Whatever I said it was her response I remember

Lord Carson on a stamp from 1912 campaign against Irish Home Rule

I have spent tonight looking for a photo that has taken me an hour to find, but I did find it, it is the display photo.

I am sticking with the notion of change as it is still speaking and it is right I pay attention. Yesterday I wrote that even during the wilderness years I still responded to kindness. The reason I so wanted to find the photo is that it the only connection I have with a family who were kind to me.

In the week day evenings, we were often bored, I was 15 now, and we would hang out in the cafe of the local swimming pool. One night a group of girls appeared nothing strange about that other than they were from the other side, Catholics. My eye caught one in particular as she was acting like the prima donna. I went to the counter to purchase some sweets and she engaged me conversation. I was intrigued as although from the other side she was friendly and perhaps a little flirtation.

Separate to this there were a few lads from ‘the other side’ also in the cafe. Some banter had been exchanged which somehow led to me chasing the lads down the street. One of them ran into a house and for a reason unbeknown to me I knocked the door, it was the back door.

A woman answered, his mother. I am not sure why I knocked and I am not sure what I was going to say to her. I can’t believe I was going to say, “Your son caused me some annoyance.” Whatever I said it was her response I remember. She was friendly and invited me in for a cup of tea. I don’t think I said yes though I said I would call again. It was then his sister who entered through the front door appeared. It was her, the girl with the sparkling eyes, the Italian black hair and although petite her presence made her tall. She encouraged me to take up her mother’s invitation.

Somehow I returned later that night. I suspect I couldn’t let me mates who were Prods ( slang for Protestants) know that I had been invited in for a cup of tea at a Catholic’s home.

They lived in a mixed area ( Catholics and Protestants living side by side) which was rare at this time in my town. Nevertheless, I had to be careful so the back alley served well as my entrance and exit. I would slip into it run down it and quickly enter through their back door.

I had my cup of tea and probably hundreds thereafter. That family remained a part of my life for the next six years. Their home was warm and welcoming. I seem to have gone anywhere that warm and welcoming!

You may have guessed an on off relationship developed with her daughter though due to my beliefs it had little chance of success. I was a contradiction, I was active in Unionist/Protestant politics yet here I was enjoying the home and friendship of the other side.

At a point in those 6 years her mother gave me the stamp photographed above. She had found it in a book. It was of Edward Carson the leader of Irish Unionists in 1912 who led the campaign against Home Rule. [Home Rule was similar to the status of the current Scottish parliament though Irish Unionists objected to it in the belief that it would lead to an Ireland outside the United Kingdom.]

She thought I would appreciate the stamp. I have no photographs of the family though I have this stamp.

This family although they did not change me in the short term had a long lasting effect, how could I not be effected by their kindness.

There are many stories told of the Northern Irish conflict that often reinforces the stereotype though I would wager that most of us from there have a story or two that don’t fit the stereotype. Stories of how even in secrecy relationships were had, friendships were formed and change, albeit slow, was happening.