‘He didn’t bless himself!’

My earliest memories of growing up in Newry include being taken into St Patrick’s and St Colman’s by my mother and one of my aunts to see the Christmas crib. 

This would have been around 1950-51.  I remember lying in bed around midnight some years later listening to the carols being rung out on the Cathedral bells, with the clock bell of St Patrick’s church nearby banging out a discordant interruption on the hour.

 Looking back over half a century, I am struck by the symbolism which could be attached to those simple occurrences.  

Growing up in my ‘Frontier town’, however, I was to find that small everyday aspects of life were like little shoots which fed on an extensive root system that crept into every corner of my environment. 

It was an effort to walk past the cathedral without the awful awareness that because I did not “‘bless’ myself”, I might as well hold aloft a large banner with an arrow pointing at my head and the words, – ‘he’s a Protestant’ – written on top.  

That may seem rather misguided now, but fifty years ago it was a reality to me.

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