Although he was born in Liverpool, Michael had already, by the time he was taken home to Dromintee in 1922, been brought up in an atmosphere of storytelling.
His father had an influence on his development as a socialist republican. Michael senior was a friend of both James Connolly and Jim Larkin. He was a seaman and worked and travelled widely. He was a fluent speaker of Scottish Gaelic which he learned on frequent visits to the Scottish Highlands and The Hebrides. He had been to Tsarist Russia through the port of Archangel and had worked for a period on the ‘Mauritania’.
Michael J. remembers the teacher in Dromintee school, Paddy Hearty, saying to him, ‘You’re just like your father – a rebel from the toe-nails up’. The reason for the prophetic remark was that, while Hearty was still a monitor in Dromintee, Michael senior threw a slate at him. The slate missed, when Hearty ducked, and it hit the clock. The rebellious student left the school and had to attend Jonesborough school for three months until he received confirmation. Years later when Michael junior questioned his father about the incident his only regret was that he ‘missed the bastard and smashed the clock’.
Both of Michael J.’s parents were hired in Newry when they were ten years old and the stories which he heard from them had a profound effect on him.