Ascension Day memories of Catholic youth

There are familiar echoes in Stephen Hough’s testimony of what it was like to “turn” ( horrible word) in the Liverpool of his and Vincent Nichol’s salad days . Changed times today in the ecumenical atmosphere of the church establishments, but in Northern Ireland, have we changed enough? Nichols and former BBC chief John Birt have different memories of St Mary’s College.

Birt said: “Violence was the constant backdrop of everyday life.” The Most Rev Nichols says: “I enjoyed it…I don’t recall an atmosphere of violence. There was physical punishment but it was never gratuitous. Punishments were always given for a reason.”

Sometimes, it’s easier to forget perhaps?

Stephen Hough extracts.
“It’s hard to think of this now, but when (my grandmother) was a little girl, in the early years of the 20th century, the divide between ‘Proddy-dogs’ and ‘Papists’ in Liverpool was as clear as it is today between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. Many families’ homes would be distinguished by a hanging portrait either of the reigning Pope or the reigning King, but my great-grandmother went a step further. She had a portrait of King William of Orange proudly hung on her wall which she requested should be buried in her coffin with her. It was. Indeed, she once turned away one of my mother’s boyfriends from the door because he was wearing green: “Not in my house!” declared the fiery Presbyterian lady. Stones were thrown on both sides by children who learned their loyalties early on in the segregated schools and social gathering places. Only Belfast and Glasgow could rival Liverpool for battle lines firmly drawn. By 1980 there was still a little of this spirit left over, but today it would be even harder to divine. Apathy and demographics are probably the main cause for the change, although the hard work of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and friendship should not be underestimated. Or Vatican II. When I was born it was still a mortal sin for a Catholic to worship in a Protestant church; now it would probably be a mortal sin to refuse to do so.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London