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I was terrified and, suddenly seeing the way was clear to the door of the shed, I bounded past her and shimmed down the ladder, coming a cropper at the bottom and then running as fast as I could for the safety of our accommodation.

Actually, Peggy was a very nice person but, how was I to know that at the time? We had never had any contact with any disabled people before. I remember we would hear Mirette practicing the piano for an hour or two each evening and then Peggy would have a “bash” on it. “Bash” was the only description I could give to the performance. She would thump discordantly on the instrument and bang her feet on the floor above our heads, shouting out her songs like a sergeant major on parade and scaring the shit out of us kids below. Mum and Dad were often out in the evenings and the four of us kids would retire to the bedroom and cover our heads under the blankets to avoid the sounds but, mostly in case Peggy was angry and came downstairs to our quarters. Of course, she never did.

Wentworth Place, Wicklow — 1938

Wentworth Place, Wicklow — December 1938

Immediately we arrived in Wicklow, we were enrolled in local schools, the girls in the convent and I in the Christian Brothers’ School. At the time I felt they were quite far from the house, but having re-visited in recent years, they were, in reality, quite close by. Across the road from our house lay the Canon’s home with high walls for privacy. The same thing. when I re-visited Wicklow — the Canon’s house was quite small and the walls were not nearly as high as they had appeared in 1938.


Dominican Convent, Wicklow — 1938

The boys at my school were intrigued by my presence. At that time there were very few, if any, foreign visitors to Ireland leave alone this tiny town.

“Do the Indians attack you with bows and arrows or tomahawks?”

“Do you get to sit by the campfire at night and sing along to guitars?”

“Have you ever rounded up the cattle?”

With this talk of Indians they had quite clearly got my place of abode confused with the U.S. Having lived in India in peaceful and protected surroundings, I was unable to tell stories which they would understand or which would give them the excitement they craved. Every Sunday there was a matinee at the local flea-pit and there would always be a film about the Wild West included in the programme, Hop-Along-Cassidy or some such hero. This was going to be a cakewalk! With a vivid mind and using the films’ stories and events as a basis, I invented all sorts of new stories about the Wild West and, as often or not, Dad or I would be the hero.

“What work does your father do?”

“He’s in the Army.” I could see them imagining a Cavalry Officer.

“What does he do?”

“He’s a sub-Conductor” [1]

That was confusing as they had never heard of a sub-Conductor and, before long, the boys were telling each other that my father was a “bus conductor.” Even the Brothers [2] were confused, I think, because they too seemed to be interested in these Wild West stories. Maybe they were just interested in how well I could tell lies, because quite often, with smiles on their faces, they would stop the classes and ask me to tell them stories of Indian attacks and so on.

I had a few particular friends in my class. There was Terence Magee, the son of the local pawn-broker, Seamus Dunne, the son of the local butcher, Tim Kavanagh, whose father was a local dignitary and Michael White, whose father was the newsagent. We would often go about in a group and they always asked me to tell them a few stories about the Wild West.

Ireland was at that time an extremely poor country and while my friends and I always seemed to be relatively well dressed, there were many of the lads who came to school in torn and patched up clothes. Mostly they wore corduroy shorts which had obviously been cut down from their fathers’ trousers, baggy shirts and, during the winter especially, knitted pullovers which had been darned many times and were on their last threads.

They came to school bare-footed, even in the snow and when it was pouring with rain. I was used to seeing barefoot children in India, but I could not help but notice these kids with running noses, often with heavy coughs and colds and, above all, chilblained, chapped feet, blue with the cold. The classrooms were not heated and so these poor mites would sit in a cold room shivering and with chattering jaws for a couple of hours at a time.

One of our schoolboy “challenges” was to see how high up the latrine wall we could piss. We were all pretty good, but the champion was one of these ill-clothed lads who could actually piss right over the eight-foot tall wall but rarely demonstrated his prowess unless someone was keeping a look-out in case any of the Brothers was in the vicinity.


I was in the choir and from time to time I sang solo parts, but best of all I liked it when I had to help to pump the organ. There were usually two of us set to the task and we had great fun watching the bit of weighted string which hung down the side of the organ and which rose to the top as the organ bellows were depleted of air. When it passed a certain mark we had to pump again until it came into the “safe” region. We would try to leave it later and later before pumping until one day we mis-calculated and the organ died on us leaving the lady organist stupefied, but also very angry. Of course, I didn’t get to pump the organ again.


Std. II Irish Christian Brothers’ School, Wicklow 1938

I couldn’t understand it when it first started. We would call out, “Proddy dogs, proddy dogs.” whenever we saw these people. There were literally not more than five or six of them in the town ; only one or two families, I think. I would join in the chant, but really could not figure it out and it always seemed to be the same people we shouted at. One day I asked Terence Magee why we shouted and what it meant.

“Protestant dogs. That’s what it means. They are Protestants, bad, and we don’t like them.”, he snorted. I still couldn’t understand it at all because we, certainly I, had never even spoken to the objects of our abuse. How could I know they were bad and what had they done to be labelled “bad”? Such was the level of bigotry instilled at that age.

There was one other family, the Campbells, who lived down the road from us in Wentworth Place. They were Catholic. I was quite friendly with them, but not really close like I was with Magee and Co. Each evening coming home from school I would see one of the boys in deep conversation with one of the Brothers and I learned that the Brother was teaching the Campbell boy Gaelic. All of us in school prayed in Gaelic, learned to write the Gaelic characters and also started to learn a few words of the language. But the Campbell boy was learning “real Gaelic, so he could become a leader”. It was too far above my head and I forgot about it until nearly forty years later when I visited Mirette Dowling and asked after the people whom I could remember.

“And whatever happened to ‘X’ Campbell?” I enquired.

“Now you see, Patrick,” she said, lowering her voice to a confidential whisper. “It’s the “troubles”, you know. We never talk about him because he is one of the high-ups in the IRA”.

I was astounded that one could know this and asked how she knew.

“Most people know who the IRA people are, Patrick. We just never mention it.”


On Easter Sunday 1939 I had been invited around to the Campbells’ home. They had a garden in the back of the house which sloped steeply up and away from the house. There was a pathway up the hill and, on the top, two of the brothers stood with a bicycle.

“Do you know how to ride a bike?”, they enquired of me.

“Of course, I know how to ride a bike.” I replied.

“Go on then, show us.” They half jeered.

I’ll show them, I thought to myself as I went up the slope and took the bike from them, threw my leg over the cross-bar and started down the hill. Bloody Hell! The rotten little shit-bags had known that there were no brakes on the bike and I only found out when I felt it running too fast.

I crashed into the wall of their house, smashed the front wheel of the bicycle and also broke my arm and badly gashed my head. I was pouring blood and in awful agony with the arm. In panic, the boys ran in to their parents who immediately called my parents and a lady doctor who lived in the next house to Mrs Dowling. They laid me on the table in the kitchen.

The lady doctor checked me over, put a couple of stitches in my head and set my arm in plaster-of-Paris.

“Do you have any other injuries or pain anywhere?” she asked.

Well, actually the end of my dick was hurting because I had banged it on the cross-bar of the bike, but I was too shy to tell her.

“No,” I said, “I’m OK now, thank you.”

“Are you sure?”, she enquired again, almost as though she knew the “little willie” was hurting.

“Yes, I’m sure, doctor. Thank you, I’m OK now.”

And with that, she let me go. At the first opportunity I rushed into the toilet and examined my “tool”. There was a bloody great bruise on the end of it. But the pain soon went away, even though the bruise stayed for several days, and I forgot about the episode. The Campbells and I remained friends.

Years later when I re-counted the story to my little sister, Mary, she gasped and said. “My gosh! You could have broken the bone in it.”


The Magee family , Wicklow 1938

St. Patrick’s Day — Wicklow 1939

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[1] A warrant officer Second Class.

[2] Monks of the Order of the Christian Brothers started by Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice.


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