Definitely a pre-political memory, but the phone would ring in our house in Belfast and I’d go running to answer it like my folks had taught me to: “64567, who’s speaking please?” “It’s Paddy Devlin, is your father there?” There was a jotter beside the phone and I’d just wonder how my da had the phone numbers of all these famous people from the news, like Devlin, Gerry Fitt and co.
First actual political conversation I remember having is when the results for the 1973 general election in the south were on the radio, I was 10ish and we were still in Belfast, I asked my mum “Is this good or bad for us?” “Fianna Fail might have remembered us up here, but this new crowd definitely won’t.”
What set me on the road to perdition? We’d moved to Dublin at this stage, I was in either 5th or 6th year in school. My da comes in from work, “What did you do in school today?” “Pearse and Connolly and the 1916 Rising.” “Stay there a minute.” He goes upstairs, comes back down, gives me three small hardback books, printed “at the sign of the Three Candles, Dublin”, collections of Connolly’s newspaper columns for the Workers’ Republic. “Have a read of those, they might interest you.” Still have them upstairs.
First political activity? First year in college, going down to the GPO with a black armband the morning Bobby Sands died and wondering why there weren’t more people there.
Counter-intuitively, years later, my da told me that in the early 60s in London, he used to go along to public meetings of Desmond Greaves and co to heckle them, “Because they were communists and I didn’t like communists.”
A watching detective approached him and invited him to call into Scotland Yard for a chat on the QT. “But I didn’t go. I didn’t like the communists but I was no tout.”