I couldn’t get out of Portadown fast enough.
Okay, I reckoned I wanted to be a vet, and my Dad was all for it, and my Mum was horrified (double score to me) but the fact that Veterinary Medicine was one of the very few courses of study I couldn’t pursue in Northern Ireland was a huge added attraction. Veterinary candidates from Northern Ireland either attended College in England or Scotland, or fought it out in an academic tooth-and-claw battle for one of ten places reserved for Northern Irish students in the Veterinary Collage of Ireland, in Dublin.
September 1991. The common room in the Veterinary College in Dublin. I pulled my box of dry, preserved, greyhound bones out of my locker and sighed. I had been in College for a week and I knew I had made a really big mistake. Veterinary medicine? In the name of God, why? What had possessed me? Hey, guess what, my Mum was right! Amazing!
If I quit, I could go home and start again. With my high-school grades, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted.
But….But….I would have to do it in Belfast. I wracked my brains to think of another course of study I could pursue, and still stay in Dublin. No way. If I dropped out of veterinary in Dublin, I would end up in College in Belfast, where the cost of living was a fraction of what my hard-pressed family was shelling out to keep me in Dublin.
It was veterinary or Belfast. I chose veterinary, had five great years, made most of my closest friends, came first in the class, worked as a vet for ten years, and no-body died (metaphorically speaking, anyway.)
Yes, I couldn’t get out of Northern Ireland fast enough, or young enough, and I never went back.
So why is my writing almost entirely based in Northern Ireland? Why have I written a memoir about Portadown, which to my immense surprise is full of warmth, and joy? Why have I written an entire cycle of short stories about a family in Tyrone, which I know will probably never see the light of day? I don’t know why? Have you any suggestions?
You can see a tiny, heavily adapted, snippet of my memoir here