EVERY SUMMER THE MEN decorated the Fountain. A t the top they hung these big banners and on the gable ends oul Mr J ackson painted pictures of King Billy on his lovely big white horse. There was bunting all the way down the street. Best of all every windowsill got its own window boxes. There was the Derry City crimson in the middle, the red, white and blue of the Union Jack on one side and the Red Hand of Ulster on the other. Five bob they took off everybody for the flags and bunting. Nobody minded for it was only once a year.
Some people had more than just the window boxes and the bunting. Some people had the big Derry City Crimsons on flagpoles. They were dearer.
How much? I asked me daddy one night when he came back from the pub because he was more inclined to be generous, me mammy said, when he had a drink in him.
Too much, anyway, me mammy says, coming in from the scullery. Anyway, we can’t put one up. We’ve no pole.
So that was that. Then one day me and Shirley were playing in the bedroom. We were that quiet me mammy never even guessed we were in the house. Well, know what we found in the big trunk? This Union Jack. It was that huge it would’ve been too big for just the one pole anyway.
I bet it was me granda’s, Shirley says. Me granda Wylie-me mammy’s daddy – had died a while ago and me daddy came in with this big trunk. It was that big me uncle James – me mammy’s brother – had to help him down the street with it and up the stairs. Me granda Wylie had a sash too. So had me uncle James. Only me daddy had none.
Me daddy could wear me granda Wylie’s sash now me granda’s dead, I said to Shirley but she shook her head. You have to have your own one.
Why? I asked.
You just do, Shirley said, sticking her nose in the air so you knew there was no point arguing with her.
Do you think me daddy told secrets? I asked Shirley once. Everybody knew Thomas Long had got threw out the Orange lodge for telling secrets. The Apprentice Boys must have secrets as well.
Me daddy was never in it but, Shirley said.
How do you know? I said.
Ask me mammy, Shirley said.
That’s right, me mammy said. He was never in it. I was going to ask more but she had her lips pressed together than way so there was no point.
Then Helen Boyd at school – for I had started school by this time – says you can always join because that’s what her daddy did.
You have to join when you’re wee, Shirley said when I told her.
That’s right, me mammy said, coming in from the scullery. Her hands were freezing from washing the clothes. I put my hands up to hers to warm them.
No more questions now, she said.
You can warm your hands up at the bonefire the night, I said to her.
Och, I’m not bothered for going, me mammy said. You and Shirley just go with your uncle James. I’m a bit tired.
Is me daddy not coming? I asked.
No. He’s tired as well.
I knew by this time daddies didn’t get as tired as mammies. They didn’t have to do the washing and the ironing and the dinner and everything. Even if they were out lifting hods of bricks all day like me mammy said me daddy was, at night-time they put their feet up with their fags and the paper. Or went to the pub. Or the Apprentice Boys, if they were in it.
THE BONEFIRE WAS GOOD but I wished me mammy and me daddy had come up.
See when I was wee, me uncle James said, I used to go away out the Boleys collecting firewood for the bonefire. Miles away I used to go.
We went to the Boleys, I said. Me daddy took us. I got stung with the nettles and the thorns.
I cried too only I didn’t want to tell him that.
Me daddy must’ve went out the Boleys as well when he was wee, I said.
Oh, aye, surely, me uncle James said.
Collecting firewood for the bonefire, I said.
Me uncle James said nothing. For a minute his lips went all tight the way me mammy’s did when she didn’t want to say something. Only then he swung me up in the air and I laughed and laughed. He went to swing Shirley up too but she ran away.
I’m too big to be swung up in the air, uncle James, she said.
It’s the Big Parade the morrow, Shirley said when we were in bed.
I know, I said. I mind last year’s. Do you mind it?
You’re too wee to mind it, Shirley said.
I do so mind it, I said.
Naw, you don’t, Shirley said.
I mind they played the Sash, I said.
Everybody knows that, Shirley said.
I mind me uncle James and me granda Wylie walking with their sashes on, I said.
There was that many people walking you lost count. All the crimson sashes behind the banners floating down the street while the bands played No Surrender. And the man with his big stick, throwing it high up in the air and it going round and round and round.
Me granda Wylie was too sick to be in the parade last year, Shirley said.
I shut up. Maybe Shirley was right. Maybe I didn’t mind it. Maybe I only imagined half of it from stuff I was told. People were always talking about the Big Parade. Except at Christmas when there was other things to be thinking about, like Jesus being born in the stable and the shepherds and all that stuff.
I mind the nativity play they had at school last year, I said to Shirley suddenly. You were in it.
She was Mary. She had this lovely dress on they called a robe.
Do you mind the robe you had? I asked her but she was asleep.
THE NEXT DAY we were on our way down the street to see the Big Parade. I had me new pink dress on that I was supposed to keep for church only me mammy said I could wear it on the Twelfth.
We were going past this house and I looked up and there was no window boxes with wee flags on its windowsills.
Look, mammy, daddy! I said. That house has no flags!
Sssh, went Shirley and me mammy and me daddy all at once. They never even looked.
You never looked, I said, but quieter, when we had passed.
That house never has any flags, me mammy said.
It’s because they’re Catholics, Shirley said.
Is it? I asked me mammy and me daddy.
That’s right, me mammy said.
But do they not have to have them? I asked.
Naw, they don’t have to have them, me daddy said.
I knew what Catholics were. I knew they went to a different school and everything. There was a school in Artillery Street that Catholics went to and there was nuns in it. Me and Shirley went once and Shirley climbed up to look in the window and this nun came and banged on the window with her cane and we nearly died. Only most Catholics lived in Creggan or the Long Tower, not in the Fountain anyway.
Do the Catholics have their own flags? I asked, all of a sudden. It didn’t seem right for them to have nothing when we had so many.
Me mammy and me daddy never answered me for a minute but I could see they were thinking about it.
How can they have their own flags when we all have to live under the Union Jack? Shirley burst out.
Aye, that’s right enough, me daddy said, smiling but still looking a wee bit sad, We all have to live under the Union Jack, so we do.
AT THE BIG PARADE we saw me uncle James and loads of other men and boys from the Fountain with their fancy sashes. Some of the wee girls got to hold the strings behind the banners but only if their daddies were in the Apprentice Boys, Shirley said after. Me daddy had brothers too-me uncle Martin and me uncle Peter- but they were in Belfast because they had married Belfast girls, me mammy said and it was too dear to go to Belfast so we never saw them.
At least they’ll see the parade on the TV, Shirley said. Me mammy and me daddy never said anything. I thought it wouldn’t be the same watching it in black and white.
They have their own parade in Belfast, Shirley said. Only it’s different. They wear Orange sashes instead.
I know, I said. Shirley thought she knew everything.
The night of the Big Parade there was rioting. A man got killed. I went to the door and saw men march up the street with sticks in their hands and angry faces.
Away inside you, said me mammy.
ls me daddy not going too? I asked, seeing Davie Robertson from across the street and Sammy Colquhoun with a brick in his hand.
Inside, said me mammy. I won’t tell you again.
LATER ON THE HOUSE that had no flags was boarded up, then it was burnt down.
What happened to the people inside? I whispered to me mammy.
Oh, they got out all right.
Aye, they got out before they were burned out, said me daddy.
Was it because they were Catholics? I asked.
Aye, said me daddy. That’s right. It’s because they were Catholics. He was nearly crying. I wanted to ask him if he was crying for the Catholics but me mammy said I had to go to bed.
When we went back to school there was still riots.
There was shooting as well. The headmaster said we weren’t allowed up the walls in case there was more shooting.
Bloody Fenians, Shirley said.
Sure your da’s a Fenian, Andy Barr who was in Primary Six says to her.
I knew what a Fenian was by this time. Of course he’s not a Fenian, I said. We have the flags the same as everybody else.
He’s still a bloody Fenian, Andy Barr said.
Liar! I shouted after him but Shirley said nothing.
After school I told me mammy what Andy Barr said. He’s a liar, isn’t he, mammy?
I’ll have to speak to his mother, me mammy says. He’s got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
The next day I saw Andy Barr in the playground.
Me mammy says you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick, I said.
Aye, you’re all right, says he. Me ma says he turned.
What? says I but he walked away. He musta been too affronted to be seen talking to a Primary Two wee girl.
Mammy, I says, after. What does ‘turned’ mean?
Changed their religion. Why?
Because Andy Barr says me daddy turned.
She stopped peeling the potatoes for a minute and looked at me. Aye, that’s right, she says. Your daddy turned. There’s many’s the one turns. There’s more than him anyway. Then she went back to peeling the potatoes. Then one day when I came in from school me daddy was crying again.
Your granny Doherty’s died, me mammy said. Don’t go making a noise now. Your daddy’s all annoyed.
Me granny Doherty had been in the Waterside hospital for years. Me daddy went to see her sometimes. He took me once but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the smell and you had to just be quiet all the time. Granny Doherty could hardly even speak. She just lay there. I didn’t want to go anymore so after that me daddy just went hisself.
Me uncles from Belfast came up to our house the next day.
Are they going to stay here? I asked because we never had anybody to stay.
Naw, me mammy said. They’re going to stay with your auntie Bernie that lives in the country near Strabane.
I never knew I had an auntie Bernie, I says.
Aye, says me mammy. She never comes near here.
WE’LL JUST GO TO THE GRAVE after, me mammy said when
I asked what I was going to wear at the funeral.
I want to go with me daddy, l said.
I don’t, Shirley said and she had a face on her, right enough.
Let her come, me daddy said to me mammy and she let me.
Is it not in First Derry? I asked me daddy when we walked past it. First Derry was our church.
Me daddy shook his head. It’s further up.
In the church there was music. It was like our church only a bit bigger and the music was different. Me auntie Bernie and her husband-me uncle Sean-was there and so was me uncles’ Belfast wives – me other aunties. Only me uncle James and me other auntie – me mammy’s sister Betty – never turned up.
The graveyard was a different graveyard from where me granny and me granda Wylie are buried. The minister threw dirt on the coffin before it got put in the ground like the minister at me granda Wylie’s funeral. People were crying just the same. I cried a bit too because she was me granny, after all.
Sure, it’s a happy release for her, people said.
How’s it a happy release, daddy? I asked.
Because she’s in heaven, me daddy said.
Me granny and me granda Wylie are in heaven too and me granda Doherty, I said, remembering me daddy’s daddy too even though he was dead before I was born.
That’s right, lovie. They’re all in heaven, me daddy said.
I thought me mammy and Shirley were coming to the graveyard, I said to me daddy.
After, he said.
After we went to me auntie Bernie’s house in the country near Strabane.
There was a picture of Jesus on the wall above the fireplace.
That’s a nice picture, I said to me auntie Bernie.
That’s Jesus, auntie Bernie said.
I know, I said. I’ve seen him before.
Have you? Me auntie Bernie looked surprised.
Me sister Shirley’s got a bible with pictures in it, I said. She got it at Sunday School.
Did she? You’ll have to bring her over sometime to see me, me auntie Bernie said.
AFTER I TOLD SHIRLEY what me auntie Bernie said.
I wouldn’t go near her house, Shirley said.
Why not ?
It’s a Fenian house.
Me uncle James says it is.
I remembered what Andy Barr says then about turning.
Did she not turn? I asked Shirley.
Naw. None o them did, except for me daddy. They’re all Fenians. The ones in Belfast too.
What about me granny Doherty?
Her as well. Fenians, the whole lot o them.
Is that why you never went to the church?
It wasn’t a church. It was a Fenian chapel.
It was just like our church, I says. They had hymns and everything.
It’s idolatry but, Shirley says.
It’s worshipping graven images.
What’s graven images?
Statues and stuff. Pictures of Jesus.
Worshipping – like praying?
But we pray to Jesus.
We don’t pray to his picture, stupid.
THE NEXT YEAR the men put up the flags again and then it was Bonefire night again.
Are you not going up to see the bonefire wi your uncle James? me daddy asked.
I’m not bothered, I said.
Will you go if I go?
I looked at him. Me daddy never went to the bonefire before.
Sure it’s only a bonefire, me daddy said. There’s no harm in a bonefire.
We went and watched the bonefire and me daddy even spoke to me uncle James.
Maybe me daddy’ll go and watch Lundy, Shirley said after. If he could go and watch the bonefire on the Eleventh night you would think he would go and watch Lundy bum. It’ll be The End of All Traitors this year.
I know, I said. I mind it was Lundy the Traitor last year.
I knew all about Lundy by this time, him selling the keys of Derry for a bap.
Then the IRA blew up Governor Walker’s monument so there was no more Lundy. We never went back to me auntie Bernie’s. Me uncle Sean got shot. We never went back to the graveyard where me granny and me granda Doherty were buried. Me mammy said there was too much trouble.
Andy Barr’s big brother blew himself up planting a bomb across the border even though Andy Barr used to brag none of his family would ever set foot in the Free State. Andy Barr joined the juniors in the Apprentice Boys. Me mammy and me daddy never took us to watch the Big Parade.
I’m not bothered anyway, Shirley said.
Neither am I, I said.
Our house was getting knocked down. We got this new house miles away across the Foyle. When it came to the Twelfth some of the men put up bunting but there was no big flags or banners. There was no King Billy on his horse on the gable ends. There was no more window boxes. There was no windowsills to put them on anyway.
Somebody painted the kerbstones red, white and blue. They could just have painted them crimson, Shirley said.
Naw they couldn’t, I said.
Aye, right enough, Shirley said. It would remind you of Andy Barr’s big brother.
Aye, and me uncle Sean, I said.
Who? said Shirley.
Me auntie Bernie’s man, I said. Mind he got shot?
We never knew him but, Shirley said.