Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part Four: The start of first year, my 12th birthday party and the start of bullying in 81 (my Junior school class).

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Parts 4,5 & 6.

 N.B Sorry for any grammatical errors in this post - I wrote this very quickly and didn't have anyone proof read it.


Part Four: The start of first year, my 12th birthday party and the start of bullying in 81 (my Junior school class).

I remember my first day in Our lady and St. Patrick's College Knock i.e. St Pats. I recall being in the assembly hall and then finding out what class we were in. I was in 8-1, Mr.Kane a religious and irish teacher was our tutor - our tutorial room was in a mobile beside the football pitches. Kiera was in my class and that was all out of  St. Joseph's, most of the other people in St. Joseph’s couldn't be because I requested them not to be. Kiera had a friend from outside of school, Rowan so she wanted to sit with him. I didn't know anyone else so I sat down by myself and eventually Martyn  sat down beside me - who was a very small guy from Larne. Rory  was in my class also for a while in St. Josephs but moved to Bangor and was in 8-1 as well.

I recognized some of the girls  from St. Brides - Laura Mullan was in my class, and then I recognized Orla, Maria  and Stephanie as well from the playground - because they looked kind of funny together, Stephanie and Orla were really short and Maria was really tall. Then they had another girl who was part of their group, a big girl with brown wavy hair, and I knew I recognized her from somewhere but wasn’t sure where from. It was Niamh - she was an Irish dancer from Kathy O’Connor but she was an age group lower than me due to my birthday being in October and hers in January, she attended  St. Brides also.  I recognized Jennifer Woods also - she was on my holiday in France.

I missed Holywood festival due to being on holiday but I remember talking to Niamh in Maths class about Newtownards festival.  I remember being collected from school and going to it - Gertie Mulligan was adjudicating - she was the original Ballynafeigh teacher and had a really quirky accent and it was a single age group. This was the first festival I saw Natalie McAlister dancing for Dominic Graham, her school had closed down. This was also the first festival i danced the hornpipe - you had an option between (heavy jig or hornpipe) and I got a recall with Sharon McConville and Gillian Hodge- me and Gillian from then on, nearly always got a hornpipe recall. I think i got 5th in the championship. A girl from Castletown won, Natalie got 2nd, Gillian and Sharon got 3rd, 4th I’m unsure, i think I got 5th with Nicole Ogilby and Aimee Gibson (Tir Na N’og) got 6th. I don’t think Conor Smyth danced - he went to St Pats also and was the year above me, we were in the boys choir together.

At first, I was fairly popular,  I got along with Rowan and Colum quite well, I remember doing the sponsored walk/run with them- he was from Bangor, and Jennifer Woods and Jessica were friends with me as well - i sat beside them in practical classes (HE, Technology, Art & Science). Then I had my birthday party.

I always had massive birthday parties, parties seemed to be something my family put great importance on and they were very good at it. Everyone in my primary school classes was  excited about getting an invite to my birthday - regardless if they liked me or not. Claire Corrigan told me in St. Pats that in St. Brides she was the only girl never to get an invite - I realized that was because she was chubby, I continued this in St. Joseph's and never invited Nicola Redfern - who was chubby also . It was like America's Next Top Model, I was like Tyra with my envelopes to see which girls had the best photo to get invited to my birthday party.  The last year we went to Planet Fun/ Funderland. We always had a sleepover and watched a scary movie from when i turned 8 and we played spin the bottle as well.  I lost my frigidity (when you snog someone) at my 9th birthday - we had watched titanic... and that is why it was a 12.

We were going to Lisburn Swimming Pool - it had loads of slides. And I was only allowed to invite a certain amount of people. So I invited Rowan, Column, Kiera, Jennifer,  my male cousin of about the same age and maybe a few others - they all stayed for the sleepover in which we had a beanie babie (I use to collect them) fight and we talked about who we fancied in our year. I fancied Sophie ( who was one of the only other not pure white people in our year - She looked like Lucy Liu), and Orla  and the other boys fancied Stephanie Ferguson, Emma Darragh (she was an Irish dancer as well) or Amy (who I went to St. brides with and was Gymnast). Jennifer revealed the girls in our year fancied Ryan - I think because he had braces, played football and was a bit of a chav-which seem to make you “cool,” in st pats.  

It was literally as soon as I had that birthday party that I started getting bullied. Rowan Blaney, started to turn everyone against me, he was from the four winds, which is a nice area but other than "Royal Lodge" it wouldn’t be the ritz either and it is of my opinion that he became envious of me after seeing my lifestyle and my cups and medals. I remember I changed my school bag and got bought a quicksilver one, which would have not been as expensive as Louis Vuitton, but still would have been quite expensive for those days or for someone that age, maybe the equivalent of Abercrombie and Fitch. Rowan was trying to catch me out, saying something a bit snobby and asked me how much it was, and I replied £50, and he commented about how expensive that was and I replied “It’s not my fault i have expensive taste” and he told everyone I said that. In my view, he was being really manipulative because he was jealous and he continued to do that the next few years.


Part 5: My aunties suicide, my first detention and the sowing of the seeds for more bullying, family problems, a split in my personality and politics in Irish dancing.

The school recital was coming up and I was in it for two reasons: I was in the boys Choir and Irish dancing. My music teacher was Miss McLean and her son Niall McLean taught fiddle lessons in the school and she asked me to dance for them (Not Niamh or Emma, or any other Irish dancers in that year for that matter) - I did the hornpipe. This is when I lost my confidence for singing, in the boys choir we were doing the 12 days of christmas and we all had a part each and when it came to me, I forgot my line and I started to get stage fright after this. Around this time I had joined my local folk group and was given a solo on my first day, but then didn’t show up. I have discovered recently after 10 years, however, that I can still sing, and am getting lessons now - I have over 3 and a half octaves and expanding, I thought I was a tenor at first, but I’m more of a baritone, but I still have kept my falsetto with a possible whistle register, This didn’t help the bullying though, irish dancing and boys choir was not cool. Boys were meant to play football, wear tracksuit bottoms, spit and talk with a belfast accent.

By the new year, I wasn’t getting along with my classmates whatsoever. 8-1 was the swot class, and I wasn’t a swot (a swot is like a nerd). There was a merit system, you lost your own merit for the day if you didn’t do your homework, were cheeky etc, and if three people were put in the merit book, then the class lost their class merit. This is when Niamh started to hate me, because I didn’t always do my homework or could be a bit cheeky sometimes. I was quite the rebel in comparison to my fellow 8-1ers, and had to be called out by our year head and told off.

 I can remember one religion class, Niamh got really angry with me for losing the class merit  and on the other hand I was making fun of her for being a swot - we were drawing pictures of each other and saying “this is you”. Then it got onto to irish dancing in which she told me she won “The Ulsters”  and that the reason why my teacher wasn’t in the FDTA was that she wasn’t good enough! In a number of talking and listening exercises, when you had to talk about “your proudest moment” for example, she stated that she had won the ulster's.  On top of this she use to tell everyone that she was way better than me - which was annoying, but she had been irish dancing for a few years longer than me also.

I had friends outside of school, who were neighbours, Michael Maxwell, who went to St. Joseph's as well, but he didn’t get an A in his 11+, so he went to Campbell/Cabin Hill, and Rhiannon who went to Strathearn and none of us use to like doing  our homework so we use to go to the park - Belmont Park - after school and maybe steal some of our parents alcohol and cigarettes, with some other kids from the area, mostly from Ashfield - which was a Protestant secondary school. Normally grammar school students don’t start this type of behaviour till they are a bit older, but it's probably due to this why we started a lot younger, it started when we were about ten and that's not an exaggeration. I was very secretive, so my parents didn't  know about this, they just thought we were playing and I didn’t tell anyone in school either, or in irish dancing for that matter. I look back on that now and realize maybe the reason none of us wanted to do our homework was a mixture of not fitting in and also family problems - we didn’t want to be in the house if there were arguments occurring.

My Auntie Sandra died in the new year - she was my Grannys sister, but she would of be there a lot at family events. I really liked her, and her sister Norma too. She suffered from depression and took her own life and it was big shock to me as she was always cheerful, good-fun and attractive. - it showed the people who seem the happiest can sometimes be the most depressed. My great-granny had two marriages, she had three daughters with one, then got re-married about 15 years later and had another two daughter and a son. She was the youngest out of the first three so things were complicated for her and it s upset her. Something happened between myself and my aunt and uncle at that funeral though, there was always a lot of competitiveness between my family and theirs growing up and I asked my uncle and auntie about their A-Level results, knowing my parents had done better than them. This made them really angry.

At the same time, I got a detention - I was the first person in my class to get one. Mrs Caulfield gave me one, my french teacher, I didn’t always do my homework and didn’t revise for spelling tests. I think though looking back at this, there might of been a further reason she may have been harder on me - she was at university with my mum when my mum was Miss Northern Ireland and there may of been abit of spitefulness because of this. When my mum was at Queens, people wrote really nasty stuff about her on desks sometimes, some of it being racist. Have you ever watched "Freaky Friday" with Lindsay Lohan before? I forged my mums signature, so my parents never found out.

For the St. Patrick's display all the championship dancers in the school put on a performance - it was to riverdance. There was a lot of tension between “feis” and festival dancers during this. The feis dancers were about nasty about the standard of festival dancers and some of the festival dancers were nasty about their wigs and costumes. I remember thinking though that Jane Quigley was good - she danced for Armstrong I think though and was 6th in the world at one point - she would of been in Simonas, Claire Greaney and Suzanne Coyle.


The next festival was Portadown and Julie Graham was adjudicating. She had adjudicated our joint class festival with Tir Na N’Og and I had done very well in it - I had won nearly all my dances. Zoe, my younger sister, was always talking about Fiona Gleeson and Stephanie Dickson (both Lilas Reilly) so I wanted to go watch her age group and vice versa, so my mum allowed zoe and I to take the day off school to watch each other's section.

Neither of us did very well and we both didn’t like Julie Graham (who is Dominic Graham's niece) after that - we use to do impersonations of her round the house. Her adjudication seemed strange to me, I remember watching Zoes age group, a double age group 9-11, hers and the age group above and she gave most of the solos to Jenna Armstrong (Ballynafeigh) and then the championship to Jennifer Shannon (Tir Na N’Og - who were both great dancers, I actually loved Jennifer's dancing, she was really exciting, but other than that I couldn’t make much sense of it. I remember she didn’t place Stephanie Dickson and I was told that was the first time that had happened. She also didn’t place Clare McKay (Royal Tara) who was also very good.

In my age group, a double age group between my age group and the younger one 11-13, Niamh had a triumphant day over me , I only got a recall in my single jig. She got something in every dance - I remember though she messed up her set - Captain Megan and wouldn’t even sit beside her mum after, but Julie still placed her.

It was the first day I watched Juliet  dance. She had long red hair down to her bottom and looked like Ariel - the little mermaid. I remember other girls in younger age groups telling me about her. She use to put in quite a lot of “feisy” movements and this was strange because she danced for Irene MccAnn who was very traditional, and she also wore quite a lot of make-up and her dress was very short. It was funny because that day she slipped off her toe blocks and fell on her bum, despite apparently Irene telling her not to do them. I remember Sophia McDonald stopped that day, she was also Irene MccAnn and had a beautiful Slip Jig and would of done quite well in my age group. I think Juliet won most of the solos then Catherine Hughes (Tir Na N’Og) won the championship - who teaches with a CRDM school now.  Gillian was there but didn't do that great - I think she was 6th in the championship. Dominic Graham and Jackie White (Tir Na N’Og teacher) are good friends…. I was naive at the time but now I am quite suspicious of this type of thing.

Denise would not let me do Ballyclare, because there was a feis adjudicator. Niamh informed me she won in school though. After that it was Bangor Open, i think it was the Revies mum adjudicating. I did very well that day, I got something in every dance and came 3rd in championship. Niamh didn’t get placed and left the hall crying. It was a double age group again and I think Juliet won most of the dances and Gillian Hodge won the hornpipe. It was the first day I beat Gillian though. I remember the championship result: Juliet won (but she left early due to a family emergency), Suzanne Gray and Chloe Frazer (from Bangor school, she was a year above me in St. Pats also), I was third (woohoo), Amy Lambe and Gillian Hodge were 4th (she had a bit of a wobble during the toe walk in Aoibhell),  5th was Sophia McDonald and 6th was a boy from Irene MccAnn. I remember that day I fancied Suzanne, she was pretty, slim, quite tall with long golden hair and quite tanned skin, she had just won her age group in “The Ulsters”.

After that it was the Northern Irelands. I watched Zoes section then mine was after. I was definitely expecting to recall and place this year. This was the first year at the Northern Irelands when I noticed the adjudication was unfair from my perspective. Zoes age group was 9-11 and I thought Jenna Hamill (she was from Royal Tara and won the Ulsters 10 times in her age group, she moved to CLRG and won the Ulsters there and placed top 10 in the worlds) was way ahead, again like Gillian the year previously one adjudicator placed her 1st then she got a 5th then a nothing.

The two adjudicators who gave her a 5th and nothing placed dancers who were nowhere near as good as her above her - no coincide they were Mulhollands/Bangor and it was held and ran by them. I suppose there is personal taste, but those marks didn’t seem to make much sense. Fiona Gleeson Won (Lilas Reilly - who is Bangor and Mulholland), Stephanie Dickson 2nd, 3rd Jenna Hamill 4th Jenna Armstrong, then after that two girls from the Bangor school (who in my eyes, should not of done and it was ridiculous for these adjudicators to place them higher than Jenna), Jennifer Shannon (Jackie White was a Mulholland) Shannon Millar (St Patrick's) and Sarah Mulligan (Seven Towers) got place) .

I danced really well and my teacher and actually Dominic thought I was going to recall but then I didn’t and was really angry. I didn’t stay for the recall due to this. However there was a few others that didn’t for example Natalie McAlister, Sharon McConville or Sophia McDonald. I also remember this was the first dance I encountered Carly Thompson, from Bentra and she did “The Calling” which was “Danny Boy” essentially, but the musicians got her music wrong and there was a big palava over it. Conor Smyth wore “Reel Shoes” that day, which are boys light shoes but with heels on them, Sheila Fox (Bangor) and I were on stage with him and we were terrified especially since that stage was tiny. Hannah Rouslan danced that day also - I remember her doing Kilkenny Races - she didn’t recall though. As far as I’m aware Ashleigh Won, Gillian 2nd, Chloe and Juliet 3rd, Carly 4th and Suzanne got 6th. Niamh got a recall but didn’t place and so did Conor Smyth.

Belfast Lagan was the next festival. Una Breslin was adjudicating. Gillian Won the slip jig, hornpipe  and championship.Lauren Greaves won the single jig and Victoria McNamee won the reel. I got Something in my single jig and I got placed in the championship. I remember Jacqueline Jones danced that day, she was a beautiful dancer, she was really high on her toes, and she wore the old senior Royal Tara costume (black and pink), which i really like.

Between this festival and the Northern Irelands I noticed three of the Dominic Graham's had been given special music - music that only their school could do, other schools could do "Aoibhelle the fairy woman" even though it was new but nobody but Dominic Grahams dancers could do these.. Natalie, “The Spell”, Victoria McNamee “The Blossoming” and Catherine Lamont “The Warrior Queen”.  And as if out of the blue, other than Natalie who danced for another school, they started doing really well. Why I think special music is unfair, has started to become apparent at this point. Championship result 1st Gillian, 2nd Ashleigh and 3rd, 4th and 5th were the Dominic Grahams in some order, the girl from castle town also got placed 6th Chloe Fraser then 7th was Me, Conor, Naomi Dunn and Nicole Ogilby.

The last festival of that school year was Belfast Mulholland/Kathy O’Connor I can’t remember who was adjudicating but I think it was Carmel Harte. I remember Emma Brien (from McKay) won at least one of the solos that day and I got a recall in everything  but I wasn’t winning, . But I won the boys championship which i was really happy with, all the boys danced very well - Aiden Speight, from Tir Na N’og got 2nd and Juliet won the girls and Niamh got 2nd. From my recollection my mark was higher than the girls that year. And since I had got a recall in all my solos and did my set dance, probably the best I ever did that, it would make sense that I did. I think Juliet's slip jig was higher but my King of the Fairies was higher than her Whistling Gypsy. I remember Juliet and me were smiling at each other then she pulled her hair round to front of her face and tied it in a ponytail then separate it with her hands and poked her head through and I laughed - this was her idea of flirting at 12 years old. She really was like the little mermaid.

The next day I brought my youngest sister, Tulla, to her first festival. She did very well and kept on saying to me and mum, "When am I going to win a cup?", because she won one at the class festival she was expecting one - but she went on to win "Most Promising" and gave me and mum a look saying "I told you so" as she went on to receive it - it was very funny.


Throughout the different parts of my life in first year the seeds were being sown for what was about to enfold - more bullying, family-problems, politics in irish dancing and a divide in my personality.

Part Six: More bullying in my Junior school class, arguments with my father, New Years Eve Parties and the decline of my success at festivals.

 N.B Sorry for any grammatical errors in this post - I wrote this very quickly and didn't have anyone proof read it.
 By second year my Junior school class were looking for any reason to pick on me. I remember on my first day back I wore blazer and the school fleece and Bronagh Rice, a girl in my class, started making fun of me for it “Why did you wear your fleece today” - it was literally anything. The bullying  by the end of the first year had started to spread to the rest of the year too, it was physical sometimes, people would come up and randomly hit me or spit one me and steal money from me.

Two instances which stand out in my head was stealing my pencil case during second year summer exams and some of the boys took my pencil case out the window encouraged by some of the girls I can remember Orla O'Neil saying "Yes throw it out", it's Ironic because I can remember her crying just because one of the boys in our class Martin Hill turning her down. How could she encourage bullying when she couldn't even deal with being rejected by one person. She knew at this stage I fancied her and it seemed like she was doing this especially malcious- to hurt me.  Even though we were still children, it would make you question some of my class mates moral character (I explain in this post t hat I believe that morality is intuitive and evidently she knew what she was doing was wrong). A further example was when I was being attacked with tea towels in HE, I ran out of class and cried in the toilets, because I don't like people see my cry. I pulled a "sicky" the next day, and the school knew that, but they never did much to prevent it happening.  - I dreaded going to school each morning and cried myself to sleep almost every night.

This is when I started becoming abit Whitney Houston obsessed - I started listening to her after watching the first season of “Pop Idol” - Zoe Birkett use to cover a lot of her songs on it, I can remember illegally downloading some of her music then asking for her greatest hits - I use to listen to the “cool down” CD 1 every night - crying, but trying to make any noise so my parents couldn’t hear me, if my dad did hear me then he’d shout at me for “feeling sorry for myself” and so would my mum. From listening to her I then discovered Mariah Carey, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Prince and lots of other RnB singers.


My dad was giving me a really hard time as well so I felt I couldn’t say I was getting bullied because he would agree with them - he didn’t like the upper-middle class life that his children wear leading and especially did not like me. I was always interested in politics and philosophy and would sometimes debate or question his viewpoints (I explain some of that here )- which he use to respond “Children should be seen and not be heard”. My parents would argue every night and I could hear them screaming at each other from upstairs. He was violent to me at times as well and I would have to run away from him - I use to lock myself in my bathroom and he kicked the door in twice for example. His dad was manic-depressive (Bi-polar) and died in a psychiatric ward and use to be violent towards his other children. However he was the youngest boy out of 8 siblings, the second youngest for 9 years and did not have to endure his dad's behaviour, somehow, despite his older siblings speaking angrily about their dad, he thought this type of behaviour, although not as brutal, was acceptable.

Our family looked good from the outside. My family's business was successful, they no longer could run it from the big house and had to purchase another semi-detached property to run it from, eventually it furtherly expanded and they bought the other side of it and knocked it through. My parents are very sociable so there friends would of not suspected this type of behaviour from my dad or my mum, who also can have a temper.

My parents were very good at throwing parties, especially in that big house. I was always excited for New Year's Eve - there would literally be 100s of people there of all ages.  Me and a group of friends, Rhiannon, Ellen (her cousin) my male cousin, Aaron, Jackson and Tiernan (whose parents were there also) and some other kids, use to party up in my bedroom - which was at the very back from a long corridor on the first floor. We use to take it in turns to go downstairs and sneak alcohol.  Our parents knew to a certain extent, but I think they thought we maybe were drinking one or two bears between all of us. This New Year's Eve turned out to be quite messy.

Aaron thew up at one point - I can remember we were doing shots of Bacardi straight (yuck!) and then he went upstairs and threw up all the way down the corridor. I also went to third base that night…. One thing that was funny about this New Year's Eve, was at one point we were drinking tonic water, we thought because it tasted disgusting it must be very strong - the aim was just to get as drunk as possible.The following year we didn’t have a New Year's Eve part due to being in Australia, but my mum had a big 40th birthday instead. That year was the first year I  threw-up - I remember it was purple because I was drinking Bacardi Breezer Watermelon and anything else I could find.  My uncle came into my room at one point and asked us if we wanted a drink and we all said no, then he asked if we wanted an alcoholic drink and we were like “yeo”.  He replied “well, tough, because you're not getting any” - obviously unknown that Jackson had a liter bottle of smirnoff vodka hidden underneath my bed, a long with other alcoholic drinks.

It was really frustrating for me in my Junior school class, because they were such losers and anything I said to them they used against me. Another example of this was Rowan told me that Column had had 5 pints on St. Patrick's day and I told Rowan it wasn’t that much to drink and wouldn’t get you that drunk. He asked me how much have I had to drink and I said a friend and I drank a liter of vodka. He then went around telling everyone then I drank 2 liters of vodka everyday - he was so manipulative.

My friends became Kiera and Stephen in second year, and I was friends with Martyn and Sharham as well. But by third year Kiera and Stephen didn’t even want to come to my birthday because I was getting such a hard time from the rest of the class that they didn’t want to be as bullied as I was.

Me and Martyn got along quite well, despite being very different on paper, we shared a dry-sense of humour which most of the others kids in the class didn’t understand and were both bold - didn’t do our homework and were a bit cheeky. I remember for example during a drugs talk when they explained what “Speed” did : “It makes you think very fast”, Martyns response was “I must get some of that for the next french test” - which I found hilarious, but the rest of that class didn’t... maybe we shouldn't of had a sense of humour like that at 12 or 13. Talking of French Tests, during our spelling tests, we use to swap and mark each others, and I told Martyn to just write down swear words etc and make up a random half realistic score - This went on for weeks -  “Eight and a half, out of ten”, eventually one week when Ms Hughes (our 3rd year french teacher) was walking around the class, she caught Martyn - I was fine though. The same happened when we were having a paper ball fight and then he accidently threw one at our Science teacher - Ms Titterington.  

I realized that none of the tests we did in Junior school were important in the long run, so I use to never study I use to cheat during our summer exams and find it really funny that the teachers thought I had tried really hard for this exam. By third year, I knew what subjects I wanted to do for GCSE - I didn’t study for my Key Stage 3s, because I knew they didn’t count for anything I got 7 Science 6 Maths and 6 English - I was a bit pissed at the 6 in maths because I wanted to do add maths and normally did quite well in maths, but despite being told if you got a 7 in science you should opt for triple award science, I did single-awards science, because I knew I didn’t want to do anything medicine related. I stopped trying in all subjects which I wasn’t doing for GCSE - in the history test, to see who was good enough to do it for CGSE I filled in the first two answers and just turned the paper over and sat there - I got 7%. Mr. Hughes, my year head, got really angry with me and told me I had to start doing better in Irish, because my teacher reported me. In my technology summer exam I just drew random pictures for my diagrams and I can remember getting a detention, when we had  a substitute teacher, I was spinning on my chair and he asked me to stop, but I didn’t, then he asked me if I was stupid, and I responded “Yes, that’s why I went to grammar school” and continued.  When i received it, from Mr Hughes, during Religion, I walked back into the room laughing, thinking it was funny and Niamh (who I had to sometimes sit beside, due to alphabetical order) got really angry and said to the other class mates “You see, he thinks this is funny!”


I started to do really badly during Irish dancing competitions for a while. We moved halls a couple of times, but moved into a hall under the pink church in Hollywood. My mum started to help teach at this time, because she had done ballet and some adult lessons, she knew the basics, in the light dancing, so could help. I had already started to help teach the little ones, two years before this.

Holywood & Newtownards festival were cancelled that year.  So I didn’t have any competitions till Bangor Confined. I never got to go previously because I was from Belfast, but the rules changed that it includes all pupils of schools in north down  got to go. I remember it was a triple age group - 13-16. Deborah Anderson was adjudicating, and I didn’t dance very well, it is a tiny stage and my light dancing, doesn’t ever suit being on a small stage due to being an attacking dancer I got something in my hornpipe and maybe something in the championship. She gave her solos to a girl from Lilas Reilly with Long Dark hair, who I hadn’t seen before. There was set dance class for dancers who were not in championship and she was in that. I think the McKenna girls did quite well that day and I think Chloe Fraser might of won other than that I can’t remember. I remember noticing Holly Sweeney and her friend Sara Elser more at this age, this both danced for Lilas Reilly too - she is Rory McIlroy's long term ex-girlfriend - she had really achy feet and had a nice slip jig and so did her friend, I also recognized Holly from Ballet competitions.  I remember Zoe did well though and Tulla won her heavy jig.

Bangor Open was the next festival after this. I can’t remember who was adjudicating. Again I wasn’t doing well, I got something in my reel and that was it I think. I remember I went blank during part of my set dance. Michelle Johnston won the reel and the slip jig, Siobhan Finnegan won the single jig (i think), I think Deborah Gwynne won the heavy jig and can’t remember who won the hornpipe. I think Sharon McConville won the championship, Deborah was second, Chloe third with Michelle Johnston and I remember Gillian got 6th - she was there but didn’t do well either.I watched Zoes championship, her section was on during irish dancing class and denise drove to it after - She got 6th I think. Fiona Gleeson won, Jenna Armstrong 2nd, then after that 3 of Lilas reilly got Katie McAlindon (who won the slip jig), Stephanie and Shannon. Two girls from Deborah Anderson did well - Emily Jones and Nadeane, they had there new costume with the sparkly cape, then 4 of Royal Tara got highly commended - Clare McKay (she had just begun done Aoibhell), Hannah McVeigh, Marianne Murphy (Royal Tara - Jude Murphy's big sister (who danced for Doherty-Petri) and Jade Morrow. I remember my mum and I actually thought Marianne should've been in the top 3, her King of the Fairies was really good and so was her slip jig - and I remember going up and telling her. There was too many in that age group about 8 in the championship and sometimes I think it went against them.

In Portadown, the solos wear separated into champions and non-champions, and Denise put me into non-champions, which I thought was unfair - since I was a champion, but according to her since I only won championships with only boys in them, I wasn’t one. Perhaps if I hadn’t done well in championships otherwise this may have been fair, but since I usually got placed and even beat Gillian Hodge, an ulster champion and many other great dancers - this didn’t seem fair to me. I believe this impeded on my reputation as a dancer - people looked at the program and saw I was a non-champion and then thought -”Oh he isn’t a champion, don’t bother placing him”. On the other hand there were other good dancers in non champions for example Sophia McDonald and Catherine Lamont.

Jane Ness was adjudicating and even though I was in non-champions and sometimes would of beat the dancers in champions she gave me nothing all day. Then in the boys section - which is a section they have extra sometimes for boys - she tied me with a boy who was basically a beginner - he was from Portadown though. She placed dancers above me who were no wear near as good as me. I was really upset and  it was like she had some sort of personal problem with me. She gave nothing to Stephanie Gwynne in her section either, (her solos were after mine, then championship after) and I watched it and thought this was very strange. I wonder if she was still angry about us not going to Ballynafeigh when they took over Mark Divers class or if there was some other problem going on, maybe because I prefered Gillian over Ashleigh? However my sisters both did quite well? So it seemed personal. Laura Norris won the champions solos, the Sophia McDonald won most of the Non-Champions solos, then she won the championship - which was fair enough, I remember her friend Sarah putting the Cup on her head, 2nd was Laura - she did “haunting the castle” and it was the first time I watched her do it, 3rd Chloe, Gillian and Sharon and that was it - really strange that was all she placed, despite there being about 40 in it. She didn’t place Dominic's dancers Victoria McNamee (she changed to Madame Bonaparte) and Catherine Lamont.

Ballyclare was next, it was huge over 70 in a double age group 13-15 and only about 10 non-prizewinners, then the championship was split into single age groups. I remember I was actually quite scared. All the girls were really tall at this stage, as was Kyle and Stuart who were an age group older than me. I hadn’t had my growth spurt yet. The standard was very high and Donna Revie was adjudicating, I remember despite this she only placed 4 dancers in the reel. 1st Rachel Smyth 2nd Kyle 3rd Laura Norris and I can’t remember 4th. I remember Deborah Gwynne didn’t get placed in her reel then changed costumes into the old royal tara senior costume and then won the slip jig.  I didn’t get anything in my solos that day, but then I got 6th in the championship. Natalie Mcalister won 2nd was either Catherine Lamont or Victoria McNamee 3rd was Gillian Hodge and Nicole Ogilby 4th was Nicola Mitchell 5th was the girl from castledown 6th was me. I was really happy, because the standard had been so high that day.  My mum and I thought Nicola Mitchell should of won - she did “Haunting the castle”. She didn't do many festivals, so didn't have a big reputation but she was beautiful dancer - I think she got 2nd in the Ulsters at one stage.

I watched Zoes and Tullas section as well. Zoe got nothing all day I remember our friend Ella came as well but she didn't get anything either, Stephanie Dickson was winning, she won the championship, 2nd Sarah Mulligan, 3rd Jenna Armstrong and Clare McKay, 4th Marianne Murphy  and Hannah McVeigh, 5th Fiona Gleeson and 6th Shannon Millar (who had moved to Lila's Reilly from St Patrick's). In Tullas age group, Christy McRandle (Royal Tara) won her reel and light-double, though I can remember she went the wrong way in that dance and then turned around, and Rachel Morrow won the treble jig. I remember there were two girls from the Aaron school of irish dancing, who were both really good. Niamh Murphy won her non-prizewinners reel.

I remember Denise talking about what she perceived as a controversial result at the ulsters that year. Robyn Friel, who was Dominic Graham's niece, had got two firsts then Gertie Mulligan didn’t place her and the dancer who got a 1st and two seconds won - who was Daithi Fisher, Daithi was an age group above me and was FDTA so he didn’t do the same festivals as me so I wouldn't of been at many of the same festivals as him very often, he then moved to Doherty-Petri and did very well, prior to this he danced for his Auntie, this was the first time he won. She said that Robyn should of won - I wasn’t there so can’t comment. However, I had seen Robyn dance previously and wasn’t that impressed, I remember watching my older sister Jade’s section in Hollywood and there was a boy who did “The Spell” and he was brilliant, then I remember her as the girl who did it, but wasn’t as good.

The Northern Irelands that year moved to Newtownards, and was quite a big stage. I wasn’t really expecting to do well that year, I wasn’t doing well in the festivals and my age group was the younger part of the double age group and as note previously, I was quite scared of the dancers in the age group older than me.  I didn’t get a recall, my single jig went well but my timing went a bit in my King of the Fairies. Ashleigh O’Neil won (I can remember her stating side stage that she "hated the Northern Irelands - it was like a really long festival, but was more boring because your teachers are there so you can't change your steps"), 2nd Robyn Friel, 3rd Jason Donnelly, 4th Natalie McAlister and Hannah McLean (Bentra) Then after that Hollies Thompson, Rachel Smyth, Victoria McNamee and Catherine Lamont got something. Gillian and Chloe Fraser got a recall but didn’t place. Gillian got her hair caught in both sides of her mouth. Jason Donnelly's result was really strange - he got a 1st then a 3rd then a nothing - he was quite “feisy”. I remember I liked him, Rachel Smyth, Natatlie and Gillian. Robyn Friels Set dance “The Spell” was good but by this stage she had been doing it for 4 years - so it was going to be good.

Zoes section was on before this and she danced really well but didn’t get placed - she should of done though - about 5th I think, her slip jig and Whistling Gypsy were beautiful - this was the set dance I actually think she suited best. Fiona Gleeson won and she messed up her Kilkenny Races - she fell off her toes and came off crying,  the result wasn’t a reflection of the dancing on the day whatsoever. 2nd Was Stephanie Dickson, 3rd Jenna Armstrong , 4th Shannon Millar 5th Sarah Mulligan 6th Kyra Archibald 7th Clare Mckay and 8th Naomi McAuley (She was Royal Tara and the Ulster Champion in her age group - she slipped in her KOTF).  There were a few others who should of been apart from Zoe, like Marianne and Emma McKeary (Dominic Graham) for example.  However Dominic and Denise were outraged at the result, they were right at being so this day. Denise commented about Jenna Armstrong also and said the choreography in her Aoibhell was awful - “there's Jenna Armstrong up there again with the god horrible set dance”. I thought Jenna was good, she had a bit of a carriage problem but other than that she was pretty solid.

Leading up to this I was getting quite frustrated in class at the time. Denise had not given me any new material and I thought I stood no chance of winning with some of the girls and boys in my group. At the same time, she was teaching all my steps to Zoe and the girls her age, so they were making progress whilst I was staying the same and other dancers like Holly Sweeney or Catherine Lamont (she and Kyra are the Innova teachers now) were over taking me. I was lucky if I got dancing at all, sometimes I only got to do 1 or 2 dances - I was barely being taught. All the other dancers my age at quit and the only older dancer I had to aspire to was Joanna Neilly - who was at university at Oxford most of the time. I had being doing the same set dance for nearly 3 years on top of this and was really bored of it - I wanted to learn “The Reaper” or “Haunting the Castle”. I also wished to do more festivals.

I had quit most of my other hobbies by this stage, I only did Irish dancing and Piano and Scouts (was still being forced to unfortunately)- whilst I use also do Ballet, Gymnastics, Fiddle, A brass instrument (french and tenor horn), choir, speech and drama, whilst my sisters did more and did more competitions and displays as a result. My mum thought because of this, I could maybe do an extra festival to balance things out and since I was Denises longest dancer, her first dancer to get into Prizewinners, first dancer to win a championship (even if it was just boys), and had been helping teaching for her she would be okay with this. I explained this to Denise and she seemed okay with it to me. However then she didn’t just enter me, she entered my sister and a few other dancers also to Portstewart festival.

Margo Brown was adjudicating - she was the piano player at the mulholland festivals. She took over the Mulholland school and use to teach Denise when Patricia died. I went and got nothing all day, Miss Graham, who is Dominic Graham's teacher (not related), was watching and sitting near me and she was saying she liked my dancing and thought I should of been getting placed. Catherine Lamont won the reel and Robyn Friel won the championship, I remember Sarah Laverty and Hollie Thompson were doing well. Zoe on the other hand did really well and won the championship (that was her first win), I was happy for her, since she should have been placed in the Northern Irelands, Fiona and Stephanie weren't there but there would of been other good dancers from the North Coast that would of been there.

When I look back at this however, being less naive to the politics, I understand that Denise obviously being friendly with Margo maybe asked her to give her the championship and not to place me, with the way I was being treated in class, was this Denise Catney and her friends trying to give me a “Kick in the Teeth” for wanting to do modern tricks? Was she trying to get rid of me, but as my mum was helping her couldn't?  Or was it something to do with Niamh Hunt? I was getting really close to winning a championship (with girls in it) or doing well in the Northern Irelands and all of a sudden I wasn't getting anything.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession (Part One).

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession (Part One, two & three).

N.B Sorry for any grammatical errors in this post - I wrote this very quickly and didn't have anyone proof read it.

I was born 15/10/1990 in the Royal Victoria Hospital ,Belfast, I was a big baby and two weeks late - this probably explains why my punctuality is terrible. My mum is Mixed Race, her dad was Chinese Malaysian and went to Boarding school originally in England but ran away then went to Friends in Lisburn and preferred it. He then met my granny whilst studying medicine at Queens. Her mum was a working class protestant from the Lisburn Road. My dad is from South Armagh and was from a farming and a strong Catholic background. They met at Queens whilst studying medicine. This was during the troubles and the only reason they were allowed to get married was because my Mum was Miss Northern Ireland at the time. At this time I had one older sister (Jade). I was the first grandson on the Tan side and youngest on the Magee side.

I first lived on the Castle Hill Road, in East Belfast near Stormont, we were the only Catholics on the street and you could tell by the RTE ariel. We then moved to Skibbereen, which is a small town in West Cork (Skibbereen) for my dad's work. My dad was a GP but became frustrated by orthodox medical practices and he wished to broaden his knowledge on various other types of medicines thus we moved to China and Lived in Shanghai for a few months whilst my dad studied chinese medicine. This was just after communist China and before it became westernized. My mum had a horrible time there due to this, people were so shocked to see she had two children and was visibly pregnant and nobody spoke English there, and although we were mixed race for most people we were the first white people they had seen. So she was very lonely.  she came back a few months before my dad did and we lived with her parents then.

When my dad returned, my younger sister was born (Zoe), and then we moved to Guernsey, channel islands for my dads work for a short period. We then returned and lived in Derryvolgie avenue, on the Lisburn Road/Malone Road. We started to attend St. Brides primary school on the same street as us. I was Joseph in Primary One in the Nativity Play there, I complained that I wasn't Jesus - obviously, he was just a doll, but I knew who the star was.

My dad wanted to start to see patients privately from home at this point. Thus their next move was to buy a house on North Parade near Ormeau Park, which is Southeast Belfast. The business was expanding and my mum was helping with the administrative side as well as fitness instructing and raising three children thus we had our first childminder/aux pair/nanny - Julie. My youngest sister (Tulla) was born four years after Zoe was born.

Due to the business expanding we had to relocate to a bigger house where they could run the clinic from home as well. We moved to Knockdarragh house it was near Stormont, Belmont Park and Campbill college and was the best house ever - it was huge. It was built by one of the Shipyard owners hence the tower so they could see over to the ship yard. It was then when I started Ballet lessons.

My mum and her sister were both ballet dancers and did quite well in grades as well as competitively, however they were forced to retire early due to their older brothers rugby lessons clashing. Naturally like a lot of “dance mums” my mum wanted to get her daughters dancing as soon as possible. My dad did not want his son to do ballet, but he didn’t spend much time with me either, he was working or his playing the guitar or at the pub, we never formed a good bond and he didn’t ever take me to football or rugby lessons. Some of my earliest memories is being at ballet displays and festivals with my sisters, even though I wasn’t dancing myself. I can remember distinctly running around Portadown town hall every year - with for example the Gass's who danced for Donna Whitten - there was Victoria who was Jades age, Adele who was my age (and I use to fancy) and Shannon was was Zoe's age - I think they had other siblings also.

I was put straight into grade 1 because I had been copying my sisters and can remember my older female cousin collecting me. She was from my mum's side - she has an older brother (Michael) and a younger sister (Jenny). She was the second oldest on that side of the family, the same year in school as my big sister and was first child. I don’t remember everyone in my ballet class but I remember Nina Shafi - because she was really pretty and looked like Princess Jasmine - mixed race part Pakistan I think.

Due to moving house we then moved schools. We moved to St. Josephs Ballyhackamore at the beginning of Primary 4. Ballyhackmore then is not what it is now,  - which is upper-middle class. It wasn’t rough, but in comparison to my last school St. Brides the pupils, in general, were not from as privileged backgrounds - normally from a lower middle-class background, compared to St. Brides which was Upper-Middle class. Due to moving around a lot as a baby/child, attending St.Brides and Speech and Drama lessons, I was very well spoken in comparison to the other children in this school.

My mum had a number of nannies/aux-pairs. We had two  Aux-Pairs, firstly Leah, who was an 18 year old black, french lady - who was a bit of a bitch and we fired her and left her in Skibbereen that summer. Then we had Camilla who was bit older, a student and from Czech Republic, she was nice and we are still friends with her and went to her wedding in Prague. Kelly-Anne was another childminder who mainly looked after Tulla, she knew us from Ballet.

We use to go to Skibbereen at least once a year. One summer my dad and I went by ourselves and it was probably the best we ever got along. He use to know everyone and it was really annoying cause it took ages to walk somewhere without him bumping into someone - I remember once I got really angry and the person he was talking to was Jeremey Irons (who is a very famous actor).

When we were down there we discovered my uncle had been shot - his brother in law. My dad is a family of 8 and his big sister Una married a very charming and attractive man and they were very financially successful through a crane hire and transportation business and they were a very glamorous couple - she won Miss Newry and was very pretty, people actually thought my mum was one of my dads sisters cause they are all dark and attractive too. However they didn’t have a good marriage and there was a lot of drama in the family, they cut down a fairy tree whilst building their home in Ravensdale and people in Ireland believe that brings you bad luck - a baby drowned in their pond whilst being babysat, another brother took his own life and of the three sisters and one is already widowed. People in South Armagh thought she got him shot, but other theory is that he was having an affair with a drug baron's wife. You can read more about this here:

A mum at that ballet school Carole Gwynne suggested we went to Irish dancing as well. We had known “The Gwynees” for a long time, my mum actually did Chinese Ballet with their mum and then my sisters and I danced with Stephanie and Deborah. Stephanie was a year older than my sister Jade and Deborah in between me and Jade. They went to an all girls Grammar school - Strathearn with Jade and Zoe as well. The class was originally taught by Mark Diver, it was held in Pernryn (strathearns prep school), Jade and I went, Zoe wouldn’t she was scared of Mark and I remember arriving and I recognized Marks nieces Dominique and Olivia - I had been to summer scheme with them, they were twins and very pretty. Mark moved to London after a few months and Ballnefeigh were meant to take over the class - comprising of Jane Ness, Gillian Armstrong, Minie and Christine McCambly - I think. The assistant teacher in the class was Denise Catney and Carole convince Denise to start teaching on her own.

Denise then opened up her class (Aisling school of dance) in Holywood. My mum didn’t want me or my sisters to compete for the first while, due to the ballet competitions going on all year. But as i did ballet, I was able to pick up the open/prizewinner light steps, after doing very well at the class feis my mum allowed us to start competing and I won up in my light shoes more or less straight away. I hadn’t even purchased heavy shoes at this point. Later my mum bought a second-hand pair off Deborah - showing how frugal my parents were/are.

The festival after this was Ballyclare which was a very big festival at that time, I remember Gillian Hodge being side stage and her wearing her wig (the first time I’d seen one) and my friend Lauren Greeves explaining to me it was one and being in shock. Dominic Graham adjudicated that day, and it was a very big entry just a single age group and there might have been nearly 100 in it, between the different grades. I remember in my single jig I forgot what I was doing and put my arms in the air at the end but Dominic still placed me third, and I was ecstatic.  

Later that week i discovered that the Gwynees were asked to leave Aisling. Stephanie came 4th in her championships and Deborah 2nd but Carole told Denise that Dominic made a comment insinuating that Stephanies reel steps were too simple. Dominic and Denise are very friendly so Denise asked Dominic who denied it and she asked them to leave because of this. I look back at that now and believe he did say that - but that will be discussed later.

I continued to be friendly with the Gwynnes - we did team dances together for Ballet competitions. One year I remember at Portadown festival the team dance Beautrix Potter got the highest overall ballet team, Deborah and I got the highest duet for “Over the Hills and far away” and I won the overall boy award as well. So I won all three overall awards for solo, duet and team and was pretty pleased. I remember Deborah won her Character for “The worst witch” that year and we tied in the classical 2nd. The adjudicator did not like Stephanies character solo and she didn’t get anything, I remember vividly in the changing rooms she opened up her mark sheet read out the comments in a sarcastic tone and tore it up and stamped on it. I thought it was very funny, perhaps the reasons why the adjudicator did not lie it was because the dance was a ballet about a lady of the lake who seduced men and then drowned them - which is very sexual for a 12 year old to do.

At the start, with Heavy shoes, neither me or my big sister could treble at all. I remember being taken to the side by Denise and being shouted at about it. But eventually I got better at them and I won my heavies in Holywood festival a year later. It was the rules you could enter the championship, if you were a prizewinner in lights or heavies, so that day i also did the championships which was massive about 50 dancers, a double age group 9-11 years. I got 6th and was delighted. I remember Sharon McConville Won and Gillian Hodge was second. There was quite a few from royal tara there, Kerrie McKay didn’t get placed and neither did Suzanne Gray (current Ulster champion in the younger age group). This was the first day I started to noticed tricks which I really liked - I noticed them doing swivels, spins and toe blocks (en pointe like ballet) and I loved them. I remember the adjudicator kept on saying to Charlotte Higgins (who was then dancing for Ollar) that she loved her dress . Lauren Greeves and eventually her sister moved to Royal Tara, and this was the first festival Lauren danced for them - she didn’t get placed in the championship. I also recieved an overal award for most promising that I was delighted with.

The next festival was Newtownards festival and this was the same day as my 11 plus exam. This was the first day I ever encountered Conor Smyth - it was his school St. Patricks festival. I remember I did quite well in the solos - I got 2nd in the single jig and that qualified me for the Northern Irelands but in the championship, my roving pedlar was speed 96 and they called it out as 66 and I came off the stage crying. Naomi Dunn (who danced for Kathy O’Connor) also had her 11 plus that day and she forgot her hornpipe and was crying too, I remember us both on our mom's knees crying. We both got As though - She went on to Strathearn also. I think Ashleigh O'Neil won the championship that day (who was the current Ulster and Northern Ireland champion in my age group) and she danced for Ballynefeigh.

It was after this when things started getting complicated...

(Part Two - the decision to quit ballet).

When I got back from these festivals I showed Denise the movements I saw the Royal Tara dancers do. Due to being a ballet dancer I was naturally quite good at them. I was good at enranterchas in Ballet and they are similar to Butterflies in irish dancing. I was a spinner in Ballet as well, my competition pieces had lots of pose turns and pirouettes in them- so i could spin very easily in irish dancing. And I could do toe-walks because I copied my sister in ballet doing En Pointe work. Denise was horrified at this, she didn’t say much of it at the time but basically explained that this was “feis dancing” or that they were “FDTA”  and that was feisly influenced and not proper festival. And I was informed i wasn’t allowed to do any of these movements in my dancing. She kind of painted a picture of “feis” as being evil and that “wigs” were really bad and she was better than them etc.

The next festival was Ballyclaire - the age group was 11-13 but they split the championship. It was massive about 130 and it was a school canteen. I think Maree Houston adjudicated. I didn’t do very well in my solos that day, but none of my age group were - Gillian only got something in her hornpipe I think. Michelle Johnston (also from Royal Tara) won the reel, and she wore a sleeveless costume - I think she is a Highland Scottish dancer now,  and then Holly Thompson from seven towers won the Slip Jig. Kyle Jordan who is one of Kirsty Jordans big brothers did quite well that day. This was the first day i encountered Jason Donnelly, who also did well that day - I think he won the single jig. Jason who a teacher's nephew but his aunt died of cancer - he is in some shows now.

In the championship it was the first time I danced King of the Fairies speed 50. It was made up for me and Amy Brown learnt it also - she was one of my first sort of girlfriends we use to send each other love letters. we use to send each other love letters and stuff. Aisling school still do this set dance - Niamh Murphy (I helped teach it to her) and her sister Laoise both did it - its stange because everyone who dances it, dances it abit like me, probably becasue of this. I slipped in my set but continued. I got 5th that day, Natalie McAlister - who danced for Shima won, she did King of the fairies also. I think Nicola Mitchell (from Royal Tara) got second, Charlotte Higgins got something and I can remember two other dancers from Royal Tara got 6th (I think) - Jacqueline Jones and Nicole Ogilby


The next festival was Portadown and Dominic Graham was adjudicating that day. It was also a very big festival, Laura Norris (also from Royal Tara) won most of the solos then Deborah Gwynee won the championship with her Celtic Rose. The Gwynnes had moved to Royal Tara at this point, after being asked to leave Aisling. I remember I fell over in the reel, Chloe Fraser from Bangor was on stage with me and kind of kicked me, Dominic didn’t ring the bell and I continued dancing. Dominic did something kind of strange to me that day - he talked about me in the championship then didn’t place me. Though he gave me an overall award at the end of the festival for most promising boy. That was the first time I was angry or upset; I remember as I was leaving the old ladies in the back row all cheered for me and I almost started crying. I was winging on the way home and my mum told me off and my sister Jade when i got home was really angry with me - because she didn’t do as well as me in Irish or Ballet in the competition and couldn’t believe how spoilt I was being.

The next festival was the Northern Irelands. They were meant to separate the Boys and Girls and literally they amalgamated the night before. There were at least 50 dancers qualified. I probably would've won if they hadn't, Kyle Jordan would have been my main competition but his set dance didn’t go to plan, I don’t know whether they slowed down the music for him (something I will come back to later). I didn’t get a recall that day - but none of the boys did and I think if they had kept them separate I would have won.

I remember Gillian and Ashleigh both did Aoibhell the Fairy woman (written by Francis Ward - he is one of the Ui Rauirc teachers - Zoe Griffin's teacher and wrote the vanishing lake) and they danced it to tape. I remember Gillian did Deirdre's Lament as her recall and it was amazing. To me anyway - she was out in front by a good country mile. But when the grids came out, out of the three adjudicators. She got 1 first then one of them didn’t place her and the other two gave to Ashleigh. So Ashleigh won, Gillian Second, Rachel Smyth (Ollar) third, Natalie McAlister (4th) then after that I think Robyn Friel & Victoria McNamee (both Dominic Graham), Chloe Fraser and Laura Norris got a recall. I remember Sharon McConville didn’t and neither did Deborah Gwynne, so I wasn’t that annoyed. I also remember Sarah Lavery (Gary Lavery little sister) from McDowell set dance was played wrong but she was asked to leave the competition for some reason.

This was the first year I went to Bangor open - I missed it the year previously because I was on holiday I think. Gertie Mulligan was adjudicating and I won the treble jig. I remember being quite surprised. I remember watching the other dancers in the step down the line recall and thinking they were really good. There were a  couple girls from Mckenna who use to do well in the age group above me - Siobhan Finnegan and Linda Flynn and they use to put quite a lot into their steps and they were doing well that day. That was the first day I ever saw a dancer with an injury - Linda had fallen out of a window and the injury came back to haunt her in their team dance. I didn’t get placed in the championship and was a bit upset by this - but I won an overall award for Most Entertaining Performance. I think Sharon McConville won but something said later has made me think it might have been Chloe Fraser - they were quite similar both tiny and neat and tidy dancers.

I didn’t go to Belfast Open (Lagan) that year because Denise didn’t let us go due to there being a feis adjudicator. But I went to the other Belfast (Kathy O’Connor/ Mulholland). I think it was Sylvia Rice adjudicating in Belfast, it was a double age group and it was in a hall near Fresh Garbage in Belfast - it is one of these hippy shops you go into when you a younger and buy incense and wonder what those strange pipes are used for. I did quite well in solos but didn’t win any of them - Siobhan Finegan I think was winning. Then they split they boys and girls in the championships and I won the boys and Pamela Moore (Kathy O’Connor) won the girls.


Within this time period I had become very good at ballet however I was a bit bored of it. I didn’t enjoy the grade work in Ballet - especially the bar work. I wanted to go to Ballet school at one stage, I had watched Billy Elliot and I remember there were two sisters , who use to dance with my sisters, but then moved because they had an argument with Jacqui had gone to Ballet school - but my mum didn’t want me to go and my dad didn’t like me doing ballet. I was also bullied for it - there's hardly any male ballet dancers in Northern  but a lot of boys, especially Catholics, will give irish dancing a go at one stage. They tend to only continue if they have a natural flair for it because they get bullied for it as well.

A couple of more things made me decide to quit ballet. I wanted to do my grade 4 - but none of the other girls were ready to move forward. I was already a grade or two ahead of some of the girls I had started with. Nina and the other girls that group, were half a grade above me and a year or two older than me and if i did that grade I would be over taking them as well. I think this might of caused a bit of problems for Jacqui - maybe mums complained and it’s difficult for a dance teacher to explain that their child just isn’t as good as theirs. The other problem was Jaqui didn’t enter than many dances into competitions - the ballet school was massive but I was the only one in my class allowed to go to competitions and I think the other girls were starting to get envious of me. Another reason that made me angry was Stephanie Qwynne was able to do her grade by herself. A further reason was learning that boys did not get to do en pointe work in ballet - no traditionall anyway and i was annoyed about this also.

I use to be really good a peuriottes in Ballet - it wasn’t normal for 9/10 year old to do them in general - but I couldn’t just do one - I go around 3, o 4 sometimes 5 times. So Jacqui put a lot of them in my new competition pieces. My classical piece changed from happy piece of music into quite a dramatic one and my character - changed from “Cat Burglar” to “Puck” - from Midsummer nights dream. I remember at Newry festival I did my ballet and the stage and I tripped during one of my pirouettes. And when i adjudicator was doing the awards she said - there was no need to do triple pirouettes at this age, once was enough - and that had trip stopped me from placing in the top 3.

I was angry with this - because I had tripped due to the stage, not due to my technique -it had a slant on it and it was sticky. When i came back the next day for my character even though my teacher told me to just stick to a single pirouette. I kept the triples in and I mad sure I nailed even one - I remember in “Puck” I was in my bare feet and i put loads of talcum powder on them  so it was easy to spin.  Jacqui was angry at me for this and explained she won’t give you first now. I didn’t understand because I didn’t slip this time. I was already quite the Diva. There was a national competition - you had to do a dance from another nationality and I remember I won against Deborah Gwynne - we both did our set dance

So due to a mixture between not wanting to get bullied in school and having irish dancing to replace it, I quit ballet. I sometimes really regret this and think it might of been my destiny because if I had gone to ballet school I might of been a lot more happier and the events that were about to enfold would not have happened.

Part Three - the start of being bullied and being forced into joining a heinous, brutal and traumatizing activity named "scouts".

I am naturally academic and achieved an A (the highest grade) in my transfer exam without a tutor. Nearly everyone in my primary school had one for that exam - due to this the practice tests results were skewed as they had sat that test beforehand with their tutor. Despite this, however, I did not get into my first choice of school Sullivan Upper, I got into my second Our and St. Patrick's College Knock. I did not wish to put St Pats as one of my choices whatsoever I remember going to the open day and realizing that it wasn’t right for me, despite being a good school academically,  it wasn’t exactly palatial; it wasn’t exactly fit for little lord Fauntleroy . I probably should've gone to either Campbell College - it was close proximity literally across the street from me but my father did not wish me to go there due to  there being a Union Jack outside the school or Methody - I think I would of fitted in better in either of these schools.

I had been bullied in St. Joseph's for a number of reasons. Firstly I was well spoken in comparison to the pupils and they made fun of the way i spoke etc because of that. They also made fun of the fact I only ate Organic food - this was before it became trendy. Another reason was envy - I was always in the school play etc actually at one point me and my now cousin's wife were basically banned from being in it because we were in too many things. I don’t mind now looking back at it, that year the school play was “The Grumpy Sheep”  - Peter Conlan got to be the Grumpy Sheep instead, which is hilarious because he was a big tough guy - he went to St Pat's also. I was a very good singer - I was musical the only sibling to be selected to play a musical instrument and have solos in the choir/school play and due to dancing and speech and drama this helped also.  They also hated the fact I use to bring in all my cups and medals and have them presented to me in assembly each week.

Some of the teachers grew to hate me as well, when organizing the Irish dancing for the school leavers play, I was asked by a P2 to be in it despite not doing Irish dancing and I told her no due to this. I was later shouted at for this and my words were twisted into “they weren't good enough” when in fact she hadn’t had single lesson and Ms. O’Hare called me a big bully - she also tried to stop me from having the male lead in the leavers play. What happened instead was I got the second largest male role and my solo was extended the leads shortened down.  I was a bit pompous, precocious and pretentious in comparison to my fellow classmates - i can understand now why some of them hated me -  they were green with envy that I was the smartest, best-looking and multi-talented pupil in that school.

I knew that many pupils in St. Joseph's providing they get a good grade in their 11 plus - an A or a B - proceeded to St. Pats thus I knew also by this I would hate it. As mentioned in the previous post, I thought by quitting ballet this bullying would stop, but due to this I was wrong. The bullying continued and became worse.

My parents for a while sent me to this horrifying thing called “Scouts” to toughen me up, as did my friend Kiera's parents. I would describe this activity as heinous and traumatic. I couldn’t understand why i was made to stay in a tent, when there was a perfectly good hotel close by; I didn’t understand why i had to cook when I had  an aux pair to do that; I had no common sense or practical skills and due to being on a lactose and gluten free diet I had to have special food especially for me. I also hated mud - I remember Catherine Brown - one of the leaders of this family of square lashing psychopaths, known as "The Browns" shouted at me for having too many showers in one week - you had a shower yesterday adam, do something else with your free time. In terms of Kiera - if you know who she is, it’s perfectly self-explanatory. We were probably the worst scouts in history.

Scouts was held in the same parish as St. Josephs thus lots of the pupils from there went to it and St. Pats also, thus I couldn’t escape the bullying I was enduring. However I, couldn’t complain about this to my father as my father agreed with them and use to make fun of me for it. I use to throw up a huge protest  before going to scouts each Friday. The Roddys (Owen Senior, Junior and Aaron) use to come collect me and my sisters (Jade and Zoe - who were good at scouts because they can be quite butch, Tulla like me didn’t like it so much) beforehand and once I locked myself in the bathroom and my dad kicked down the door and made me go - despite having an awareness of the bullying I was enduring and how distressed I was by it. I sometimes wonder if my parents didn’t put down Sullivan Upper at all and put down St. Pats instead. My dad was unhappy with the son he saw before his eyes and wanted me to be more like himself. What he and my mother was not aware was the extent of the bullying I was about to endure for the next seven years.