My Granny & Me-A journey of a political nerd.

Last Wednesday I did my first ever Tenx9 at the Black Box in Belfast. The theme was along with the Belfast Photo Festival “Journey.”

It’s a mix of politics and how my Granny set me on the path towards my career today. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

You can listen to this story here on the podcast or you can read the text below.

I am the little fella in this picture taken in the summer of 1997, rocking the blue bow tie as I continue my journey through catholic education at my first holy communion. Whilst there has been a world of change since those heady days in 1997, when new labour has just come into power and we were picking up the pace towards what would eventually become known as the GFA, my hairstyle has remained a constant, no matter the government of the day or whatever peace agreement is faltering locally.

But why this picture means so much to me is not because of the world going on around me, it’s the lady standing behind me, my Granny.

This picture is the best I can find that really brings home to me my journey and the people who guided me on it.

For those of you who do not know, I am a self-confessed political nerd. I love a good election (I have to say with 11 elections in the past 9 years Northern Ireland has been an election nerd dream) and I love learning about the world around me and this passion for politics, came in many ways from my granny.

Her name was Mary Ann Fitzpatrick, she was born in 1926 in a town called Loughinisland in South Down. She moved to London, where she had five daughters, god help my poor grandfather.

She was a mild-mannered lady, who believed you should never draw attention to yourself. And I speak knowing that she is somewhere up there being absolutely mortified that I am doing this. Sorry granny

Now my granny had many great attributes, she had a great sense of humour, a love of current affairs, and a big heart. But timing was never her strong suit, the best example I can give of this, was her idea to move herself and her youngest daughters from the comfort of London to the streets of North Belfast. Looking for a quieter life. The year she chose to do this was 1968.

And as you all know what came next. I am not saying my granny moving here with my mum caused the Troubles. but the idea of my mum running around the nationalist parts of North Belfast with a broad English accent has to rank as one of the worst paper rounds in Northern Ireland history.

By the time I rocked up in 1988, all of her children were grown up, my grandfather had died very suddenly of a blood clot in 1971 and my granny, like so many people had to navigate this chaos largely by herself. She poured her energy into her grandchildren, no more so than me. I’m the baby of the grandchildren.

Every day she would pick me up from school, give off about the state of my uniform, do my homework with me and just always encouraged me to know that there was only ever one of me in the world.

My school was used as a polling station on election days. This was exciting because not only did I get a day off school, but my granny would come up and take me to vote with her.

On the short dander around from the house to the polling station, holding my hand she’d tell me about the men (they were nearly all men back then) on the posters and what they stood for. Back then the police or army would be based outside polling stations, which made the simple act of voting feel a bit more brave and exciting.

No politician could encourage hope in my granny like John Hume and nobody on the planet could get her to swear more than Ian paisley.

My political education started on these walks. And continued sitting watching the news and reading the papers with her. And of course, watching election results.

Little did she know, but these small acts were igniting a fire of interest and were setting me on a journey.

Her taking the time to simply explain this crazy place in which I was growing up and more importantly why it was necessary to believe it could change, inspired me to get involved in the world of politics.

She didn’t need to stand on a podium, take part in a riot or run for public office, just by her quiet example, she helped me see what politics could do to change it.

Now if you think that setting me on this path wasn’t enough, she actually took me a little bit further down the road. not only did she point me in the right direction, she also made sure that I knew, I could play whatever role I wanted in it.

Her unlimited confidence in me and my ability is something that I still keep with me today. She took a young lad who struggled to string a coherent sentence together and made him believe in himself.

Quite often I hear the term that when it comes to raising a child it is a team effort. I know when it comes to my experience, it certainly was. and with the big team I had around me, this was the head coach.

Always telling me I could do it. and the best part of the story is, on this journey, I have gotten to do so much. from analysing election results to writing about politics. I have been able to do it all.

Conan O’Brien once said do what you love with people you love, it’s truly heaven on earth.

Over the past few years, I have been able to do what I love. and the person who would have been the least surprised that I managed to do it, would have been her.

And it all started with the interest, love and support of a grandparent.

Unlike your parents, a grandparent isn’t required to take a huge interest. They’ve been around the block already.

So when they do take such an interest, it really is all the more meaningful.

In short, a grandparent can make all the difference. Mine certainly did for me.

So here’s to you all the grannies and granddads out there, who for no money and none of the glory have gone for one more crazy ride around the block of raising kids.

And as Jed Bartlett once said in the west wing “there’s no damn holiday for you either”

In a year where we have reflected on the political leaders who made a real difference in our collective journey. I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to reflect on someone who made a real difference to me and I know for everyone in this audience they too will have that person for them.

So I end where I started, grown out of the bow ties but still holding on to the belief that the Lego hair style will one day come back into fashion.

Why? Because my granny told me it would.

That’s my journey so far and thank you Granny for setting me on it.

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