Coalisland

Interesting comments from “Pippakin” which triggers memories. 

There is something about Coalisland, a town in County Tyrone, which is a part of me. Unlike most youngsters in West Belfast, I had a mother who was “from the country”…outside Armagh. Ironically both my parents were “pioneers” (Catholic non-drinkers) and they met in the West Belfast pub, where my father was a barman.

It meant that I lived in West Belfast. My fathers siblings were childless so all my maternal aunts and uncles and cousins (mostly much older cousins) lived south of Armagh and in and around Coalisland.

It meant that I had experiences that most city boys did not have. My Armagh uncles were part-time farmers so I got to see cows being milked and baby animals. And my Coalisland family were railway people and I got to ride in the engines between Coalisland and Dungannon and Coalisland and Cookstown.

Being the wee cousin from Belfast always helped. I was “different”. 

For some reason, over the past few years…I go to Coalisland quite a lot. Nostalgia. 

Yet it seems that Coalisland memories are in two distinct phases. The 1950s my granny moved there and lived in a bungalow beside the railway. I have few memories of her…her husband my grandfather had died in an accident and she wore black for the rest of her life….and was on a walking stick. She was never photographed, just living with one maiden daughter in that Coalisland bungalow. One day….I (a city boy) fell into a bed of nettles. Granny came out and beat the nettles with her walking stick.

She died aged 84 in 1956. I was just four years old. But we visited that bungalow for another five or six years until the maiden aunt sold up the bungalow. Maybe they were the primary school years. And of course the railway closed down.It was also the years of Operation Harvest (1956-1962). Of course, I was a child and knew nothing of such things …..yet I remember when my family walked past a lot of policemen outside the RUC Barracks at the bottom of Platers Hill. It was dark and we were going back to the bunglaow from another aunts house at the top of Platers Hill at Newtownkelly.

Another memory is of a lot of cars driving fast past the bunglow. Years later, my father told me more about all that. There had been an explosion in the Coalisland area and the “police with rifles” outside the RUC station wefe actually B Specials …the all Prjotestant-Orange militia called into assist the regular RUC. There had been trouble in the town and my parents were actually afraid going past that B Special line…I was just excited.

When the maiden aunt sold up and moved to Dungannon, I started to spend summer with my maiden aunt and her three daughters (adult cousins). Two worked in a local factory and the third was a nurse. A fourth male cousin was already married and living a couple of miles away at Clonoe.

My male cousin had a bicycle and I used to sit on the back of it travelling via Gortgonis to Clonoe. The bike was a bit wobbly at times…mainly because my cousin was a bit wobbly. Was it really fifty years ago that we were standing together outside the Parochial Hall on the Stewartstown Road, cheering newly elected Stormont MP, Austin Currie, later a founding member of the SDLP?

It was early teen years. The Beatles Years. Going jnto Coalisland Square on my own…to Hamiltons Walk-Around Store, to buy toy soldiers.

A few years ago, I was surprised that the house that was beside my grannys….is still owned by the same family. And even more surprised that the current owner remembered me.

But those 1960 summers were fun times. Those three cousins making me pancakes and buns every Saturday night.Bernadette and her fiancee going out three nights a week if Joe Dolan and the Drifters were playing anywhere north of Dublin….sadly she died in around 1967.

And in July 1969, I went on holiiday to Bundoran in County Donegal, breaking that Coalisland connexion. And in August 1969, the Troubles had broken out. It seems odd that 1963 …the Beatles …is the fault line between Primary School and Secondary Education. And that 1970 is a kinda fault line between adolescence and adulthood.

Golden Summers. A Golden Life between “She Loves You” and “Let It Be”

And all those good decent family members who tried to make me happy are now dead.

Yet….I noticed this in Coalisland, when I visited there last week. In the Square.image A stone marks the spot where the first Civil Rights march started in 1968. Coalisland to Dungannon…four miles….24th August 1968. On that date, I was back in Belfast having spent my last summer in Coalisland. A couple of weeks previously, I had got my O Level results and the reward of a record player.

Fanciful to think that the Stone might as well be another monument to a stage in my life.

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3 Responses to Coalisland

  1. bangordub says:

    Another moving testimony Mr Fitz.
    My own daughter spent the weekend in Bangor with me and I am very conscious that her experiences now will be her memories in a few years time. Thankfully it was a very pleasant few days with none of the potentially serious incidents that I think your own relatives may have attempted to shield you from growing up.
    Nevertheless it is our memories that shape us. A great piece. Thank you

  2. Political Tourist says:

    FJH,

    Would you know where your family lived at the time of the Great Famine.
    How did they survive it?

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