I think for me it was the Troubles up North, and how that was constantly in the background growing up, that probably created some political awareness. My parents didn’t much talk about politics over the dinner table growing up, not openly so, which in retrospect is a bit strange as my dad was a journalist, so he was constantly talking about the news and we had newspapers in the house every day and the radio and TV news was part of the daily routine. In fact to this day he’s still a news junkie and watches Sky news when there’s nothing much else happening, and walks up to the local garage every day to buy the papers.
Having lived in England for a decade from the late 50s, and then moving to Belfast for a few years until just before the outbreak of the Troubles, my parents were very positively inclined towards Britain on the whole and were quite dismissive of the Irish political establishment and how the country was held down by them, relative to the more open and free lives they had been able to experience in London etc. So I grew up in an anti-nationalist household by and large, not unionist in any functional sense, just not bought into the myths of Gaelic Catholic Ireland. My dad was a union member, NUJ, and would occasionally be late home from work having had to attend “Chapel meetings” which sounded very intriguing to me. So that was my childhood political context, a soft-Left trade unionist but aspirant middle class household, in the deep Southside of Dublin.
So move on to my teen years and I think there were probably some cultural influences more than anything else that moved me further Leftwards. Certainly punk rock, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Tom Robinson Band, Stiff Little Fingers. The latter in particular really resonated with my background anti-Provo upbringing I think. Reading Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia was a factor also. Joe Strummer singing about an English Civil War, about Spanish Bombs, the Sandanistas. Like WBS all of this was creating a teenage rebelliousness that was closer to Anarchism than anything else.
I remember looking through the phone book to find the addresses of the Left wing political parties to write to them for information, although I don’t think I posted the letters in the end. I do remember SFWP encroaching on my awareness early on, of all things in part because the bus I used to get into town was the 46A and one or more of the buses had big SFWP stickers on the glass panel beside the door at the front, I’m guessing because some of the drivers or conductors were sympathetic to the party. I inscribed SFWP on my metal pencil case and my Physics lab partner gave me a knowing look, saying “I know what that stands for”, which was sort of cool. SFWP’s position on the violence in the North was a big attraction for me, along with their clearly Left wing rhetoric, so that was me hooked, I was a now Leftie. It took me a further 30 years to actually become actively involved in politics, having in the meantime had endless barstool arguments with everyone I knew, having read endlessly about history and politics and all sorts, it just seemed that it was one thing to try to understand it all but maybe it was just as important to actively try to change it.