Cling! Cling!

No more Veronica and Angela coming out to play

No more soldiers smiling down at us

No more green sandals on red brick paths

No more Grannie’s homemade cake

No more Grannie’s homemade lemonade

No more fireworks

No more Barricades

No more Bangor Boat Away

The Bangor Boat’s Away

It has no time to stay

Blow your horn

For Indian Corn

The Bangor Boat’s Away

We are all still looking back

And soon we all stop waving

And everyone is quiet

And Mammy says,

Roll up the windows!

And I am thinking

Why Can’t We Go Back To Grannie’s House?


Falls Road 71



The Belfast Chronicles: Operation Demetrius: Part IV “Barricades”


I like the red bricks in Grannie’s street
I like the big green vans and the soldiers too
They smile down at me and Sheonagh
And we smile back up at them
We are going to find our friends
Veronica and Angela
To see if they want to come out to play

Soldier and kids at Checkpoint

The soldier bends down and asks us where we live
We tell them, we live in Grannie’s House
Just up there!
But it’s not really our house
We are here on our summer holidays
We live in Glasgow

The soldiers put their arms around us
And ask us if we are enjoying our holidays
And we say, Yes

I like the soldiers
They are nice
They make funny faces at us
And we laugh at them
We make funny faces back at them
And they laugh at us

Sheonagh sticks her tongue out at them
And they laugh again
Then they drive away
They wave at us
In their big green trucks
With guns

Soldier smiles at a little girl

Veronica and Angela’s path is all red shiny bricks
Not like in Glasgow with red stones
Which sometimes are sore in my shoes
I like how my new shoes look
On the red bricks at Veronica and Angela’s house
Veronica and Angela
Asks their Mammy if she can come out to play
Her Mammy says yes
So we go out to play

We play Hopscotch
And Skipping
And Leapfrog
And Barricades

Soldiers and Roller Skates

Mary Margaret is playing Barricades
With her friends in the street
And we are watching them
But Mary Margaret doesn’t let us play with them
Because they are The Big Ones
Even though I am nearly four
Sheonagh said she is one of The Big Ones
But The Big Ones say she is not a Big One
Because she is only five-and-a-half
And they are nearly eight

We are too little to play with The Big Ones
So we make up our own game
It is called ‘Barricades’ too
But it isn’t as much fun as their Barricades
Because we don’t have as many people as them
And can’t fill up all the spaces on the road
So we just sit down on the pavement

And watch The Big Ones play Barricades
And it looks really fun


I cannot wait to be nearly eight
So as I can play
With them

If you’ve never played Barricades before
I can tell you how to play it if you want:

Well everybody lays down on the road
And everybody jumps on top of each other
To make a barricade
So as
 no Protestants can get into our street
If a car comes you do not let them pass
Unless they know the secret password
And then if they know it
We say “Open Sesame”
And everybody who is in The Barricades
Has to run into the side of the road
To let them drive past in their cars
Then someone shouts “Barricades” again
And everybody jumps onto each other
And blocks the road with their bodies
Until someone else comes along
And we ask them if they know the password
And if they know it we let them pass

I like playing down Grannie’s Street
Playing Barricades looks really fun


Grannie says she needed to go to the shops
For some messages
And I ask her if I can come
And she says yes
She says if I am good girl
I can have a sweetie

She makes me put on my coat
And my rain-mate
She brushes my hair
And spits on my shoes
Then wipes them with her hankie
All ready to go!

Grannie holds my hand
We walk up to the big road
And I see all the people
Running around
Grannie says it’s really busy today
So I must hold on to her hand
Falls 71 soldiers and woman chatting

There are lots of Taxis
And The Taxi doors are open wide
And people are nearly falling out
It looks really fun
But not if they fall out
Coz it would be sore
We didn’t get in one
And I was glad

Me and Grannie cross the road
To go to The Post Office
And Grannie says we must go quickly
Or we’ll get knocked down
The taxis are driving really fast
I hold Grannie’s hand
And run over the road

We do not get knocked down
Thank goodness

Grannie meets a lady in the street
With a nice furry coat on
I touch it at the bottom
And it feels nice and soft

Terrible trouble, Mrs Doyle!
Terrible business, altogether!
Margaret’s three boys are away
And Himself only home!
Terrible! Terrible!
She’s beside hersel’
Aye, terrible business

This yer Granddaughter?
Oh, she’s lovely
Clare’s is it?

She bends down to talk to me,
Wat’s your name?
I say, Keara!
How are ye likin’ yer holidays, Keara?
I say, Nice!
Is it nice seein’ yer Grannie?
I bounced my head up and down again
Are ye gonna get a sweetie in the shop?
I bounced my head up and down
Ah, that’s nice. You be a good gierl now
Fur yer Grannie
And maybe yeell get a wee sweetie at the shop!
Would ye like that?
I say, Yes.

The Lady with the furry coat stands up
And says to Grannie,
Ah, dear heart!
God love ‘er!
How many does Clare have how?

Six, says Grannie
The baby, Patrick Leo, only two months

Is that right? Oh, bless!
What are they gonna do?
Are they gonna go back?

Aye, ah think so
She was thinkin’ o’headin’ oan down te Donegal
But doesn’t want til drive through Derry

Aye, ah thinks it might be better tae go back tae Glasgow
See how the land lies?
Better be safe than sorry!


Maybe for the best, not great round here at the minute
Heaven knows what’s comin’ our way
Dreadful business!
My ones woke wi the clatter
And on the holidays too

Ah, aye, I know, tis indeed

Poor Clare!
Give her all my love
Will ye?

I will, surely

Terrible business
Terrible trouble, altogether!


Here, did they come on the boat

Aye, the boat




Does she take a cabin, Clare?

Aye, oh, aye. She takes two

Oh, aye, well she’d need the two, right enough
Wi that brood on her hands


Lotta money there
Bringin’ thum all over
Payin’ for a holiday
Only til go back

Boat Cabins in the 70s

Well. That’s life!
Can’t be helped
We’ll jist hay til on wi it
How’s your Frank?

Aye, not bad; not bad
He’s still waitin’ fur the all clear!
Getinn’ there
But he’s still bloody smokin!

Anyway, Mrs Doyle, ye’ll be gettin oan
Yee’ll have a lot til do
You get back tae yer family now
While ye still have thum!
Sure I’ll see ye again
I’ll pop round, next week
Fur a cuppa tea

Aye, right ye are
That’ll do

You take care now!
Look after yersel’
See ye later
Be safe, now!
Bye bye!
Bye bye!

The lady with the furry coat
Bends down
Holds my shoulders
And Says,
Bye bye, now, Pet
You be a good gierl,
Keara, now, will ye?
I nod
God bless!
You’re a good geirl! 

And then the lady with the furry coat
Walks away, waving back at Grannie
Who waves back at her
I wave too, holding Grannie’s hand
Then I see another taxi
With people falling out of it
And then we go into
The Post Office
Black Tazis

The Post Office smells of stinky feet
The lady behind the counter says,
Terrible trouble, isn’t it, Mrs Doyle?
Grannie says, Ah, ‘tis terrible!
And hands over a wee book

The lady in The Post Office
Gives Grannie some money
And stamps a mark in her book
And gives it back to Grannie
Grannie opens her purse
And puts the money in
But she keeps some pennies out for me

She shows me where the sweeties are
And tells me what ones I can have
“Pick one”, she says
And I see an orange lolly pop
“I like that one!”
Okay, says Grannie,
And she hands over the money
And the lady hands me down
The lolly pop
I look up at her and say,
“Orange is my favourite colour”
The woman and Grannie laugh
But I don’t know why it’s funny
I lick my lolly
And we cross the street
I love my Grannie
She is the best Grannie
In The Whole Wide World
I hold tight onto her hand

She smiles at me

It’s the best day ever

Two Grans and a Child





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