The Songwriter - Chapter One
By Paul Mc Cann
JOURNEY FROM THE CROSSROADS
I was born in 1956 in the Jubilee section of Belfast City Hospital . I could not talk or think and arrived into the world with the umbilical chord tightly wrapped around my neck . As I turned blue the doctors steady hands rescued me from taking an early exit from life . My mother tells me my arrival was quite distressing for all concerned . Anyhow on10th March I came into the world and seven days later on St Patricks day I was baptised in Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne .
My fathers name was Samuel Joseph and his people came from Sailorstown a place that sprung up around the city docks . His father . my grandad Frank had moved out of there during the troubles of the twenties . With a hand cart he made his way with his family along the cobblestone streets and on up the Antrim Road until he saw the new village of Ardoyne or Edenderry as it was known originally . He put the front door key in to a home in 38 Jamaica Street and soon set up a happy home with his wife Sarah . My grandmother Sarah was crippled in a wheel chair most of her life and it was left to my Aunts Mary and Rita to look after her . They did everything for my grandmother . It was hard but they had a great love and never complained .
Their new home in Jamaica street had a bath tub and that was a luxury for them . In their old house in Great Patrick Street all they had was an old steel tub that was hung up on the wall and every Friday night it came down for the weekly bath . Everyone bathed on Friday night .
From its early beginnings Ardoyne had a big heart and took in people from all over the city . It is a place that had to survive . History tells us that Michael Andrews from County Down opened a business in Belfast and had secured a number of acres in the townland of Edenderry .
It was here in Edenderry where Michael Andrews established a hand-loom factory and refurbished what few old homes were there and his business grew .He gradually added more workers homes until the attractive little village with its bell tower and clock , its pebbled square and its bell-man calling out the hours at night , its snow white homes, its school, its quoit pitch, and its little factory became one of the leading attractions for the people of Belfast City .All these were there and flourishing in the mid 1800’s . The townland of Edenderry although immortalised with the today’s small business people like The Edenderry Post Office ,and Edenderry National School . The name passed from the lips of the people and Ardoyne took its place . Up the road from Edenderry is Ligoniel . In days gone by Ligoniel and its hill of the white lime quarries provided the base for many of the road surfaces around Belfast . In those far off days of the 1850’s limestone from the White mountain was used for surfacing the Crumlin , Ligoniel , and Shankill roads . On these snowy white roads in the summer time the glare was blinding .The whiteness increased day by day by tons of white powder that poured through the white joints and holes inside the big bright red carts that were full of limestone coming down from the white mountain .
Before I was born my small village in North Belfast had seen many changes over the centuries. The name Ardoyne means basically John’s Hill . To this area Michael Andrews brought people work and homes and a well loved never to be forgotten name and one known all over the world ..
My Mother and her parents had lived in Glenard which some people said was the upper class section of Ardoyne . I don’t know how anyone could maker that assumption with the entire population of Ardoyne all struggling to make a living .My mothers Dad was called Richard Robinson . My Mothers mother was called Mary Clare . My grandfather was a good musician and a popular man at parties . He performed regularly at many venues in Ireland and England . Most people called him Dick . Sadly though my grandfather died very young . After going to London for work he contracted Pleurisy I’m told due to living in a damp and dirty bed and breakfast where he had taken up a short residence . It wasn’t that long after he returned to Belfast that he died leaving my Grandmother Mary heartbroken . Then it wasn’t long after that when she herself died . With both her parents dead my mother who was just twelve years old found herself alone in the world . Tragedy struck with no mummy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles all she got was the whispers and stares from the neighbours and relatives who wanted to send her into an orphanage . But from a very early age my mother stood on her on two feet and told them all to get out of her house . She took on a full time job in the mill and worked , as hard as any of them in the dark and dirty spinning mill of Belfast There were not many good times for her and in all the time she was growing up alone not one offered her a helping hand . She worked hard at the Rosebank mill in Flax Street . Nothing came easy . She loved to go Irish dancing whenever she got the chance and found a friend in Patsy McGowan. Her life changed after a holiday to the Isle Of Man when she met Sam who also was on holidays . Sammy came from old Ardoyne and they met again at the Ardoyne social dance . It wasn’t long and they both fell in love . The rest is history Sammy and Mary my parents were married 20th June 1953 in Holy Cross Catholic Church in Ardoyne . They had five children , Marian , Geraldine , Terry , Sarah , and myself , the only boy . I grew out of my short trouser days and started Butler Street Primary school . Following that I went on to St Gabriels Secondary Boys school on front of the Crumlin Road , St Gabriels was in walking distance from our home in Ardoyne . Before school each day I had a regular job helping to deliver milk for the Belfast Co-Op . After the last bottle of milk was delivered my day at school began . Most days I had no time to change clothes so I went to school wearing my soaking wet , stinking of sour milk well loved black duffle coat . Fair play to all my old school friends who in all the years I went to school never ever said anything about the smell . There is a lot to be said for friends who accept you as you are . For three years I worked on the milk run with Noel Benson , who drove the small electric Co-Op milk van . I earned ten shillings a week and saved that money in a big biscuit tin that I kept right and handy for as sure as Christmas would come birthdays would soon follow and I always made sure that my parents and sisters had a gift . I was a football fanatic and played every day after school in Duneden Park . Usually it was 32 a side and no rules applied . You just had to get the ball and kick it before anyone else . The goals was the space between the lamppost and the hedge at Mrs Gowdy’s and the other way was the place between the lamppost and Mrs Liddy’s falling down fence . There were some great games . We played through the long twilight hours and into the last faint light of the day . That was back when Peelers walked the street and often took our ball and wrote our names in his book .I grew up with a handful of great football players and we became very close friends . Most of us with nick names ended up playing for our local St Gabriels youth club team and we won the Down and Connor Cup in 1966 beating St Patricks 2-1 in a long drawn out final at Celtic Park in West Belfast My non-football fanatic friends were like the secret unknown few who I visited quietly when no one else was around . I swapped comics and traded coins with them and we even shared ghost stories and jokes if time allowed . I had a secret identity and a personality that I could and would never share with anyone until now . I can still remember the night I became a poet . It happened so suddenly . One night before going to sleep I felt a great urge to write . Words flooded into my mind . It was as if Gods hand had turned on a tap of inspiration from in heaven that began to run through my head . I got out of bed and grabbed a pen and a notepad and started to write like a madman . I couldn’t believe what was happening before my eyes . I was writing the most beautiful prayers and poems that you could never imagine .Born was the poet but I was much too self conscious and so reluctant to tell anyone about the transformation from nong to poet . I now had a secret life where I wrote everyday and night . I was very sensitive about this new gift and so always hid my poems and prayers in my bedroom and under floorboards in the house . My life was changing fast and I was experiencing other things no one would believe . One night as I slept in the attic I awoke from my sleep and felt cold and aware of another presence there in the room . I sat up in bed and glanced over at my bedroom window and felt my hair stand up . In the corner of the room I saw the figure of a strange woman dresses in a long shroud . She was there a few feet from me . She was motionless and just stared at me I tried to scream out but my voice was blocked . I was locked in a state of sheer terror and pulled the quilt over my head and just shook with fright for a while . Eventually I had another peep to see if the lady was still there but my night visitor has left .
The next morning I told my sisters and Mum and Dad about the experience of the night before . It was hard to convince my parents about the ghostly intruder .They said it was just a bad dream and there was nothing to fear but one things for sure I didn’t want to sleep in the attic again after that . All my sisters seemed to believe me . Anyhow after a time away my parents convinced me to return to my attic bedroom . Well to my great relief I was never troubled again by the apparition nut it still was hard for me to feel at peace there .As time went on my inspiration flourished and my writing became very prolific . Throughout the entire house in Duneden Park I scattered my poetry . Inside the gas metre box and under the lino , Inside torn mattresses and anywhere I found an empty slot . They where my little treasures and I was very protective of them . I felt they were part of the house like bricks and mortar .
When trouble erupted in Northen Ireland in 1967 . By 1972 the situation was out of control and my parents applied for emigration to Australia . We we accepyed and given 2 weeks notice to leave .
I still remember the day the seven of us landed in Sydney with a suitcae in each hand to begin a new life . We arrived at Westbridge Hostel in Villawood in a bus and walked on jelly knees and dragged our jetlagged bodies to the office where we signed in and picked up the keys to our flats in our new home .
We where directed to an area of the Hostel called Gordon , and as we walked off from the administration building we all felt the same . Very homesick and in a mild state of shock , but above everything a sense of freedom and peace captured us . No sound of gunfire ripped through our heads , no bombs where exploding , and there was no sign of trouble ..We seemed to have lost our way to Gordon and stopped a few passers by . What a shock we got when we found everyone we spoke to couldn’t speak English .
In a new country I found myself beginning to write in a completely different way .
A new writer in me had emerged ,
End of Chapter 1
A link to chapter 2 - The Songwriter
by Paul McCann