Altar Boy

When I was eleven or twelve I became an altar boy. Mother made my red and white surplice. The mass was all in Latin and I had to learn the correct responses.

I had to light the altar candles – reached from steps behind the altar, place the bread and wine on a side table, taking them to the priest (Father McFadden) at the appropriate point, pour water over the priest’s fingers at the washing of hands, ring the bell at the right points, assist with the communion, carry the chalice and patten away at the end of the mass and finally put out the candles.  I once took a sip of the communion wine and I was not impressed. I assisted at several funerals and one wedding, and was much pleased at the tips I got – 10s 0d was the going rate.


I started school when I was four. The school was a mile away. For a little chap the two miles to school, up two steep hills, was quite an ordeal. My sister May tells me that she often had to carry me as I would sit on the road and refuse to go any further. As she was only eight this must have been tough on her.


The first part of the journey was up Drumbally Hill. This seemed very long and steep and I was always glad when I got to the top.  Halfway up the hill was the Lamb’s house. I can’t remember his first name but his wife was called Annie and they had two daughters.  The odd thing about him was that he had made his own small gravestone that he kept at the house for many years before parking it under a palm tree in the graveyard of Creggan Church.  Although it was Church of Ireland, both Catholics and Protestants had always been buried in the graveyard. When I visited the graveyard recently the stone was standing beside the family grave.


Towards the top of the Hill was Failie (Felix) Grimes. He had an apple orchard and every autumn it was regularly raided by the children coming home from school. The apples were mostly cookers but in those war years we thought they were great.

… more later …

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