When I first sat down to write Headlines I had a misunderstood feeling within. At that time I recently talked to a counsellor and started to reflect and think about my past. Then while talking to a friends mother, we spoke about Van Morrison, she mentioned his writing, how he writes about the past, his childhood, the people in it, the shared memories, and how someone took the time to write about their time. I sat down with that thought in mind, I wrote about my memories.
When started writing I had a slight idea of where it was going, I had the melody in my head and had some chords I was playing with. They felt and sounded hopeful.
I wanted to think about my childhood, then I started remembering and writing down my earliest memories, growing up in Lisowen avenue. Marian Park, knockalla and all the surrounding areas.
Learning how to cycle a bike, which was my sister taking me out on a hand me down bike, pushing me over the road, wobbling a few times and eventually getting my balance and from that point, as far as I remember I haven’t stoped moving, building go-carts from wood and old pram wheels. Bikes down the hill head, mountain bikes, scooters, go carts, rough riders, scramblers/dirt bikes, quads, horses, milk vans and cars.
In hind sight it’s all the more clear.
I wanted this song to resemble/portray the feeling of motion, to sound like and feel like I was on a bike ride down memory lane, set to a smooth rhythm, a hopeful motion.
I started writing my memories, the unpredictability of Irish weather. We’d be wearing shorts and a tee shirt then caught in an almighty down pour. Then sun and maybe hail it’s hard to know in Donegal...
Staying out at night until my mother came over to the end of the park and called our names, we’re playing football or chase, red rover, kirby, some kind of game or just sitting around talking. Friends mothers all coming out around the same time to call for our friends to come in. It became dark in Donegal, sometime comes at 10:30/11. Summer nights were long and beautiful.
I grew up in the park, there’s a green patch with football posts.
In between the grassy area, there’s gravel covered areas from when we had climbing frames(monkey bars) there was swing frames, but no swings. Most likely vandalized and had to be removed for safety. The frames served as perfect football nets/goal posts. Or two jumpers/sweaters on each side if it's a match. Or 5 aside.
As you can imagine, there would be lots of stumbles, falls, scratches, fights, there was gravel in knees that we had to pick out to keep playing depending on the Severity of the injury. Most likely the game was called off due to a dog sticking his teeth in the ball or someone kicking it over Sweenys wall and Lizzy stick knife in it out of spite!
The back garden of my parents house faced Magin park, a green to the right and Clinton’s garden, which had around 8-10 pine trees. We’d bike through, make tracks and collect “eggcorns” (pine cones), we’d clime the sapped soaked trees, climb from tree to Tree, there were planks of wood nailed on to some of the trees We’d sit on them. One tree was very flexible we’d all hold on, for dear life to the nearest branch or whatever we can get a hand on. And we start swinging over and back, side to side, to my younger self that tree was known as the helicopter. that line also refers to helicopters falling from trees, seeds of the sycamore tree.
That same back garden always had comings and goings. I’d be fixing bikes, borrowing a size 14 spanner from my uncle Vince, watching him fixing cars and trying to help, most likely getting in the way, but always wanting to help. My back garden, I cut the grass, I cleaned the car, cleaned out the shed, climbed on the old tar chipboard roof, with a hole in it. Almost fell through...
My aunt Annamarie loves horses, and her and my sisters were into horses, they’d ride them over the park, take them to the shore or swans park and usually take them up my back garden to brush and feed or water them. I remember a horse called Charlie and a horse called Brenda. There was many more but they were the ones I remember most, and I was put up on as a kid. They were amazing and as mystic as you can imagine.
Life was great, it was summer the Spanish students came over. I remember the day the group of people left Marian park and headed to Omagh for a day trip with the Spanish students and their leaders.
My brother Michael was all Set for going. I can’t recall the reason but my mother didn’t allow him to go, he understandably wasn’t happy. He was closer in age to Shaun. I was closer in age to Oran. Oran then was and still Is a better footballer than I ever will be, we played on the gravel, with the swing frame nets the day before they left. It was always good fun.
August 15th 1998:
I was playing in my front garden with toy cars and tractors, at the age of 9, I was always into digging up the garden. My sister Lisa came out front, she heard on the radio there was a bomb in Omagh. And my neighbors were all out too. Our neighbour Mary was out and worried, her daughter was on the trip. We got second hand information, all of everything was unsure, nothing was certain, fear, panic, anxiety came over the whole park. No one knew what to do, there were no phones there was no instant communication, they were miles away, and not many had cars.
That day went by for me, extremely fearful, and unsure.
We heard the bus from Omagh was coming home, everybody’s family was there waiting on their children to come home. The bus slowly unloaded. Children in shock and fear running to their mothers and fathers arms. Children. The bus continued to Unload. I remember my friend in her father’s arms Crying. I wanted to help, I didn’t know how. I heard there was another bus coming. Then I asked the bus driver, and as anyone would say to a 9yo child, he answered yes.
I repeated to my friend and felt there was hope after all. Little did I know.
“Their brothers didn’t step off that bus.
Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. All awaited the departure. And they didn’t make it. The family’s jumped Into cars drove the to the nearest Northern Ireland hospital where their kids might be.
I cycled home, on that dark night. All I imagined was the what if? The next day we went to mass. Then the missing and the confirmed dead were announced. Word spread throughout a small town. An unforgivable atrocity in the name of what?
I remember the long cars driving round the park coming up knockalla drive. In my mind they were placed in white coffins, but I was later informed-they were brown. Maybe it was the flowers surrounding that I remembered. But they were children and I was a child and that was in my mind.
I remember the mass on Knockalla drive, the funeral, the "months mind", the one year anniversary, father Shane on a stage, outside the cottage, as he repeated “a year ago Today”. I remember sitting with my friends, outside Geared the boss’s house, candle in hand, dipping my fingers in the hot wax completely unaware of the actual feeling. But we could only imagine and we all felt the loss of our friends.
Thinking on the song Headlines, I was remembering my youth. Missing home, my family and friends, my neighbours throughout a pandemic. I started writing, reminiscing on my childhood.
“I remember you, you were there when we felt defeated”
When I wrote this line, I was wondering what got me through. It was a reflection on spirituality, faith, and the question of it. My faith, as a nine year old child was in my mother. She was always there when I felt defeated. There to brush off our knees, there to tell us it’s all ok. There to answer questions about our lost friends. At the age of 9 my faith was placed in my mother.
When I played the song for her, she made a beautiful observation. She said it captures the moment, it remembers the boys in life, and the life they had, their faces. Their smile. They had a life that should be celebrated. They were not defined by the tragedy. They had a life they were our friends and I remember that.
I always think of that day but I think what made me write about it now was that I felt so far from home during this pandemic. Missing home always stirs up memories of my childhood and this time I put them down on paper. More than anything this song is for those lives lost, it remembers the boys my friends and the life they had.
This song is dedicated to Oran, Sean, and James. and all the victims of the Omagh bombing.
Written by Paul Caldwell